It is no secret that the Boise State Broncos have a huge task ahead of them in 2012. Both sides of the ball will need serious reconstruction.
On the offensive side, they will have to replace Kellen Moore and Doug Martin, which is no easy task. However, with the large number of wide receivers and experienced offensive lineman coming back, the offense has, at the very least, a good foundation to start with.
The defense, on the other hand, will require considerably more attention.
The Bronco defense is going to look much different than last year's squad. Boise State will have to replace nine starters, yes you read that right, nine starters.
Not many folks outside of Boise are giving the Broncos a snowball's chance in Arizona of returning to ranks of the elite in college football in 2012. Some might even think the days of BSU being a continual top-25 team are over with. But if you know anything about Boise State's history, you know that probably isn't going to happen.
Still, this season will be a true test for the coaches and players wearing the Bronco orange and blue.
The season opener against Michigan State should give everyone a pretty good idea of how good of a job Chris Petersen and his staff have done in the area of reconstruction. Not that this one game will dictate the rest of the season, but it should be a good indicator of things to come.
Looking ahead defensively, you have to wonder which players will step up in the wake of one of the best, if not the best, defenses in Boise State history. Let's look at the list of possible contenders.
Look for big things from redshirt senior Michael Atkinson this season. He has learned a great deal over the years playing behind some of the best defensive players in Boise State history. Atkinson also has some starting experience himself, having started at defensive tackle five times last season.
In 2011, Atkinson racked up 31 tackles and played in every game. On a defense with few true veterans, look for Atkinson to be a leader and an example.
He finished off the year right with a stellar performance against Arizona State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas with five tackles and he was a menace all game long.
Atkinson will certainly get a lot of help on the defensive line from Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and Darren Koontz, but also look for two very impressive newcomers. Junior college transfer Demarcus Lawrence looks to be a standout in his own right, and coaches are high on Samuel Ukwuachu after a very impressive spring.
Overall, the completely overhauled defensive line may be much better than people realize. Michael Atkinson will certainly be a leader among the group and look for him and the rest of that line to impress all season long.
Jerrell Gavins started 2011 looking like he could have an All-American season. However, that all came to an end just after the third game last year. In practice preparing for Nevada, Gavins sustained a season ending knee injury. It was devastating for last year's squad, but in hindsight it was a bit of a break for this year's team.
Because Gavins had never redshirted before last year and because the injury happened before he played in his fourth game of the season, he was able to utilize the redshirt to come back for one more year. He will be a key factor in a secondary that looks to be very good this season.
However, the key for Gavins will be his health. Tom Scott in the "Scott Slant" on KTVB.com reported that Gavins looked a little less than 100 percent in a recent team softball charity game.
Meanwhile, cornerback Jerrell Gavins, with one leg heavily wrapped, pitched but did not bat or run. Perhaps it’s not related to last season’s knee injury, which Gavins has professed to be 100 percent.
Boise State fans are no doubt hoping that the wrapped leg was just a precaution. If healthy, Gavins is poised to be a serious leader and playmaker on the 2012 Bronco defense.
Every Bronco fan remembers how Jamar Taylor finished in 2011. As the Arizona Sun Devils were trying to get some kind of momentum in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas, Taylor decided they had gone far enough.
On fourth down and goal, the Sun Devils' quarterback Brock Osweiler tried to sneak one into the end zone to what he thought was an open receiver. However, it was just good positioning on the part of Jamar Taylor, and he stepped in front of the intended pass and took it 100 yards the other direction for a touchdown of his own.
It was one of the many electric and memorable plays of a dominating performance by Boise State in a very much one sided contest.
Look for more of the same from the redshirt senior in 2012. He and Gavins will be quite a force and should give opposing quarterbacks nightmares.
Taylor did miss four games last season because of injury but finished strong and looks very healthy this year.
J.C. Percy is the leading returning tackler from last year's squad. Of course, it does help that almost everyone is gone. However, Percy did rack up an impressive 48 tackles in 2011, which was good enough to land him fifth on the team overall. He had playing time in every one of the Broncos' games last year and the two years prior to that.
Percy is a team player and leads by example. He is another veteran on a defense in need of that kind of leadership, and he is poised to finish strong. He had a good spring and will get significant help from the likes of Tommy Smith and Blake Renaud.
Renaud looked good this spring, and he may be one that has a breakout year himself. It will also be interesting to see how the freshman Ben Weaver looks in fall camp. There is some buzz about him among some die hard fans, but you never know until players hit the field.
Percy, on the other hand, is a proven product, and he should have a year to remember.
Lee Hightower has been labeled as "fearless" by his teammates and has impressed his coaches by his quick learning and adaptability. He has also been named the heir apparent at the safety position.
Hightower is now in his sophomore year, but got some serious playing time as a freshman. He played in eight of the Broncos games last year and registered 25 tackles, with 18 of those being solo. He also broke up four passes on the year and had an interception against TCU.
At 6'2", 193 lbs., he is big enough and strong enough to be a very effective safety. He is also fast and extremely smart. He continued to improve throughout last season and was utilized in various capacities.
Look for Lee Hightower to not only have a good year, but look for him to wow his teammates, his coaches, the BSU fan base and opposing teams all season long.