UCLA versus Boise State is a regional match-up that probably should have been played many times before. Yet the Broncos and the Bruins have played only once before, with UCLA winning 38-7 in 1999. But fate and the bowl committees now put the two together for the Starco Brands LA Bowl on Saturday afternoon. The questions remain about which players will be there when the two teams finally meet.

Bowl: Starco Brands LA Bowl

Teams: Boise State (8-5) vs. UCLA (7-5)

Day/Date/Time: Saturday, December 16th; 7:30pm Eastern

TV: ABC

BOISE STATE

The biggest part of the who is in and who is out storyline for the Broncos is that they have a new head coach. Defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson was named head coach in December, removing the interim label from his title. He took over when Andy Avalos was fired after a 5-5 start nearly three years into his term.

Boise State went on to win the final two games of the season under Danielson and claim the division title. Just days before the Mountain West Conference championship game, school athletic director Jeramiah Dickey decided to stick with Danielson. Boise State also went on to beat UNLV for the Mountain West championship to finish the season at 8-5.

In addition to prepping for the bowl game, Danielson is trying to fill out his new staff. Co-defensive coordinator Kane Ioane has moved on to be an assistant at Nevada.

Who’s Coming?

So that part of the personnel challenges is on the table. Who will be running the offense on the field Saturday is an entirely bigger question for the moment. Conference championship game MVP, quarterback Taylen Green not only went into the transfer portal, he has already found a new home with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Backup Maddux Madsen is still recovering from MCL surgery. That leaves true freshman CJ Tiller as the likely starter Saturday. He has yet to throw a pass in a college football game, having appeared in just one game this season. Danielson has not ruled out the idea of redshirt sophomore Colt Fulton also seeing action in the LA Bowl.

Whoever is taking the snaps is going to be relying heavily on the run game. Eric McAlister, one of Boise State’s top receivers has also put his name in the portal. He accounts for 47 receptions and more than 800 receiving yards out the door. For the running game, the Broncos do count on Ashton Jeanty, a 1,200-yard rusher and MWC offensive player of the year.

Including Green and McAllister, Boise State has lost four players to the portal as of Thursday, a relatively low number compared to most schools this time of the year.

The Broncos finished the season, with Green and McAlister on the field, with a top 25 nationally ranked offense, averaging 444 yards per game. What they can muster Saturday will be based on who can step up against a UCLA defense that was ranked in the top 10 in the country most of the season.

UCLA

But like Boise State, the Bruins are missing some key pieces that got them to a 6-2 start before sputtering in the late stages of the season to finish 7-5.

To start with, the architect of the strong defense, defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn, has packed up and moved across town to take the same job at USC. Head coach Chip Kelly said he will take his time filling the vacancy and for the bowl game will rely on the defensive assistants as a unit. That likely includes linebackers coach Ken Norton, Jr. taking on a significant role in the game preparations.

The Bruins’ defense finished number one in the country against the run. That figures to fly in the face of Boise State’s current strength. But UCLA will be without all-everything defensive end Laiatu Latu. The Lombardi Award winner and consensus All-American has opted out of the game to focus on training for his NFL future.

That unit that finished the season at #11 in the country in total defense will also be missing defensive backs Kamari Ramsey, William Nimmo, and John Humphrey who have all left for the transfer portal.

The defense will need an extra list from the Murphy twins. Defensive linemen Grayson and Gabriel have been in the shadow of Laiatu for much of the season, but their contributions on defense have been every bit as critical, if not as stat-inducing.

Offense Has Question Marks

For the Bruins on offense, the question marks remain at quarterback. But that has been the case all season. The word “or” was a commonly used term on the quarterback depth chart. We know that freshman Dante Moore is no longer one of the options. One of Kelly’s highest-rated high school recruits in his six years at UCLA has moved on to the transfer portal after what could only be described as a confounding season for both coach and player. Ethan Garbers is expected to get the start, but both he and the other half of “or,” Colin Schlee both battled late-season injuries.

Running back Carson Steele is likely a game-time decision, so a position that has been by committee would lean heavily on T.J. Harden. Hybrid running back/wideout Keegan Jones is also in the transfer portal.

Kelly has had a policy throughout the years of the portal that any player who puts his name in can stay with the program, practice, and even participate in post-season play until they commit to another school. None of the eight Bruins in the portal have been at practice this week, even though none have committed to other programs, so they will not be playing this weekend.

The History

This is UCLA’s third bowl game in the six years of the Kelly era, although only the second game they will play. There was the Covid outbreak on the team that canceled the 2021 Holiday Bowl. And the Bruins lost to Pitt last year in the Sun Bowl.

Boise State had appeared in 18 straight bowl games before the 2020 Covid season ended the streak. The Broncos beat North Texas last year by a field goal in the Frisco Bowl.

Last Word on College Football will have ongoing bowl coverage throughout the post-season.

Akash Mahi, a dedicated enthusiast of the game, is a recognized expert in the domain of tennis balls. With a keen understanding of materials and aerodynamics, he has contributed to the evolution of tennis ball design, enhancing playability and performance. Mahi's expertise continues to impact both casual players and professionals alike.