Throughout the summer, we’ll be previewing select college football teams and conferences for the upcoming 2012 campaign. We’ll get into the latter in August. For the moment, however, a quick look-ahead at what appear to be some of the more intriguing teams to watch this fall with a look at the Boise State Broncos.
For oldtimers, it has taken a while to get used to the idea of Boise State as a football powerhouse. But for more than a decade, the Broncos have been that and more. With a pair of BCS appearances since 2006 and a 50-3 straight-up mark over the past four years, Boise, not long ago a modest Big Sky rep, can be argued to have authored the most-incredible chapter of college football over the past half century.
But 2012 still rates as an important benchmark year for the Broncos program. Boise is entering a season without all-time college winning QB Kellen Moore for the first time since 2007. The Broncos are looking at massive rebuilding elsewhere as well, losing 13 starters from last year’s 12-1 side that was a mere one-point loss vs. TCU from qualifying for another BCS trip. The bulk of the recruiting bonanza that inked after that wild 43-42 OT win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl has finally graduated.
Also, in a not-unrelated development, the Broncos are preparing to leave the Mountain West just two seasons after bolting the WAC, slated to join the Big East for football-only duties next season.
But will Boise really jump?
The day June 30 is an important day in Bronco Nation, because that’s the deadline day for the school to officially withdraw from the Mountain West effective next year and avoid an extra $5 million in penalties from the Big East if Boise decides to leave thereafter. As of mid-June, BSU, unlike fellow Big East recruit San Diego State, had yet to inform the Mountain West of their official intent to withdraw from the league. It leaves only a bit more time for Boise to mull over the proposed conference switch that has enough other ramifications outside of football to cause school administrators some pause before actually parachuting out of the Mountain West.
Granted, like SDSU, Boise’s intentions to align with the Big East were nothing more blatant than a money grab But since the Broncos (and Aztecs) announced last year of their plans to transfer, enough developments have arisen to cause Boise, in particular, reason to pause.
The Broncos’ predicament is a bit different from San Diego State’s because the Aztecs were able to find a home for their other sports with the Big West. Boise, however, instead aligned itself with the WAC, but that loop has since splintered and likely disappears a year from now, which is hardly the best scenario for Boise’s non-football sports.
The thought of being homeless for other sports is becoming a very uncomfortable issue for Boise State. The Big West and the Big Sky have already told the Broncos’ brass that they are not interested in their membership. Hardly the sort of mess that Boise envisioned when making that football money move to the Big East.
And even the money equation with the Big East is under review. With the BCS apparently on its last legs, and a four-team playoff likely on the immediate horizon, the Big East’s status as an elite league could be ready to change. With the possibility of no more automatic entry into one of the big-money bowls, the Big East (which has been weathering its own round of defections) might have trouble commanding similar TV dollars in the future.
Beyond 2013-14, the Big East TV contract is in limbo, likely hinging upon where the conference lands, if it lands at all, in the new order of college football. Sources tell us that Broncos AD Mark Coyle has been making calls and looking for an independent TV consultant who can better apprise him of the TV money situation than the execs at NBC Sports or CBS College Sports, whose reports seem hard to trust.
The possibility remains that future Mountain West TV dollars might be fairly comparable to the reconfigured Big East if the latter is indeed out of the successor plan (whatever that might be) to the BCS. In that case, maybe the Broncos are just better off staying where they are in the Mountain West. Stay tuned for further developments.
On the field this fall, head coach Chris Petersen’s squad still has a veteran look with 26 seniors remaining in the fold and many of the new starters seeing action in lineup rotations a year ago. The Broncos are not as green as many believe heading into this fall.
Replacing QB Moore and Boise’s 44 ppg from last year will not be easy, but remember that the last three first-year Bronco QBs (including Moore in 2008) have recorded a combined 33-2 straight-up mark. Recent history indicates the Broncos will survive and likely prosper again this fall.
Moore’s understudy for the past two seasons, 6-foot-1 junior Joe Southwick, solidified his status as the heir apparent with solid work in the spring. While replicating Moore’s accuracy will be difficult for Southwick, his mobility is superior to Moore and offers some different possibilities for the Boise offense.
The Broncos had a school-record five players taken in last April’s NFL Draft including slashing RB Doug Martin, a first-round pick by the Tampa Bay Bucs after rampaging for almost 1300 yards and 18 TDs a year ago. But as long as senior D.J. Harper (5.4 ypc in his career) is beyond his recent knee problems, Boise’s infantry is unlikely to suffer much, if any, dropoff. Nine offensive lineman have starting experience, and four full-time starters from a year ago are back in the mix.
Southwick also has some established receiving targets on hand, led by WR Matt Miller, a possession specialist who tied for the team lead with 62 catches a year ago. Watch rangy 6-foot-4 Dutch import Gerardo Boldewijn, who has hinted at breakthroughs the past two season and regional sources suspect he could emerge as a dangerous home run threat this fall.
The recent problem for the offense, however, has been the kicking game, which dates back to normally-reliable Kyle Brtozman hooking two makeable attempts in the 2010 regular season finale loss at Nevada that kept the Broncos out of the BCS. Brotzman’s successors couldn’t even hint at competence a year ago, as Dan Goodale and Michael Frisina could combine for only six made field goals, with none longer than 32 yards.
Meanwhile, while the 'O' gets most of the headlines, in fact the Bronco stop units have also been consistently among the nation’s highest-ranked in recent years, with 2011 no exception when ranking a solid 12th in scoring defense (18.69 ppg) and a respectable 18th in overall “D” a year ago (321 ypg). Though Petersen and defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski lost nine starters from last year’s defense, several returnees saw extensive work in rserve roles last season, including several on the DL, where an all-new front starting four readies for the August 31 opener at Michigan State. A pair of thick 300-pounders, senior Michael Atkinson and junior Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, finally get their chances to shine at DT, and sources also say to watch juco DE Demarcus Lawrence, who opted for Bosie over Tennessee, Kansas State and others was one of the stars of spring work.
The same theme continues at the LB spots and secondary, where a collection of redshirts and other reserves finally get a chance to show their stuff. The secondary seemed to be drawing the most raves in spring, with plenty of experience among the four new starters in the Broncos’ 4-2-5 looks. Senior CB Jamar Taylor has started the past two seasons, and some believe the combo of Taylor and senior Jernell Givins on the flanks could become one of the premier shutdown CB tandems in the country.
The Broncos’ toughest tests are in the first month of the season. Following the aforementioned opener at Michigan State, Boise gets BYU and Southern Miss before September is complete. By that time we should know if Petersen has another BCS contender.
Spread-wise, note that Boise’s long-established “blue carpet magic” disappeared a year ago when the Broncos failed to cover all six of their home games. But imposts had become so burdensome that the pointspread regression was inevitable. If nothing else, the graduation of Moore likely means the Broncos won’t be looking at such mountainous spreads to overcome at home, at least until further notice.
Summing up: Boise has been such a big winner over the past decade that it is hard to imagine the Broncos slipping too much, even without QB Moore and other graduates from a year ago. Southwick has enormous shoes to fill after Moore’s departure, but Boise has won with many different signal-callers over the past decade, and regional sources say some of Boise’s recent reserves and redshirts are capable of continuing the program’s unmistakable momentum.
Boise also doesn’t have TCU to worry about in this year Mountain West, in which the Broncos seem to be the consensus favorite. Whether they circle back and remain in the Mountain West beyond this season is another question that might be answered sooner rather than later.