No. 2: Boise State
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 1, 2010
Hello, Cinderella. Does the shoe fit? If it doesn’t, don’t worry. The Broncos are good enough to have the ball come to them, instead of annually beating down the door of the B.C.S. year after year, year after year: Boise State is loaded. You like your college football a little more straightforward, a little less gimmicky, perhaps? Then look elsewhere. You think your team is better than Boise? Then you haven’t been paying attention, not for the last four years, at least. Boise State has everything we want in our national champion; everything but the pedigree, though that’s extremely overrated. You can have your pedigree: go sell some t-shirts, pack your 100,000-seat behemoth of a stadium. I’ll take Boise State, I’ll take them to win, I’ll take them against your star-laden roster every day of the week.
19 (9 offense, 10 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 6
Virginia Tech (in Landover, Md.)
- Sept. 18
- Sept. 25
- Oct. 2
at New Mexico St.
- Oct. 9
- Oct. 16
at San Jose St.
- Oct. 26
- Nov. 6
- Oct. 12
- Nov. 19
- Nov. 26
- Dec. 4
Last year’s prediction
Of course, the good news is that if the Broncos were to sneak past Oregon and survive through the end of the October, chances are great that this team would again finish the regular season with a perfect 12-0 mark. Do I think that’s going to happen this year? No, I think Boise will suffer a small decline from last fall’s 12-win total. But here’s a scary thought: the B.S.U. two-deep heading into the season will feature only two seniors. Furthermore, that signals two things: one, though B.S.U. may be unable to beat Oregon on the opening Thursday of the season, it will undoubtedly get better and better as the season progresses; and two, this team is a national championship contender in 2010.
In a nutshell Another perfect season. That’s two in four years for Boise, with a 22-4 mark sandwiched in between. When looking at last season, you can’t help but be very impressed with how the Broncos began and ended the year. It started with a thorough handling of Oregon, a loss that could have derailed Oregon’s season; credit goes to Chip Kelly for keeping the Ducks on track. The year closed with a seven-point win over then-undefeated T.C.U., which was nice, even if the B.C.S. should have pitted each against a B.C.S. conference opponent. What happened between the season opener and finale? A bunch of one-sided, double-digit victories against weaker competition, as has been the case for Boise State over the last half-decade. Nothing the Broncos can do about it; the schedule will improve once the Broncos join the Mountain West. What do we need to remember about Boise State? If nothing else — and there’s plenty to know — remind yourself that nine full-time starters return on the nation’s best, most balanced offense. And that 10 full-time starters return on a defense that ranked 13th in scoring, 14th in total yardage.
High point A Fiesta Bowl win over Texas Christian. Perfection. Coming in a close second is the 19-8 victory against Oregon on the first Thursday of the season. Take away the first and last games of the season, and only one team, Tulsa, came within 10 points of the Broncos.
Low point No on-field low points. However, I can’t help but look at the B.C.S. committee’s choice to pit Boise State and T.C.U. against each other as the worst moment of the season for Boise State and its fans. Fear, pure and simple, motivated that decision.
Tidbit Boise finished with two undefeated seasons in the 2000s (2006 joining last fall). That’s one more than U.S.C. (the undisputed program of the decade), Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas; and more than Florida, L.S.U., Nebraska, Notre Dame, Penn State, Florida State, Michigan, Miami and Tennessee combined.
Tidbit (retrospective edition) A 10-year Boise State retrospective, from 2000-9. Over this period, the Broncos led the nation in wins (112); they led the nation in winning percentage (.868); they tied for the lead in conference wins (73) with Oklahoma, though O.U. had the benefit of conference title games; they lead the nation in home winning percentage (.969); and led the nation in scoring (41.4 points per game). In all, Boise State’s 112 wins over a true decade — one starting in 0, ending in 9, such as 2000-9 — was the most in the modern era of college football. Heck, it’s the most wins over such a span since the start of the 20th century: Pennsylvania and Yale won 124 and 118 games, respectively, but that was from 1890-99.
Former players in the N.F.L.
13 S Gerald Alexander (Jacksonville), TE Richie Brokel (San Diego), CB Chris Carr (Baltimore), OT Ryan Clady (Denver), OG Daryn Colledge (Green Bay), FB Korey Hall (Green Bay), RB Ian Johnson (Minnesota), S Quintin Mikell (Philadelphia), WR Legedu Naanee (San Diego), WR Vinny Perretta (Minnesota), CB Orlando Scandrick (Dallas), TE Derek Schouman (Buffalo), CB Kyle Wilson (New York Jets).
Arbitrary top five list
Writers with Idaho ties, with notable work
1. Ezra Pound, “The Cantos.”
2. Marilynne Robinson, “Gilead.”
3. Carol Ryrie Bring, “Caddie Woodlawn.”
4. Leonard J. Arrington, “Brigham Young: American Moses.”
5. Frank Chester Robinson. “A Ram in the Thicket.”
Chris Petersen (U.C. Davis ’88), 49-4 over four seasons with the Broncos. How dominant is that? Try a winning percentage of 92.3 percent, or the best of any coach in the country — and it’s really not even close. Boise State has won 31 of 32 WAC games under Petersen, with the only loss coming to Hawaii late in the 2007 season. 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 three 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 the current 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, including, most recently, programs like U.C.L.A., Arkansas, Mississippi State and Washington. Will he join the recent exodus of Boise State coaches to the B.C.S. conferences?
Tidbit (coaching edition) One turnover of note on the Boise coaching staff. Tennessee hired away defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, who served in that capacity for the Broncos from 2006 through last season. His period on the staff saw the emergence of the 4-2-5 set for the Broncos; this period also saw the Broncos never allow more than 21.6 points per game in any season. His replacement, as expected, comes from within the staff. Petersen promoted Pete Kwiatkowski, Boise’s defensive line coach, who brings to the table six years of coordinator experience from his stint leading the defense at Montana (2000-5). What should we take from his promotion? It’s important to note that he was the only candidate for the job, and that Petersen called his hiring a “slam dunk.”
Players to watch
Outside of Houston, no offense was more prolific. Boise State ended the year averaging 42.2 points per game, tied with U.H. for most in the country. Perhaps no offense was more balanced: Boise finished the year 15th in passing, 16th in rushing, fifth in total offense. Leading the way is junior Kellen Moore, my leading contender for the Heisman Trophy. Much can change, of course, but it’s easy to like what Moore brings to the table. He’s shockingly efficient, not just avoiding turnovers — only three interceptions in 391 attempts — but setting a new school record with 39 touchdowns. The only question is what Moore can do for an encore: if he makes a leap similar to the one he took from 2008-9, he’ll be unstoppable. If Boise State runs the table, Moore — as the best player on one of the nation’s top two teams — should win the Heisman. Such recognition would recognize just how important Moore is to his team’s success.
The talent on offense extends to Boise’s running backs: Doug Martin, Jeremy Avery, D.J. Harper, Jarvis Hodge and Matt Kaiserman. They all deserve to be mentioned, even if the first threesome will play the largest role in this running game. This trio is truly interchangeable: each can produce, each has produced, each can carry this offense if called upon. Avery, the lone senior, is coming off a 1,151-yard 2009 campaign, one where he added 23 receptions for 257 yards out of the backfield. He’s particularly valuable in this latter role, serving as a safety valve for Moore if the protection begins to break down.
Martin’s role grows exponentially when Boise gets into the red zone, as shown by his team-leading 15 scores on the ground in 2009. He’s not really just a bruiser, however, a burst that belies his size and running style. Then there’s Harper, who was the team’s lead back before being injured three games into last season. He rushed for 233 yards over those three games — 94.7 yards per game — to go with three touchdowns. Now healthy, he gives Boise three talented backs to share the load on the ground. Kaiserman, a sophomore, was a fourth Boise rusher to crack the 100-yard mark in a single game last fall.
Boise State returns two first-team all-conference receivers: Austin Pettis and Titus Young, both seniors. This duo combined to make 142 grabs for 1,896 yards and 24 touchdowns a year ago; Pettis made 14 touchdown grabs despite playing only sparingly in each of Boise’s final two games. Young led Boise State with 79 receptions for 1,041 yards; a nice bounce-back year for Young, who missed all but three games in 2008. He also earned all-conference accolades as a kick returner, averaging 26.9 yards on his 31 returns, two of which he brought back for scores. Simply put, Young and Pettis give Moore a pair of tremendous weapons to work with in the passing game.
Depth comes from receivers like Tyler Shoemaker, a junior, and Kirby Moore, a sophomore. Shoemaker can really be thought of as a starter, in fact, as he made eight starts a year ago — mainly when Boise opened in a three-receiver set. He ended the year with 21 receptions for 345 yards. Moore chipped in with another 21 grabs for 242 yards, solid numbers for a first-year receiver. More talent can be found at tight end: senior Tommy Gallarda is the blocker, junior Kyle Efaw (31 catches) the receiver. It’s easy to overlook Gallarda in the passing game, but take note: four of his nine receptions in 2009 went for touchdowns.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how Boise State’s offensive line will shape up come Sept. 6, as a few of last season’s starters might find themselves relegated to reserve roles. In every case, such a demotion is not due to a poor performance or work ethic; it’s due to underclassmen stepping up, impressing the coaching staff to the point where it had no choice but to alter the line rotation. It’s also important to note that despite breaking in a new lineup, despite starting nine different players up front, nothing changed: Boise allowed only five sacks on the year, the fewest in the nation.
Long story short: look for movement and flexibility up front, as players break into and out of the starting lineup — though the rotation won’t change, by and large. The Broncos are very strong along the interior, where Nate Potter, Thomas Byrd and Will Lawrence return in starting roles. Potter makes a move inside to left guard from tackle, where he fared well in 2009. Byrd’s entering his third season as a starter, while Lawrence, the lone senior in the starting lineup, started each game a season ago. The tackle situation seems unsettled, to the point where it’s tough to rely upon Boise’s most-recent depth chart as the final answer. For now, sophomores Faraji Wright and Brenel Myers start at left and right tackle, respectively.
The Boise State defensive line returns intact, though one key contributor has been moved to linebacker, which I’ll touch on below. This front is led by senior end Ryan Winterswyk, a reigning first-team all-conference pick and a potential all-American in 2010. He was terrific a year ago: 41 tackles (17 for loss) and 9 sacks. the latter two totals pacing the team. Winterswyk will be on one side, junior Shea McClellin on the other: McCllelin broke into the starting line three games into the year, eventually starting the final 11 games en route to a 36-tackle, 3-sack sophomore campaign. Depth will come from junior Jarrell Root, last year’s top reserve at end, and redshirt freshman Khayree Marshall.
No worries about the interior of the line; enough depth, in fact, that Byron Hout makes the move to linebacker — again, more on that below. The two starters, once again, are juniors Billy Winn and Chase Baker. The latter does the dirty work on the nose, though he makes a few plays in the backfield (37 tackles, 4 for loss). Winn is far more disruptive — though his role asks him to penetrate the line of scrimmage — making 44 tackles (12 for loss) and 6 sacks a year ago.
Yes, Boise returns four starters in the secondary. That one loss, however, is a big one: I was a huge Kyle Wilson fan, both in coverage and on special teams, and thought he was one of the most underrated defensive players in college football a year ago. His replacement will be sophomore Jamar Taylor — at least on Sept. 6. Though Taylor missed all of last season due to injury, he was a pleasant surprise during spring practice, pushing him atop the depth chart. He’ll need to prove himself during game action to hold off junior Jerrell Gavins,who made 31 tackles in a reserve role a season ago.
No worries anywhere else in the secondary. Senior Brandyn Thompson returns for his third season in the starting lineup. If his Fiesta Bowl performance is any indication, Thompson is poised for a breakout campaign: he capped his junior season with two interceptions against T.C.U., one of which he returned 51 yards for a touchdown.
Senior Jeron Johnson and junior George Iloka return at safety, with Johnson coming off his finest season with the Broncos. He led the team in tackles (98) to go with four interceptions, helping him land second-team all-WAC honors. Iloka was overshadowed by Johnson and Winston Venable, the team’s fifth defensive back, but acquitted himself well as a debut starter: 48 tackles (2.5 for loss) and an interception. Venable, a former JUCO transfer, plays the all-important nickel back role for the Broncos. He does it well, making 63 tackles and an interception a season ago. There’s plenty of depth throughout the secondary: juniors Travis Stanaway and Cedric Febis form a potent second pair at safety; Hunter White, a former linebacker, is pushing Venable at nickel back; and Gavin, as noted, gives Boise an experienced third cornerback.
Position battles to watch
Linebacker With five, perhaps six players battling for two spots in Boise’s 4-2-5, no position features stiffer competition. To be fair, the real competition features only four players: senior Derrell Acrey and junior Byron Hout in the middle, junior Aaron Tevis and sophomore J.C. Percy on the weak side. First, the middle. Acrey has a slight leg up on Hout thanks to his experience, which includes four starts at middle linebacker in 2009. He ended the year with 34 tackles (5.5 for loss) and 2 interceptions. Hout’s position change is intriguing, as he makes the move to the middle from defensive end. Sophomore Tommy Smith is another option at this spot, but he’s running behind the top pair. In my mind, while Acrey might start, it will be impossible for the Broncos not to feature Hout in some type of important role; Petersen and his staff would not have moved Hout to linebacker if he was not going to serve in some significant capacity. In addition, his experience along the line makes him an intriguing prospect in run defense. Tevis and Percy share the top spot on the weak side, though as in the middle, one player holds an edge. Tevis is the returning starter: 11 games a year ago, helping him make 54 tackles (1.5 for loss) and 3 interceptions. Percy made the most of his opportunity, rising from low on the depth chart to a three-game starter by year’s end. He made 64 stops (4.5 for loss), good for second on the team. Boise State have two position battles to solve; at the very least, the coaching staff has to define roles for five linebackers. No matter how you look at it, the Broncos have depth on the second level.
Game(s) to watch
Virginia Tech and Oregon State. With all due respect the WAC, which has a few solid bowl teams besides Boise State, the Broncos aren’t going to be challenged that much by their conference slate. Perhaps Nevada, particularly if Boise turns the ball over a few times. The two non-conference games against B.C.S. conference opposition will decide Boise State’s season, in my opinion. Hardly going out on a limb there.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell 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. Nevertheless, it’s not an easy choice. The game against Virginia Tech will be tough, with a loss automatically ending Boise’s title hopes — and making me look very silly before we even reach mid-September. Likewise with a home date with Oregon State three weeks later, though I think the home crowd will give Boise a big boost against the Beavers. Finally, Nevada has the offense to match Boise point-for-point, and with a little bit of help — turnovers, a big play on special teams — could upend the Broncos. Most importantly, however, would a 12-0 Boise State team earn the nod over a 12-0 team from Ohio State, for instance? I wouldn’t think so, unfortunately. At least not according to the B.C.S., though in my mind Boise would have an equal claim to a spot in the championship game as any undefeated team in the country. 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.
Dream season Boise State finishes the regular season 12-0, yet again. Then the Broncos, 14-point underdogs, take out Alabama in the B.C.S. title game.
Nightmare season What’s the worst that can happen? Boise drops games to Virginia Tech and Oregon State and one game in WAC play. So, to recap: 9-3 would be a nightmare.
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.
Who is No. 1? Come on. Now that we’re at No. 1, thanks for reading all summer. And I don’t need to remind you that I don’t shut down the Web site come Sept. 4. Pre-Snap Read will keep going, and going, and going and going. I think I’m going to take a short break in mid-February, so prepare for that.
You can also follow Paul Myerberg and Pre-Snap Read on Twitter.
Tags: Boise State, Chris Petersen
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