It was a calculated risk—one that didn't quite pay off in a perennial automatic qualifying berth. When the Boise State Broncos joined the Big East for football, there was the perception that by joining an AQ conference, the chatter about whether or not the Broncos belong on the big stage would go away. It was supposed to be easy. Win the Big East, get into a BCS bowl game. Then the NCAA changed the way the game is played. With the selection committee tasked with picking the four best teams, even though intimated otherwise, preferential treatment will go to the SEC, and maybe the PAC-12, for berths in that 'Final Four.'
That means BSU is in a familiar position if the school wishes to be considered for one of the elite games. It's simple, actually—win games and be impressive.
Everyone knows how impressive the Bronco graduating class was, in terms of rolling up a remarkable win-loss record. But that is so last year. It's in the books, time to move forward. As much as it seems to go against the grain of head coach Chris Petersen who pulled starters late in the third or early in the fourth when the game was well in hand, allowing the opposing team to score a few points to make the final appear closer than it was, the Broncos will have to win and win big in 2012. They will have to be impressive, in several aspects of the game.
Here are some of those areas to keep in mind…
Many people will glance at a score and see if the details are important. In 2011, Boise State outscored opponents by an average of 44.2-18.7. It could have been more lopsided. Kellen Moore rarely finished a fourth quarter, and coach Chris Petersen used the latter part of the game to season second- and third-string players. Those who bother to look at the stats know there is a lot more to a game than the final score, but that is what garners attention.
When you think of Boise State over the past few seasons, probably the first thing that pops into your head is Kellen Moore, or Doug Martin, or how the crowd at Bronco Stadium would chant "SHOOO" when Tyler Shoemaker hauled in a pass.
Moore and Martin were dominant forces on offense. Now the ball is handed over to Joe Southwick (if he manages to nail down the starting quarterback job) and D.J. Harper (if he manages to secure the starting tailback duties).
If he can build off his 2011 season, Matt Miller will be a wide-out that will garner some attention, but that depends on a quarterback getting him the ball. Mitch Burroughs was one of the top punt returners in the nation in 2011, but for him to repeat, the defense has to make some stops, and returning punts is not exactly considered offense anyways.
Passing or running, BSU needs someone to step forward and become a concern for other teams. The Broncos look to be deep at running back, and the quarterback situation—with Southwick, Grant Hedrick, Jimmy Laughrea and Nick Patti all vying for playing time—could make things interesting.
Patti, if redshirted, could a viable star. Southwick has the benefit of learning from Moore and getting time with the ball, mostly in mop-up duty. Hedrick saw very little action and Laughrea—reputed to have the strongest throwing arm—was redshirted.
Does it matter if anyone has heard of most of these guys? Nope. Who heard of Kellen Moore before he became the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA Division 1 history?
Harper is a good back who has speed, but he is not the power runner that Martin was. Jack Fields may be that kind of back, but with the Broncos so deep at the running back position, Fields may be a redshirt in 2012.
Powered by graduating seniors like Shea McClellin, Tyrone Crawford, Billy Winn, Byron Hout, Cedric Febis, Aaron Tevis and George Iloka, the Bronco defense was tough to crack in 2011. BSU surrendered only 110 yards on the ground and 210 through the air.
The good news is that one of the top tacklers from last season, J.C. Percy, is back. Percy was in on 48 tackles in 2011, 19 of those solo. At 6'0, 223 lbs, the senior linebacker will be one of those counted on to bring the fire and desire to the Bronco defense, while defensive backs like Jamar Taylor, Lee Hightower and Jerrell Gavins can help the secondary shut down passing attacks.
If the Broncos defense can be as stingy in 2012 as it was in 2011, that puts the offense in a position to win games. There will be a couple of teams that test the strength of the defense, beginning with Michigan State and Brigham Young in the first three weeks, but get past those—and Southern Mississippi in October—and the Broncos may be in position for a bowl run.
Every time you turned around, Kellen Moore's name was being bantered about on a national level. Whether it was his winning record, his personality, his lack of size to play at the next level (Detroit obviously thinks he is worth a chance), his arm strength, or his accuracy—the bottom line was that Moore was being talked about, and because of that, Boise State was being referenced. Then there was the 'Muscle Hamster,' Doug Martin, and Shea McClellin—both bringing more notoriety to BSU by being taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
Do the Broncos have someone that can step up and keep Boise State in the national conversation? Yes. For the time being it is Chris Petersen and his penchant for winning games and posting an impressive win-loss record as a head coach (73-6 over 6 years).
Rather than a player, though, it could be a squad or unit. If the Broncos can keep the offensive machine rolling, or if the defense proves even stingier than in 2011, they could be the talking points that Boise State needs to keep the spotlight on the program.
Boise State has been both a media darling and the subject of scorn. 'Strength of schedule' is a rally point for naysayers, but the Broncos can only schedule the teams in their conference and anyone willing to play them.
Former athletic director Gene Bleymaier, in 2010, stated the Broncos were willing to play "Anyone, anywhere, any time." The problem with that is that football is driven by financial considerations and few big powers really want to make the trip to Bronco Stadium, particularly when—prior to the stadium expansion—the facility could only hold 35,000 fans. The plan to renovate the stadium will eventually boost the number of available seats to 54,000, but that won't happen for a while yet.
So what do the Broncos need to do to send the message about the quality of the team? Is it better to take a bye than pound on a team with a less-than-great record? The Broncos need to play games and need to give up on the home-and-home idea and take to the road.
They have opened the past several seasons on the road against quality teams from BCS conferences. That needs to continue. BSU has no control over the caliber of conference opponents, but when given the chance to play against top-tier schools—like Michigan State, or Virginia Tech, or even Georgia or Oklahoma—the Broncos need to make a definitive statement. The performance on the field, emphatically stated by the final numbers on the scoreboard, will have to be the statement that the Broncos project to media from coast to coast.