No. 2: Boise State
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 2, 2011
Last year’s loss to Nevada made the point null and void, but detractors were coming out of the woodwork to belittle Boise State for much of last season, until it became clear that the Broncos were no longer a threat. Hate’s not too strong a word: petty, hoity-toity hate at that, the sort of condescension the old guard throw at the nouveau riche. And that’s not really hate at all, to be honest, but rather fear — fear that for all your bluster, you’d come up well short should you and Boise State meet between the white lines. And you know what? You wouldn’t be the first. Get in line, just behind elite powers like Oregon, T.C.U. and Virginia Tech. You’ll recognize those teams by this simple fact: you don’t hear them crowing about Boise State not deserving a seat the table, since they’ve had their turn and went home with a loss, now firm in their belief that Boise can beat anyone, anytime, anywhere.
16 (8 offense, 8 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 3
Georgia (in Atlanta)
- Sept. 16
- Sept. 24
- Oct. 1
- Oct. 7
at Fresno St.
- Oct. 15
at Colorado St.
- Oct. 22
- Nov. 5
- Nov. 12
- Nov. 19
at San Diego St.
- Nov. 26
- Dec. 3
Last year’s prediction
Is this surprising? Why should it be? Let me jog your memory: Boise State finished last season 13-0; they handled the Pac-10 champs and a top 10 T.C.U. team along the way; the offense returns nine full-time starters, the defense 10; the Broncos have both the chance to make national noise against premier competition; and the conference schedule will yield an 8-0 mark. That’s why Boise State is here. Why do I love Boise State? Because of its 19 returning starters, its Heisman-worthy quarterback, its powerful running game; on defense, a great front seven and a secondary full of returning contributors hungry to prove last year was no fluke. Why should you love Boise State? Because of all those reasons — and because the Broncos are an overwhelming underdog, and we all love the underdog.
In a nutshell Only in this new age of Boise State football could a one-loss regular season be seen as a slight disappointment. That one loss — if you stayed awake — came at Nevada, a back-and-forth, one-for-the-ages loss that came about only because of a pair of special teams gaffes. Outside of that game, only Virginia Tech sniffed Boise State all season; in hindsight, perhaps the fact that the Broncos could rest their starters for the second half of most games until heading to Nevada took a toll on the starters, still on the field into overtime. If that’s the biggest problem a team has, you know it’s been a successful season. Par for the course, more of the same: the Broncos rolled out of bed and went 12-1. The future holds a transition to the Mountain West, where Boise State is sure to be tested more than it was in the WAC. What else does the future hold? Something like 12-0, in my opinion.
High point The win over Virginia Tech to start the regular season. Those who thought less of that win following Virginia Tech’s loss to James Madison stood corrected after the Hokies ran roughshod through A.C.C. play.
Low point The loss to Nevada. The silver lining: defeat is often the ultimate motivator.
Tidbit Boise State has lost two games at home since 2000: Washington State in 2001 and Boston College in 2005, with the latter not a true road game but the MPC Computers Bowl. So one real home loss — where Boise was the true home team — over the last 11 years. And this stretch includes 69 wins, which gives the Broncos an F.B.S.-best winning percentage of 97.2, a shade ahead of Oklahoma’s 97.1 percent clip.
Tidbit (12-win season edition) Boise State has won at least 12 games in three straight seasons. To put that in a historical perspective, the Broncos are just the third program since 1900 to do so. Joining Boise is U.S.C., from 2003-5, and Oklahoma, from 2002-4. The Broncos are also one of three programs with at least 10 wins in each of the last five years, joining Ohio State and Virginia Tech.
Former players in the N.F.L.
19 S Gerald Alexander (Miami), TE Richie Brockel (Carolina), CB Chris Carr (Baltimore), OT Ryan Clady (Denver), OG Daryn Colledge (Arizona), TE Tommy Gallarda (Jacksonville), RB Korey Hall (New Orleans), RB Ian Johnson (Detroit), S Jeron Johnson (Seattle), S Quintin Mickell (St. Louis), WR Legedu Naanee (Carolina), WR Austin Pettis (St. Louis), CB Orlando Scandrick (Dallas), TE Derek Schouman (Washington), CB Brandyn Thompson (Washington), S Winston Venable (Chicago), CB Kyle Wilson (New York Jets), TE Ryan Winterswyk (Atlanta), WR Titus Young (Detroit).
Arbitrary top five list
Non-B.C.S. revenge games of 2011
1. Army vs. Navy, Dec. 10.
2. Nevada at Boise State, Oct. 1.
3. S.M.U. at Tulsa, Oct. 29.
4. Troy at Florida International, Oct. 25.
5. Hawaii at Nevada, Nov. 12.
Chris Petersen (U.C. Davis ’88), 61-5 over five seasons with the Broncos. How dominant is that? Try a winning percentage of 92.4 percent, or the best of any coach in the country — and it’s really not even close. Boise State has won 38 of 40 WAC games under Petersen, with the two losses coming to Hawaii late in the 2007 season and Nevada late last fall. The Broncos lost three games in that 2007 season, but rebounded in 2008 to go 12-1, with its only loss coming in the Poinsettia Bowl. Petersen’s tremendous 13-0 2006 season, which saw B.S.U. provide the year’s most memorable moment in its B.C.S. bowl victory over Oklahoma, put the first-year coach on the map. For his efforts in 2006, Petersen was named the national coach of the year, the first B.S.U. coach to win such an award. All five of Petersen’s teams have been outstanding offensively, not surprising considering his background as one of college football’s best offensive coordinators. Over his five-year stretch as the Boise State coordinator (2001-5 under former Colorado coach Dan Hawkins), Petersen was twice a finalist for the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant. The Broncos finished in the top 15 nationally in total offense four times under Petersen, including a first-place finish in 2002. With that background as a coordinator and his tremendous success as the head coach, it is no surprise that Petersen’s name continues to be bandied about for nearly every major job opening. Yet here he is, still in Boise, and the Broncos will continue to be one of the best teams in the land every year that he’s along the sidelines.
Tidbit (coaching edition) For the second year in a row, Boise needs to find a new coordinator. Last fall, the Broncos promoted defensive line coach Pete Kwiatkowski from within to replace defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who took the same position at Tennessee. This year, the Broncos promoted wide receivers coach Brent Pease to offensive coordinator to replace Bryan Harsin, who moved to Texas. Pease will also handle Harsin’s old quarterback coach duties, while Robert Prince — formerly of Colorado — takes over Pease’s old role with the wide receivers. And that’s it: everyone else is back.
Players to watch
The question isn’t where Kellen Moore currently ranks, as he’s the best senior quarterback in the country by a very, very wide margin. My question is where he ranks historically: discount the team all you want, if you’d like, but you need to respect the now four-year starter and what he’s achieved for the Broncos. Moore has been nothing but exceptional, nearly without fail, and — on my list, at least — he’s firmly in the very elite tier of quarterbacks over the last 15 years of college football. The list isn’t long, but it’s exclusive. And Moore’s right there, thanks to his three-year totals of 10,687 yards passing, 99 touchdowns and, most importantly, 38 wins.
Yeah, he’s small. And yeah, he’s slow. And yeah, he looks like a senior in high school, not college. Hidden behind the size, speed — the lack thereof — and youthful look is a killer: a cold-blooded, stone-cold killer. Ask Virginia Tech. Ask Oregon. Ask anyone who’s faced off against Moore and the Broncos. He’ll tear your heart out, hitting on passes short and long, on first down and off play action, and you won’t think anything of it until — boom — it’s Boise State 28, you 0.
Historically? Moore’s like Ty Detmer: incredibly prolific on an extremely good team over multiple years running. Will what he’s achieved over his first three years push him even more so into the Heisman mix? Voters certainly appreciate long-term success; some voters don’t appreciate Boise State, but that’s another story. As a senior, all Moore can do is continue playing at a nearly unparalleled level. Last fall, he threw for 3,845 yards, 35 scores and 6 picks while hitting on 71.3 percent of his attempts — leading the country in pass efficiency rating at 182.6, one spot ahead of Cam Newton and two ahead of Andrew Luck.
I could go on and on with Moore, who’s everything a college quarterback should be, in my mind. He’s the best player in program history. He’s the best senior quarterback in the country, as noted. He’s right there with Luck and LaMichael James for the Heisman. He’s the single most influential player in Boise State’s rise from nice story to national power. And he may not amount to much on the next level, but I don’t care. Respect Moore for what he is: one of the best college quarterbacks in recent history.
Senior left tackle Nate Potter is also one of the best players in the country at his position. He’s started most of each of his first three years, including the last 21 straight, and was a first-team all-WAC pick in 2009 and 2010. As Moore’s blind side protector, Potter is in line for even grander hardware as a senior: already on the watch list for the Rotary and the Outland, I’d be surprised if Potter isn’t a finalist for both awards. He’s one of three returning starters up front for the Broncos in 2011, joining junior left guard Joe Kellogg and senior center Thomas Byrd; the latter, like Potter, was a first-team all-conference pick last fall. The two new faces are on the strong side, and both are sophomores: Jack Broyles at guard, Charles Leno at tackle. You can be assured that Broyles and Leno won’t start every game. Actually, I promise you that at least eight different linemen will start at least one game. That’s not because Boise doesn’t like its starting line — how could it not — but rather because that’s just par for the course for a program that rotates linemen in and out on a whim.
Boise’s three-headed monster: Moore, Potter and senior running back Doug Martin (1,260 yards rushing and 12 scores). Like his two high-profile teammates, Martin is an all-American candidate — like that pair, he was also a first-team all-WAC pick in 2010. While Boise is more known for the pass, it’s Martin’s tough running style that gives the Broncos a physical identity offensively. A bit short, compact and low to the ground, Martin seeks out and finds contact at every opportunity, which belies in part his ability to break the big play. Expect more of the same from him this fall. His backup will be senior D.J. Harper, should he find a way to stay healthy. That’s been an issue for Harper in both 2009 and 2010, both of which was cut short by knee injuries. When on the field, Harper is extremely productive: 94.7 yards per game over his short stint in 2009, 160 yards on 8.9 yards per carry in three games last fall.
You almost run out of fingers when counting Boise State’s defensive linemen; you would run out of fingers if you suffered an unfortunate woodshop injury in high school, God forbid. I see at least 10 linemen in the rotation, and I won’t name them all here. Well, maybe I will, at least in part: ends Tyrone Crawford, Shea McClellin, Jarrell Root, Darren Koontz, Kharyee Marshall, Tyler Horn and Nick Alexander; tackles Billy Winn, Chase Baker, Mike Atkinson and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, among others. As on offense, the Broncos are going to move guys in and out with abandon — you can do that with this sort of depth.
There are two losses, including all-conference end Ryan Winterswyk. But Boise’s going to be fine with Crawford (32 tackles, 7.5 sacks) as a full-time starter, as the former JUCO transfer is more than ready to take on an increased role. He’ll bookend the line with McClellin (30 tackles, 9.5 sacks) to give Boise two ends with clear 10-sack potential, if not more. Root’s the swing guy between both spots, so he’ll play a ton, as might Horn, a redshirt freshman. Baker (28 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Winn (28 tackles, 9.5 for loss) are your starters inside, and both are superb. Atkinson and Tjong-A-Tjoe are terrific reserves, to put it lightly. Everyone’s going to play. Ten, 11, 12 guys. Boise’s like a little league team on the defensive line.
Both of the primary contributors are back at linebacker — Boise goes with a 4-2-5 — but neither are guaranteed of retaining a starting role. Senior Byron Hout (34 tackles), who made the move from end to linebacker prior to last fall, is in competition with junior Tommy Smith in the middle. Both will play quite a bit — Smith is solid on special teams — but I would think that Hout, a second-team all-WAC pick despite missing four games to injury last fall, will be the starter. A 10-game starter, senior Aaron Tevis (46 tackles), is back on the weak side, but he’s trying to fend off junior J.C. Percy to maintain his spot. It really doesn’t matter who the starters are, to be honest, as all four guys will play.
How do you improve on a pass defense that ranked in the top five nationally? Losing three starters doesn’t help. But when the two returning starters are among the best in the Mountain West, when the three new starters bring promise and experience to the table, when there are no depth issues whatsoever — well, that’s probably how you maintain a pass defense that ranked in the top five nationally. The two returning starters, as noted, are terrific: senior safety George Iloka (63 tackles, 2 interceptions) was a first-team all-WAC pick last fall, and junior cornerback Jamar Taylor (35 tackles) seems to me like Boise’s next top-notch player at the position.
Finding replacements for Winston Venable, Brandyn Thompson and Jeron Johnson is almost a concern, but not quite. Boise’s been solid against the pass for five years running, and I see no reason why a few new starters is going to change anything. That the Broncos quickly identified a trio of new starters is also a nice thing to see: this threesome have been groomed for the promotion, in other words, which should help maintain this high level of play in the secondary. It’ll be senior Hunter White (39 tackles, 1 interception) at nickel back; he’s started one game in each of the last two years. Senior Cedric Febis (27 tackles) joins Iloka at safety while senior Jerrell Gavins serves as Taylor’s running mate at cornerback.
Hunter’s a hitter, so he’s someone to watch for. Febis has been around the block a bit, and he’ll have help from Iloka easing into the starting lineup. If Febis struggles, Boise can hand the job over to redshirt freshman Jeremy Ioane, the heir apparent at the position. Gavins is a bit of a question mark, and he should be prepared for an onslaught of passes thrown in his direction thanks to Taylor’s status on the opposite side. But all told, there’s very little reason to think Boise won’t again be extremely stellar against the pass.
Position battle(s) to watch
Wide receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young combined to make 142 receptions for 2,166 yards and 19 touchdowns last fall, so the Broncos know it’ll take some work to supplant that pair’s production in the starting lineup. Instead of trying to form a one-two punch, however, look for Boise to spread the wealth around a receiver corps that goes eight or nine deep, even if most of that rotation is on the younger end. The one standby at receiver is senior Tyler Shoemaker, a 16-game starter over the last two seasons. Shoemaker (32 catches for 582 yards) is Boise’s leading returning receiver; he also is extremely well-versed in this offense, and has a built-in rapport with his quarterback. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll have a big year. And Shoemaker, along with always-dependable tight end Kyle Efaw (24 for 299 and 5 scores), will have to step up early while several young options get their feet wet. This list includes promising receivers like freshman Matt Miller, who will start against Georgia, and sophomores Geraldo Boldewijn, Kirby Moore and Aaron Burks, who will hold backup roles. Moore should be a very valuable asset behind Shoemaker: he did a nice job in 2009, making 21 receptions for 242 yards, before taking a redshirt last fall. Junior Chris Potter (8 catches for 125 yards) is another valuable piece after playing in 13 games in each of the last two years, and fellow junior Mitch Burroughs is currently penciled in as the third starter after doing most of his damage on special teams thus far in his career. So that’s the story, by and large. All the youngsters really have is practice time, though most have seen the field a bit, but a player Boldewijn has been cited for his breakaway speed and play-making ability. What we see, however, is a lack of significant experience. You’d hate to see an otherwise superb offense derailed by a dearth of proven options, but I don’t see that happening. Moore will be on the same page with Shoemaker and Efaw from the start and will rapidly develop a rapport with his younger targets. How rapidly? One will score a touchdown against Georgia.
Game(s) to watch
Georgia. There’s still a Mountain West title to be gained, but the Broncos are out of the national title hunt with a loss. By the way, the last time Boise lost a season opener was in 2005, when it dropped a 48-13 decision at Georgia. The game with Nevada is for revenge; games with Air Force and T.C.U. will decide the Mountain West.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell Go ahead and knock Boise, but only if it makes you feel better. Why people love to knock the Broncos is beyond me, but there you go — people hate, hate, hate, and the lack of affection for what Boise brings to the table is why the Broncos need one, two, three national powers to slip up at least once in order to play for a national title. That’s just the way it is. We’ll have to live with that until significant changes are made to the way the F.B.S. decides the national championship. Or will we? I think this is the year the ball lands in Boise’s favor, actually. I think we’ll see a number of highly-ranked teams drop a game in the regular season; I think we’ll see Boise State run the table; and I think we’ll see the Broncos play for the national title. I hope, at least. And I hope not for any personal reason but because I believe Boise — not the program, but this specific team — deserves to play for the national championship. Name an area where the Broncos comes up short. Quarterback? Please. Coaching? Give me a break. The offensive line? Defensive line? Front seven, back seven? I’ll give you wide receiver, where the Broncos need to do some work, but it’s not as if others aren’t also rebuilding on the fly — Florida State and Alabama break in a new quarterback, Oklahoma needs defensive line help, L.S.U. needs an offense, Stanford needs front seven work and so on. In that view, Boise is as loaded with returning and experienced talent as any team in the country. I have a feeling this is the year the Broncos get their shot. And it’s a bit unfortunate if we’ve had to wait this long, as Boise has had a numbers of teams under Petersen that were good enough to meet an Alabama with everything on the line. A run to the national title game demands perfection, and that quest starts on Saturday in Atlanta.
Dream season After running all over the opposition in the regular season, Boise State lands Alabama in the B.C.S. National Championship Game. The final score: Boise 35, Alabama 14.
Nightmare season A loss to Georgia on Saturday precedes additional losses to Air Force and T.C.U., knocking Boise down to 9-3 in the regular season.
In case you were wondering
Where do Boise State fans congregate? Bronco Country is the clear leader for Boise State recruiting updates, though Blue-Turf.com is another option. The best coverage can be found at One Bronco Nation Under God, with additional coverage found at the Web site of the Idaho Statesman.
Through 119 teams 381,431.
Who is No. 1? You get one guess.
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Tags: Billy Winn, Boise State, Byron Hout, Chase Baker, Chris Petersen, D.J. Harper, Doug Martin, George Iloka, Jamar Taylor, Kellen Moore, Kyle Efaw, Mountain West, Nate Potter, Shea McClellin, Tyler Shoemaker, Tyrone Crawford
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