Preseason countdown: No. 17 Boise St.
Boise State is going to come up with another double-digit win season because that’s what Boise State does.
No one will give the Broncos an honest shot to beat Michigan State in East Lansing in the opener, and few will assume the blue turf magic will be enough to get by BYU. Of course, Boise State will probably win both games because winning big games when no one believes it can happen is what Boise State does.
The ranking will be low because the world will believe that Kellen Moore was the reason for all the success over the last few years, but Boise State will replace him with some other disrespected, undersized quarterback who’ll come up with an ungodly completion percentage and lead the way to win after win after win because that’s what Boise State does.
The average college football fan will assume there will be a huge drop-off with just two starters returning on a defense that finished 16th in the nation in yards allowed and 12th in scoring D, but in many ways the pass rush and secondary could be even better because filling in the gaps and moving on is what Boise State does.
Lose running back Doug Martin to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Whatever. Lose offensive coordinator Brent Pease to Florida? Flush him and go get another. Take away pass rusher Shea McClellin and put him on the Chicago Bears, and lost big-hitting safety George Iloka and leading tackler Byron Hout? Whatever. It’s Boise State. Boise State loses players, finds new ones and wins, wins, wins because that’s what Boise State does.
What to watch for on offense: The backfield. The line might look like the land of misfit blockers, but it’s a veteran crew that should be solid. The receiving corps that had to undergo such an overhaul last season looks terrific and potentially dominant. Now it’s up to the backfield to replace Kellen Moore and Martin and keep on moving. Joe Southwick is the most likely option to fill Moore’s immense shoes, but he fits the Boise State quarterback mold and should be almost as effective. D.J. Harper is a talented veteran back, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy and there isn’t another Martin waiting in the wings. The passing game will work and the overall production will be there, but Moore and Martin really were special talents.
What to watch for on defense: The pass rush. Boise State doesn’t really live on a big pass rush. Its defense makes plays in the backfield, but for the most part it hold firm against the run, relies on a productive secondary, and then gets off the field to let the offense put the game away. However, even with Shea McClellin gone the Broncos should be able to improve at getting to the quarterback if JUCO transfer Demarcus Lawrence plays up to his hype and potential and if Samuel Ukwuachu can turn his athleticism into production. The tackles are quick enough to do their job on the inside, and the back seven will be terrific. All that’s missing is a sure-thing pass rusher to make the promising D another plus.
The team will be far better if: The kickers don’t miss. Dan Goodale missed a 39-yarder that would’ve beaten TCU. Famously, Kyle Brotzman couldn’t come through with two missed chip shots against Nevada two years ago. Again, Boise State is two missed field goals away from a third straight unbeaten season and a fourth in six years. Jake Van Ginkel has a howitzer for a leg and should be the best kicker the program has had in years, and while he should be solid, all that matters is whether or not he can connect in the final seconds.
The schedule: The Broncos might not be BCS good talent-wise, but the schedule will help the cause. Get by Michigan State in the opener, and it'll be game on. They'll be favored in every game the rest of the way, even if they have a few interesting tests against BYU, at Southern Miss and Nevada. Missing Air Force in conference play isn't bad, and getting Fresno State and San Diego State at home should lead to a showdown with the Wolf Pack late in the year with conference title implications.
Best offensive player: Senior RB Harper. When healthy he can be among the most explosive playmakers in college football with flash-of-lightning speed and tremendous cutting ability. However, he’s still trying to work his way back to his old form after suffering a few knee injuries. While he might not get the ball in his hands 200 times, he should be a threat to run for 1,000 yards and should be a statistical superstar. He has to be a steadying force – as well as explosive – to ease in the new starting quarterback.
Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Blake Renaud. Call this an educated projection. Corners Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins should be fantastic, and JUCO transfer end Demarcus Lawrence might be a game-changer, but it’s Renaud who might end up leading the team in tackles and should be the star to build the defensive front around for the next three years. He missed a little time hurt last season, but he’s perfectly built for the job in the middle and he should be a lock for All-Mountain West honors.
Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Joe Southwick … or freshman QB Nick Patti … or sophomore QB Grant Hedrick … or redshirt freshman QB Jimmy Laughrea. Moore was in a quarterback battle before he finally took over the job and made history, but that was nothing compared to the fight going on to replace him. Southwick is the safest option with decent experience and a good showing this offseason. However, Patti, Hedrick and Laughrea are all mobile options with the ability to step in and run the show. No one is asking for any of them to be Moore, but considering the Boise State history of productive quarterbacks, the pressure will be on the starter to win and win some more.
The season will be a success if: Boise State wins 10 or more games for the seventh year in a row and for the tenth time in 11 years. There’s nothing boring about consistent success. While just winning ten games might seem a bit ho-hum and Boise State might be a machine, replacing nine defensive starters is still replacing nine defensive starters and losing players as good as Kellen Moore and Doug Martin will sting. The bar might be raised higher in Boise, but losing at Michigan State and dropping one other game – like at Nevada or at Southern Miss – and beating everyone else on the way to a 10-2 regular season before winning the bowl game would still make for a great year.
Key game: Dec. 1 at Nevada. Beating Michigan State to start out the year would do wonders for a program with so much turnover, and it would mean the spotlight will be back on throughout the Mountain West season, but the big battle that actually matters could come in the end. The Broncos might have gone 12-1 last year, but that one loss came to TCU and they ended up losing the Mountain West title. They could go 11-0, lose to the Wolf Pack for the second time in three years, and all the fun and all the good things the team did over the first three months will be forgotten about.