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Questions and Answers

Q&A: OBNUG’s Kevan Lee

FedEx Field: where it all begins for Boise. A loss here permanently cripples any title hopes.

OBNUG, you say? Yes, OBNUG: One Bronco Nation Under God. Boise State has surely been a blessed group over the last decade, winning an F.B.S.-best 112 games, twice finishing undefeated and twice winning B.C.S. bowls. By all accounts, 2010 might be Boise’s best year yet. This is due to the experience on both sides of the ball — the 19 returning starters — and the way this team played last season. What does OBUNG’s Kevan Lee have to say about all this? Am I too high on the Broncos? Too low, if that were possible? What about Kellen Moore’s Heisman chances? I asked Kevan these questions and more, looking to get his perspective on Boise State heading into its battle with Virginia Tech on Sept. 6.

So, Boise State

Paul So, Boise State. Great offensively, very underrated defensively. Led on the sidelines by a top-notch coaching staff, led on the field by a Heisman-worthy quarterback. So why the lack of love for the Broncos?

Kevan Lee There are a lot of people out there who would disagree with you that Boise State gets a lack of love. I know. They send me hate mail all the time.

But I think there are just as many who don’t see enough love coming the Broncos’ way, either. I guess it depends on how you feel about Boise State. If you are a tried-and-true B.C.S. conference homer, then you likely are sick of hearing about B.S.U. If you are a fan of all that is good and right in the world, then you are like me and wondering why Boise State was not on the cover of ESPN’s college football preview magazine instead of a baby.

In a lot of ways, the Broncos are looked at as second-class citizens because they are not part of a B.C.S. conference. I get that. I don’t think it’s fair, but I get it. As long as B.S.U. plays in the WAC, they will always be short on love and respect. Whatever they’re getting now will probably be as good as it ever gets for any non-B.C.S. team.

Boise State’s 2010 schedule

Paul Looking at the schedule, it’s Virginia Tech, Oregon State and the same old cast of characters. The Hokies are coming up on Monday. What are Boise fans feeling about that game? Confidence? Optimism? Or are fans worried?

Kevan Boise fans are a confident-bordering-on-arrogant bunch. Having seen what the Broncos did over the past 10 years, fans are a lot more comfortable going into big games like this. I’d say the majority of Boise State fans expect to win.

Personally, I am pretty worried about the game, which means a little less when I tell you I was worried about the Utah State game last year. It’s in my nature to worry about football games, but this time I have some pretty good reasons. Virginia Tech will be the most evenly matched opponent the Broncos face this season. Ryan Williams and Darren Evans are the two best backs Boise State has ever faced (Ryan Mathews included). And small mistakes will be magnified to the extreme against a top 10 team like Virginia Tech.

Keys against Virginia Tech

Paul What are a few keys to that game? What’s one thing Boise State cannot do – or let Virginia Tech do – if it hopes to take the win? What do you think about Tech’s home-field advantage in that game, even if it’s being played on a neutral field?

Kevan Many players remain off the Boise State team that survived a road date in Oregon, and I don’t expect a partisan crowd of Hokie fans in an N.F.L. stadium to match that intensity. Home field will definitely be in Virginia Tech’s favor, but I would not expect it to have an impact on the outcome.

Here are some keys to the game for me:

1. Holding Tyrod Taylor under 250 yards of total offense. I fully expect Boise State to focus on stopping the run, so that will leave Virginia Tech’s offense in the hands of Taylor.

2. Converting on third downs. The team that does this the best will have the edge. Boise State was a machine with long, demoralizing drives last season, and if they can string together a few against the Hokies, this one’s over.

3. Scoring touchdowns in the red zone. As good as the Broncos were at long drives, they were that bad at getting six points at the end of them. Field goals cost the team a perfect season two years ago, and it could do the same if that’s all the Broncos get on Monday night.

4. Turnovers. Obviously.

Oregon State a trap game?

Paul Oregon State comes to Boise a few weeks later, but most are thinking the Broncos have the edge over the Beavers. Do you think Boise could overlook that game, perhaps lose at home?

Kevan It used to be that Boise State did not overlook teams, but then they went and laid an egg against U.C. Davis last season so that theory went out the window. The new theory is that Boise State does not overlook F.B,S, teams, so if that one holds true, then I wouldn’t think the Broncos will look past Oregon State.

New defensive coordinator

Paul One coaching move of note on the Boise staff. Justin Wilcox is off to Tennessee, replaced by former defensive line coach Pete Kwiatkowski. Any worry that the defense will suffer without Wilcox?

Kevan Kwiatkowsi was involved with Wilcox in gameplanning last year, so I don’t think the Broncos will drop off in that regard. What I’m interested in seeing is how he handles in-game adjustments. That is what separates a good coordinator from a great coordinator, in my mind.

Offensive production

Paul Nineteen returning starters, nine on offense. If there’s a worry, it’s… where? Any reason why this offense won’t be even better in 2010 than it was a year ago?

Kevan I don’t see any way that the offense falls off from last year, apart from major injuries to a number of people. But no worries. I lit about 20 Catholic saint candles to cover that.

The biggest unknown for the team is probably kicker Kyle Brotzman. He went from Lou Groza watch lister to Scot Norwood look-a-like in the span of a season. His all-around game is good (he passes, punts, and kicks with the best of them), but for some reason he has an acute inability to make field goals from the left hash. Supposedly he fixed that over the summer. We’ll see.

Offensive line moves

Paul The offensive line isn’t necessarily a question mark, but there has been some movement along the starting lineup. Why did Chris Petersen and his staff move Nate Potter inside, especially after earning first-team all-WAC honors at left tackle in 2009?

Kevan The Bronco offensive line operates under a “Best Five” rule where the team always tries to get its best five players on the field, regardless of position. I believe that was the main impetus on moving Potter to guard. It also may have been a secret pact among the coaches to hide Potter on the interior line so that draft scouts would notice him less and the junior wouldn’t leave early. But you didn’t hear it from me!

Front four on defense

Paul The defense features a really good front four, one led by end Ryan Winterswyk. Is his ability to get to the quarterback one of the keys on this defense? Are you worried that he’s the only guy to get pressure on a consistent basis?

Kevan I would say that quarterback pressure in general is a key for the Broncos. It may not come from Winterswyk, especially if he sees double teams. But that’s okay. The best kept secret in Boise is that Shea McClellin is a Winterswyk clone, so there is plenty of pressure to come from other places if Winterswyk doesn’t get it.

What’s more is that the Broncos create pressure with scheme. Occasionally the team slips into a 3-3-5 formation with defensive linemen blitzing from middle linebacker. It’s wild stuff. There is also a 3-4 look with McClellin as a stand-up linebacker. You know how Boise State’s offense has those myriad formations and shifts that create great matchups that the team can exploit? Well the defense has that now, too.

The best position battle is happening at linebacker. Who’s your guy in the middle: Acrey or Hout? On the weak side: Tevis or Percy?

We debated this on my site the other day, and I came down on the Derrell Acrey – Aaron Tevis side. I really wanted to pick Byron Hout because he was an absolute monster in spring and fall camp, but there’s just something about Acrey that sticks with me. He’s great against the pass, good against the run, and he should be plenty motivated to prove himself his senior season.

How good can the secondary be?

Paul Any reason to think the secondary won’t be just as good as a year ago, even without Kyle Wilson at cornerback? Who do you think steps into Wilson’s spot in the starting lineup?

Kevan Jamar Taylor will be Boise State’s new cornerback, but it will be Brandyn Thompson who really has the job of filling in for Kyle Wilson this year. Thompson makes me nervous, which probably isn’t fair of me to say about a Fiesta Bowl defensive M.V.P. He’s just very streaky with his play. If he is able to find some consistency (preferably consistently being good), Boise State’s secondary can be every bit as good as it was last year, especially with more experience out of the safety and nickelback position.

Boise State too high, too low?

Paul Finally, I have Boise State No. 2 in the country, landing a spot in the B.C.S. title game. Too high? Too low? How do you think the season is going to go for the Broncos?

Kevan Like most people, I think the Broncos have a very good shot at going undefeated. At the same time, I don’t think it would take much for them to go 10-2 either – a couple of bad bounces against Virginia Tech, some untimely injuries against Oregon State, a fluke play or two against one of the WAC’s better teams. That stuff happens in football, and it hasn’t happened to the Broncos in almost two years. I really hope it doesn’t catch up with them.

If Boise State can stay perfect, we’ll see what happens. The tough part is knowing that it is entirely out of Boise State’s control where they end up at the end of the season. T.C.U. is close enough that the Horned Frogs could theoretically pass an undefeated B.S.U. if voters wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Multiple undefeated B.C.S. teams could push Boise State out of the national championship. Shoot, multiple one-loss BCS teams could push Boise State out of the national championship.

In college football, you just never know what’s going to happen, which I guess is part of the fun. So long as everything goes your team’s way.

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