Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: After dominating the Western Athletic Conference for so many years, the Boise State Broncos made the move to the Mountain West last season and met with similar success, much to the dismay of the rest of the league.
Expected to be crashing the BCS party yet again, the Broncos immediately went to work on building their postseason resume' as they kicked off the 2011 campaign with a convincing 35-21 victory over Georgia in Atlanta. Head coach Chris Petersen had the luxury of bringing back nearly all of his starters from the year prior when BSU went 12-1 overall and 7-1 in the WAC, which meant that the Broncos, along with the TCU Horned Frogs, were the team to beat in the MWC.
So dominant was Boise State, the team was undefeated after eight games and had put up at least 30 points in every outing as it outscored the competition by an average of more than 27 ppg. In wins over Nevada, Fresno State and Colorado State, the Broncos outscored the opposition by a combined 150-30, declaring their dominance in their new league. However, the one team that stood in the way of BSU making another appearance in a BCS bowl game was TCU, and the Horned Frogs were not about to roll over and give away the conference title that they had owned for so many years.
In the second week of November, the huge showdown was set to take place between the Broncos and Frogs, although some of the luster had worn off after TCU lost to Baylor and SMU during the first half of the campaign. Nevertheless, the meeting was still being billed as the most important in the MWC in quite some time and certainly lived up to expectations. Boise State went into the clash ranked fifth in the polls and the BCS which meant that if the Broncos could run the table they could have been in the mix for the national title game, but it all went for naught as BSU dropped the 36-35 decision after kicker Dan Goodale missed a 39-yard field goal to the right as time expired. The defeat snapped what had been a 35-game home win streak for the Broncos, the longest in the nation but more than that, it meant the team was again going to miss out on greatness.
After the loss to the Frogs, Boise State delivered wins over San Diego State, Wyoming and New Mexico, yet the team was relegated to a meaningless Las Vegas Bowl during which it crushed Arizona State in a 56-24 final. The Broncos finished 12-1 overall and 6-1 in conference, boosting Petersen's career record with BSU to an incredible 73-6 and 44-3 in league play. Not only that, it also made quarterback Kellen Moore the most successful starting quarterback in the history of the FBS as he finished his career with an astounding 50-3 mark as he generated 14,534 yards of total offense and delivered on an amazing 142 TD passes, against only 28 interceptions. Considering the fact that Moore often sat out lengthy periods late in games once the outcome had been all but determined, there's no telling how his final numbers could have tipped the scales.
OFFENSE: The post-Moore era is set to begin in Boise and that means coach Petersen needs to settle on a starting quarterback. The logical choice would be Joe Southwick who has been around the program the longest and was the one who stepped in for mop-up duty so often last year when games were put out of reach by Moore and the BSU offense.
Southwick converted 76.7 percent of his 30 pass attempts, resulting in almost 200 yards and 1 touchdown. As long as he can grasp the offensive schemes and can run the variety of trick plays that coach Petersen likes to employ from time to time, Southwick should be settling in as the Broncos' new field leader.
However, as Petersen has shown over and over, he is not adverse to shuttling in other signal-callers to give his starter a quick break in the action or sub him out once games were all but decided, and that's where Grant Hedrick comes in. Appearing in eight games a year ago, Hedrick was the guy who ran the ball from the quarterback position for the Broncos, keeping Moore from taking unnecessary hits. Hedrick finished with an average of 8.8 yards per carry and scored once on the ground, a role he could reprise or even pass on to someone like Jimmy Laughrea or Nick Patti who are just getting their feet wet in Idaho.
"I think it's always easiest, certainly if you know who it (the starting quarterback) is, but if you don't you wanna get it right, as right as you can" coach Petersen says of deciding on a starter. "I don't think about it in terms of time, I think about it in terms of when we know and when its right and that's just kind of been our approach."
Senior Mitch Burroughs, the MWC Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year, is considered one of the leaders on the offense after placing third on the team last year with 49 catches for 500 yards and a touchdown, but don't think for one minute he won't pass up his own stats for the betterment of the team.
Matt Miller was just a freshman last year, yet the coaching staff and Moore believed in him enough to get him the ball 62 times for 679 yards and 9 touchdowns and you can be sure he'll be a focal point of the offense yet again. Spreading the ball to a host of outlets will again be a sign of success for the Broncos and that's where players like Gabe Linehan, Kirby Moore and D.J. Harper come into play.
With the loss of Martin from the backfield Harper, who was named to the 2012 Doak Walker Watch List, will now be the central figure in the running game after ranking second on the team with 557 yards and 9 touchdowns on 115 attempts in 2011.
DEFENSE: The defense is taking the biggest hit in terms of returning starters for the Broncos. Just three players, all in the secondary, are listed as such which means the front line and the linebacking corps could look almost entirely new for 2012.
What we know is that cornerbacks Jamar Taylor, Lee Hightower and Jerrell Gavins are all ready to suit up and take care of the action when opponents attempt to go long, but with many new hands on deck you can assume that the league's top defense from a year ago could take a few steps back.
The top four tacklers from last season are all gone, including Shea McClellin who led the group with seven sacks. Further down that list was Tyrone Crawford (44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks) and he too is now gone. A dominating force in recent years that often flew under the radar because the BSU offense was just so potent, this defense could be exposed if foes choose the right mode of attack.
Lending some leadership to the linebacking crew is senior J.C. Percy who just happens to be the top returning tackler for the program with 48 stops in 13 games a year ago.
He only appeared in seven bouts and made a total of 15 stops, but Ricky Tjong- A-Tjoe is someone who showed potential by notching 3 TFLs and 2 sacks in limited action.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The team rarely turned to place-kickers to complete scoring drives, although it did come up small once more in the biggest game of the season again TCU. Michael Frisina and Goodale will again handle the kicking duties for BSU, and hopefully they won't be the ones holding the bag if something goes wrong in another crucial situation.
The pair combined to make just 6-of-9 field goal attempts last year, and neither even attempted one from beyond 39 yards, so they still have not truly been tested.
Goodale could also be pulling double-duty if he is included in the punting chores after the loss of Brad Elkin who was such a clutch performer for the Broncos. If not Goodale, Trevor Harman could be handling the punting responsibilities instead.
Considering the Boise State defense limited the opposition's scoring opportunities last year, there weren't that many kickoffs to be returned by the Broncos but when there were it was typically Martin (10 returns, 338 yards, 1 TD) who did the most damage. Dallas and Mitch Burroughs will now be dropping back to bring back both punts and kickoffs after showing the ability to handle the action last season.
OUTLOOK: With the loss of Moore and so many other key elements of the Boise State program, one would assume that perhaps the Broncos would not be at the peek of their game. However, voters still expect to see BSU take the conference title this year, rather convincingly in fact, yet coach Petersen doesn't see it that way.
"The first thing that jumps out to me is just a lot of true parity," Petersen says. "I think when you try to analyze who's got an upper-leg on anybody, I think there's truly a handful-plus teams that can do some very good things. I think its going to come down to, certainly first and foremost, who stays healthy and then who improves as the season goes on."
As has been the case the last several years for the Broncos as they attempt to build a quality, non-conference resume', they jump right into action on August 31 with a road date against none other than Michigan State, the first-ever meeting between the two programs. Against every other opponent on the schedule, the Broncos have a winning record.
BSU actually steps aside for a bye in early September and then comes back with a pair of home dates against Miami-Ohio and BYU, the latter being a game that could be a bit dicey.
Traveling to Southern Miss, a team which finished 12-2 a year ago, could pose a bit of a problem, not to mention a stop in Laramie to challenge Wyoming in late October. However, should all go according to plan the Broncos will have their biggest test against Nevada, on the road, in the final regular-season game, a matchup that could have huge postseason implications if Boise State is able to live up to its preseason national ranking.