Boise State is going to the Big East in 2013 and will likely find that environment a bit more hostile and perhaps more competitive than the Mountain West.
That’s not to say that Boise State won’t be competitive, though there are a host of variables that come into play next year. First, the Big East has yet to determine which teams will be playing in which division, or how many cross-division games there may be. Secondly, graduation and recruitment can change a lot.
Boise State head coach Chris Petersen generally tailors his team to the strengths of his players. A recruit who comes in and impresses so much that he starts as a freshman might be a new spin on things.
And, of course, current trends in the game are completely thrown out of the window after the season ends and coaches begin preparations for the next season while determining what needs to be addressed.
With those factors and others in mind, let’s look at a few of the top 2012 Big East teams and project how Boise State stacks up to them.
Rutgers, Louisville and Cincinnati sit atop the Big East standings right now. San Diego State is a team on the rise and will join the Big East with Boise State in 2013. Syracuse, at 4-2 in Big East play and 5-5 overall, just took down Louisville (4-1 and 9-1 overall), but the Orange are on the way out and will be in the ACC in 2013. Had the Orange hung around, they might have been a road block in the Big East as well.
The Broncos will be losing a lot of key players at the end of the 2012 season. Among those, from the defense, are Jamar Taylor, Jerrell Gavins, J.C. Percy, Michael Atkinson, Greg Grimes, Darren Koontz, Dextrell Simmons and Tommy Smith. We are talking key defensive secondary members, the leading tackler on the team and defensive linemen.
On the offensive side, Boise State loses starters D.J. Harper, Mitch Burroughs, Michael Ames, Joe Kellogg, Chandler Koch, Brenel Myers, Dan Paul and Chris Potter. That’s a couple of the skill positions and three-fifths of the offensive line.
The first key is finding who will step up to fill the shoes left by the seniors departing the team.
At the skill positions, quarterback Joe Southwick may not be the guy under center in 2013, and that would change the complexion of the team. The Broncos have a good receiving corps returning and are strong at running back. Having a quarterback who can get the ball to the receivers and manage the game effectively will be the pivot point in the offensive wheel.
Fortunately, the platoon system the Bronco defense has been using has gotten younger players some good repetitions, and while the Bronco defense will take a graduation hit, it could be OK in the long run.
The Scarlet Knights have 21 seniors and 12 redshirt seniors on their current roster. They also have youth at some offensive skill positions, like running back Jawan Jamison and quarterback Gary Nova.
Rutgers presents a fairly balanced offensive attack, currently averaging 217.2 yards per game passing and 130.3 yards rushing per outing. Defensively, the Knights are holding opponents to 309.4 yards of total offense and 13.4 points per game.
The passing attack is where the 2012 Knights are most vulnerable, so that may be the matchup IF Boise State faces Rutgers on the field and IF the Broncos can find a passing game that can put up more than 215 yards per game.
Of course, put a hard-pounding running back like Bronco Jay Ajayi, or the quick Jack Fields up against that defense and it might get very interesting.
If you want to talk scary, talk about the Cardinals. There are only 12 seniors on the roster of a team that is sitting at 9-1 on the season and in a dogfight for the Big East 2012 title.
The Cardinals are a pass-heavy team and the quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, is only a sophomore. Through 10 games, Bridgewater is 217-of-306 with 21 touchdown passes, five interceptions and 2,858 yards through the air. And he spreads the ball around.
This is where Boise State will miss Gavins and Taylor the most. But this is also where Boise State will need to lean on defensive ends like Demarcus Lawrence a lot. Getting pressure on the passer, sealing the ends and forcing the pocket to collapse can help make up for some relative inexperience in the defensive secondary.
Still, however you cut it, the road to the Big East title will likely go through Louisville.
The Cincinnati Bearcats are a relatively young team. Sure, there are 25 seniors on the team, many with a great deal of experience, but Cincinnati also boasts more than 45, rostered, true and redshirt freshmen.
Balance is the key to the Bearcats offense in 2012. Sitting with a 3-1 Big East Conference mark and 7-2 overall, Cincinnati is averaging 226.6 yards on the ground per game and 226.9 yards through the air. The Bearcats' run defense is pretty stout, yielding only 129.8 yards a game.
The good news is that the running attack is powered by senior George Winn, who has 153 carries for 897 yards and seven touchdowns. Munchie Legaux is a junior quarterback who not only throws the ball, but likes to run as well.
Legaux is 120-of-230 through the air with 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, and he has toted the ball 55 times for 407 yards and four touchdowns.
Another senior, Greg Blair, leads the defensive charge with 83 tackles on the year, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also has two interceptions, six pass deflections, four pass breakups and three quarterback hurries in playing from the linebacker spot. He will be a tough player to replace.
San Diego State is in the running for the 2012 Mountain West Conference title. The Aztecs are definitely a team on the rise and proved that in beating Boise State on the blue during the first week of November.
It was special teams play that defined that game. The Aztecs returned the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown and then established great starting field position throughout the game.
Boise State needs to bring all the dogs to the fight against the Aztecs, and that includes kickoff and punt coverage as well as a punter who can drive the starting position of San Diego State back deeper into its own end.
What might make this matchup easier for Boise State is that the Broncos and Aztecs have tangled recently and Boise State knows the propensities of the Aztecs. What that translates to are two teams that know one another and come prepared for the battle on the field.