OVERVIEW: Boise State returns the nucleus of an offense that ranked second in the nation last season in points per game (45.08) and yards per game (521.31). The Broncos' biggest holes are in the receiving corps and on the sideline. Heisman finalist Kellen Moore could have a tough time matching his 2010 totals because he no longer has the luxury of throwing to star WRs Austin Pettis and Titus Young, who completed their eligibility last season. Boise State also lost coordinator Bryan Harsin, who was hired away by Texas during the offseason. The Broncos are replacing Harsin with Brent Pease, who worked as Boise State's quarterback coach last season. Pease actually left to join new Indiana coach Kevin Wilson's staff during the offseason, but he returned to Boise State after being offered the coordinator's job.
AN INSIDE LOOK
THE LINGERING QUESTION: Who's going to catch Kellen Moore's passes? Moore must find new favorite targets now that Titus Young and Austin Pettis have completed their college careers. Tyler Shoemaker did a nice job as a complementary receiver last season, but can he make the leap to go-to guy as a fifth-year senior? Or will one of the underclassmen step forward? Moore led the nation in passing efficiency last season, but the absences of Young and Pettis could force him to take more chances this season.
THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Boise State beats Georgia thoroughly enough in the opener to get mentioned as a national title contender. The Broncos then sail through the regular season unscathed and land in the BCS championship game when they're one of only two undefeated teams remaining after the first week of December.
THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Boise State's BCS hopes end early with a loss to Georgia. The Broncos then learn that the Mountain West is a bit more difficult than the WAC. The Broncos lose the MWC title to TCU and drop one more game along the way to finish 10-3 with an appearance in a minor bowl.
STAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Boise State has scored 5,917 points and has averaged 41.74 points per game since the start of the 2000 season, which makes the Broncos the nation's highest-scoring team during that stretch. Can they keep up that pace with a new coordinator?
BACKFIELD: Moore and Doug Martin give Boise State one of the nation's top quarterback/tailback duos. Moore finished fourth in the Heisman balloting last season. He leads all active FBS quarterbacks in career passing efficiency (166.74) and wins by a starter (38). He's an accurate quarterback who never hurts his team. Over the past two seasons, Moore has thrown 74 touchdown passes while getting intercepted only nine times. He also benefits from outstanding pass protection. Martin rushed for 1,260 yards and 12 touchdowns last season while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Senior FB Dan Paul is a quality blocker who rarely carries the ball, though he does have nice receiving skills. The Broncos could miss departed backup TB Jeremy Avery, who ran for a combined 1,645 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons. TB D.J. Harper, who has missed most of the past two seasons with knee injuries, is back and healthy; he was injured in Game 3 both seasons.
RECEIVERS: Young (71 catches, 1,215 yards, nine TDs) and Pettis (71-951-10) formed one of college football's most prolific receiving duos last season. Now both are gone. Boise State still has plenty of talented receivers, but they're mostly unproven. The exception is fifth-year senior Tyler Shoemaker (32-58-5), who moves from the slot to the outside this season. Shoemaker showed plenty of upside last season while totaling 11 catches for 241 yards and two touchdowns in back-to-back midseason victories over Louisiana Tech and Hawaii. He's the most experienced candidate in a crowded field of receivers. Other potential contributors include sophomore Geraldo Boldewijn (11-160-0), junior Chris Potter (8-125-1) and sophomore Aaron Burks (6-58-0). There's also sophomore Kirby Moore - Kellen's brother - who redshirted last season after catching 21 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 2009. Redshirt freshman Matt Miller has performed well early in the preseason and also could make an impact. The lack of proven receivers could create more pass-catching opportunities for senior TE Kyle Efaw (24-299-5).
LINE: Boise State returns three starters from a line that yielded just eight sacks last season. Only Air Force and Stanford allowed fewer. The Broncos are particularly strong on the left side, with Nate Potter at tackle and Joe Kellogg at guard. Potter earned first-team All-WAC honors in each of the past two seasons and heads into his senior season as a legitimate All-America candidate. Senior C Thomas Byrd also is a former first-team All-WAC selection. Boise State is breaking in two new starters on the right side. Fifth-year senior Chuck Hayes is a former defensive lineman who exited spring practice ahead of sophomore Jake Broyles at right guard. Sophomore Charles Leno Jr. is competing with junior Brenel Myers at right tackle.
OVERVIEW: Boise State is known more for its high-powered offense, but the Broncos led the nation with 48 sacks last season and ranked second in total defense (254.69), scoring defense (12.77) and pass efficiency defense (95.19). The Broncos gave up 14 or fewer points in nine of their 13 games last season. Seven starters return from that defense. Boise State runs a 4-2-5 base defense, but employs three linebackers at times.
LINE: This unit was primarily responsible for Boise State leading the nation in sacks and ranking second in tackles for loss (109) last season. E Shea McClellin had 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks last season as a first-team All-WAC end. All-America candidate Billy Winn had 9.5 tackles and his play at tackle was a big reason Boise State ranked seventh nationally in run defense. Tyrone Crawford wasn't a starter, yet he still collected 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Senior T Chase Baker is set to begin his third season as a starter. E Jarrell Root had three sacks and adds depth. Depth on the interior is good, too.
LINEBACKERS: Boise State should get a boost from the return of senior Byron Hout, who earned second-team All-WAC honors last season despite missing the Broncos' last four games with a broken foot. The Broncos also return fifth-year senior Aaron Tevis and junior J.C. Percy. Tevis has started 18 games over the past two seasons and made 46 tackles in 2010. Percy made three starts in 2010 and has ranked second on the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons. Junior Tommy Smith made 26 tackles last season and could push for a starting job this year. All this experience should provide plenty of competition, particularly since Boise State often only has two linebackers on the field.
SECONDARY: Boise State has one of the nation's best safeties in George Iloka, a senior who has started 27 consecutive games. Iloka heads into his senior season with seven career interceptions. The other starting safety likely will be Cedric Febis, a fifth-year senior who had been a career reserve up to this point. Febis still must beat out redshirt freshman Jeremy Ioane for the starting job. Jamar Taylor returns at cornerback after starting 12 of Boise State's 13 games last season. Senior Jerrell Gavins also could emerge as a full-time starter this season after totaling three starts over the past two seasons. Fifth-year senior Hunter White is the likely starter at nickel back.
Boise State is breaking in a new kicker and punter to replace Kyle Brotzman, who had performed both duties for the Broncos before ending his career as the highest-scoring kicker in NCAA history. Redshirt freshman Dan Goodale, junior college transfer Michael Frisina and true freshman Jake Van Ginkel are competing for the kicking duties. Goodale exited spring practice atop the depth chart, but nobody's won the job. The punting competition is between fifth-year senior Brad Elkin and sophomore Trevor Harman, who also serves as the Broncos' kickoff specialist. Boise State has a solid punt returner in Chris Potter, who ranked 13th nationally with an average of 13.3 yards per attempt last season. But Boise State ranked 68th in kickoff coverage and 81st in punt coverage a year ago.
THE RECRUITING SIDE
Average national ranking past five years: 73rd
Buzz: Coach Chris Petersen has made a career taking undervalued players and maximizing their ability on the way to making Boise State a national powerhouse. This recruiting cycle, the Broncos have already landed one four-star prospect in S Marcus Rios and numerous three-star recruits. Petersen has done a great job developing prospects bigger-named schools passed on. The question now is will he be able to keep many of those same prospects if the big Pac-12 schools go after them. - ADAM GORNEY
A rare Division I prospect from Montana, Miller redshirted last season after tearing his Achilles tendon in fall camp. The injury also limited him in spring drills, but Miller made quite an impact at wide receiver in the first few days of preseason workouts and now may be ready to take on a featured role as a redshirt freshman. He certainly will have the opportunity to contribute as Boise State attempts to replace Young and Pettis. Miller is a former three-star prospect who received offers from the likes of Arizona State, Arkansas, North Carolina and Stanford. Miller was the state Gatorade Player of the Year his senior season at Helena (Mont.) Capital, and he also was a two-time all-state selection in basketball.
Boise State opened the 2010 season by beating Virginia Tech at Landover, Md., in a "neutral site" that was hardly neutral at all. The Broncos will try that strategy again this season when they kick off the season against Georgia in Atlanta. Each of Boise State's five non-conference opponents played in bowls last season. The Broncos travel to Toledo and former WAC rival Fresno State, and they play host to Tulsa and Nevada. The Nevada game gives the Broncos a chance to avenge the 34-31 overtime loss from last season that ended their national championship hopes. The toughest stretch of Boise State's schedule comes in mid-November, when it hosts TCU and travels to San Diego State in consecutive weeks. Georgia is the only Big Six opponent on the schedule.
The departures of Pettis and Young have left giant holes in the receiving corps, but this Boise State team otherwise is every bit as good as the squad that garnered so much hype during its ultimately futile title quest last season. Moore arguably is the nation's second-best quarterback. Martin is a star running back. They're working behind an outstanding line that features an All-America candidate in Potter. Boise State also boasts one of the nation's best defensive lines and one of the game's top safeties in Iloka. The Broncos will have their hands full in the season opener against a vastly improved Georgia team in Atlanta. If Boise State wins that game, it will be interesting to see if the Broncos get nearly as much respect from pollsters as they earned after their early-season victories over Virginia Tech last year and Oregon in 2009. This Georgia team isn't as good as either of those two squads, but beating the Bulldogs in the heart of SEC country still would represent a great achievement. The move to the Mountain West from the WAC puts Boise State in a tougher conference, but the Broncos still will be favored to win the league title. This team is experienced enough to avoid the type of collapse it suffered at Nevada last season. We expect Boise State to go undefeated in the regular season and play in a BCS game, though the Broncos won't get a shot at the national championship.
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