Boise State Football's Top Players to Watch in Season Opener vs. Michigan State
Boise State is coming off a 12-1 season in which its only blemish was a one-point loss to TCU in mid-November. The last time we saw the Broncos on the gridiron, they were destroying Arizona State limb from limb in a second-tier bowl game.
Currently touting a No. 22 preseason ranking, they're facing one of their toughest tests of the season in Week 1.
Now would not be the time for Boise State to let everybody down.
Opening the season against No. 13 Michigan State isn't going to be easy for the Broncos, who encountered a similar situation last September, when they opened up against No. 19 Georgia, and the season before that, when they kicked off the year against No. 10 Virginia Tech.
The Broncos are no strangers to opening-weekend challenges. They thrive on them. They are seemingly immune to the pressure, as evidenced by the way things have gone early on in each of the last two years.
Here are the players that will once again be the key to leading Boise State to an opening-game win over a top-tier opponent.
Joe Southwick (Maybe)
The success of this team is going to begin and end with its quarterback, as we saw over the last four years with Kellen Moore at the helm. Moore—who recently signed with the Lions as an undrafted free agent and subsequently flopped in Detroit's preseason opener—was the key to the Broncos' success, setting a record for wins by a college quarterback after going 50-3 over four years.
Now, according to ESPN.com, it's going to be up to Southwick, Grant Hedrick, Jimmy Laughrea or Nick Patti to fill some very big shoes. Most likely Southwick, though.
The junior is the candidate with the most experience and will be difficult to upstage as the season opener creeps closer. As Moore's backup over the last two years, he's registered 40 completions in 54 attempts for 400 yards and two touchdowns.
Nobody's expecting him—or whomever steps up under center—to be as prolific as Moore, at least right out of the gate. But if he's not, nobody's really expecting the Broncos to go 12-1 again, either.
It's not only Koontz who needs to prove his worth in this season-opener—it's the Broncos' entire defensive line. This offseason, Boise State lost a lot of talent on defense, including Shea McClellin—the Bears' third-round draft pick this year—as well as Billy Winn, Chase Baker and Jarrell Root, according to ESPN.com.
Who will be the most important player for the Broncos this season?
Those losses are going to hurt far more if guys like Koontz can't step up and fill the void. As a senior, it is up to him to take on a leadership role with some of the younger guys on this new line and help this unit achieve as much success as the 2011 and 2010 editions.
Last year, as a junior, Koontz played in nine games for the Broncos and tallied five tackles. He didn't appear in a single game as a sophomore after appearing in 11 as a red-shirt freshman. He may not be incredibly experienced, but his transition has to be fast if he's going to help this line pick up where it left off in 2011. That all begins against Michigan State.
The fullback is back for his senior season after missing the entirety of the 2011 campaign with a groin injury that eventually required surgery, according to the Idaho Statesman.
Paul's impact will be crucial for a team that is in dire need of some leadership on offense. His numbers certainly don't jump off the page at you, but Paul—who started as a freshman, according to ESPN.com, and was only recently cleared for practice—can make a significant impact, as long as he can stay healthy.
Head coach Chris Petersen is hoping the senior can stay on the field and that the team will get an opportunity to benefit from having him around. Petersen told the Statesman:
I’m really hopeful that Dan Paul can come back fully healthy because he’s a really good player when he’s healthy. I just hope for his sake—with all the things he’s been through, how long he’s been grinding at this—that he can have a good senior year.
Coming out of the gates strong will certainly help Paul's case as he gives it one more shot for the Broncos.
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