New coaches highlight Boise State-UCF season opener

National Sports

Boise State and UCF both will sport new head coaches when they kick off the 2021 season Thursday night in Orlando, Fla.

Gus Malzahn, who led Auburn to the BCS National Championship Game to cap the 2013 season, is the new man in charge at UCF. He replaced Josh Heupel, who left to become Tennessee head coach.

Andy Avalos, a former player and defensive coordinator at Boise State, returned to his alma mater after two years as Oregon’s coordinator. He follows Bryan Harsin, who moved on to become Auburn’s head coach.

The Boise State and UCF coaching staffs entered the final week of game preparation still getting to know their teams.

“We’ll learn more in the first game, probably the first half, than we have during the fall camp,” Malzahn said.

UCF, of the American Athletic Conference, has ranked among the top eight nationally in both total offense and scoring each of the last three seasons. The Knights finished 6-4 last year.

Quarterback Dillon Gabriel returns to direct UCF’s offense. He started all 10 games as a sophomore last year, completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,570 yards and 32 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

“Dillon’s one of the best quarterbacks in all of college football,” Malzahn said. “It’s been just us getting familiar with each other and a feel for what he likes and what he feels good about.”

Unlike Malzahn, Avalos didn’t know who his starting quarterback would be until late August. Junior Hank Bachmeier beat out redshirt senior Jack Sears.

Bachmeier started five games last season, throwing for 1,150 yards, six TDs and two INTs. When Bachmeier was sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19 in late October, Sears started twice.

“We made it very clear that this competition was based on how people are performing right now in all areas,” Avalos said.

New Broncos offensive coordinator Tim Plough, formerly of UC Davis, was expected to employ a fast-paced offense that will showcase versatile senior receiver Khalil Shakir.

Shakir had 52 catches for 719 yards and six touchdowns and ran 17 times for 148 yards in seven games last year.

The Mountain West’s Broncos are coming off a 5-2 season in 2020.

“They’re a team that’s used to winning,” Malzahn said of the Broncos. “They’re a very good traditional, winning program. They got a lot of returners back. They’re used to winning, playing at a high level.”

–Field Level Media

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