It’s really far too early to be talking about college football’s top 25 teams for the 2013 season. The 2013 recruiting class hasn’t even been finalized yet.
But since ESPN’s Way-Too-Early 2013 Top 25 was released on Jan. 10, it’s kind of hard to resist the temptation to look at it anyway.
Scrolling down to the high teens, one will find the Boise State at No. 19. What exactly are the Broncos doing there?
That’s being too generous.
Don’t twist those words. It is not to say that Boise State will be bad next season. In fact, the Broncos have the potential to be very solid in 2013, especially if the offensive line doesn’t miss a beat after replacing three starters and quarterback Joe Southwick has the kind of breakout season that he is capable of.
But we’ve seen this before. Last season, to be precise. The Broncos, needing to replace key parts from the 2011 squad, came into the 2012 season ranked No. 24 in the nation. The first hurdle was Michigan State in East Lansing, led by running back Le’Veon Bell.
Two touchdowns and 210 rushing yards later, Bell made Boise State’s defense look hapless against the run. As we would find out as the season progressed, the Broncos defense was not hapless. It finished first in the Mountain West in total defense.
It took Chris Petersen’s team time to work out the kinks, and by the end of the season the Broncos were not a squad that most teams would want to face. The key word is "time," however, and Boise State will need that again in 2013 before it can consider itself a Top 20 team.
Boise State will kick off the 2013 season in Seattle with a rematch against Washington, the same team that the Broncos beat in this past season’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
Washington is a major threat to Boise State’s chances at perfection for a number of reasons. Most notably, the Huskies nearly beat the Broncos in the MAACO Bowl thanks to the heroic efforts of sophomore running back Bishop Sankey.
Sankey, who rushed for 205 yards against the Broncos, may feast on a Boise State defense next season similarly to the way Bell did in 2012. The Broncos lose their entire linebacking corps and their best weapons in the defensive secondary—cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins.
Then there is quarterback Keith Price, who is still raw, but has shown the ability to take advantage of weak coverage during his two-year stint as a starter.
Put simply, the Broncos could face growing pains worse than they did this past season, when the offense struggled. The defense bailed the Broncos out of several games in 2012. The offense should be better out of the gate in 2013, but will it really be strong enough to make up for potential defensive issues?
This is all purely speculation, of course. Who cares if Washington can beat Boise State? Isn’t it better to be ranked to start the season, so that the road back into the Top 25 is easier after a loss?
What do you think of Boise State's No. 19 ranking in ESPN's Way-Too-Early Top 25 poll?
Maybe. Northern Illinois being thumped in the Orange Bowl may have erased some of the work schools like Boise State and Utah had done for small conferences. It might be nearly impossible to lose your season opener as an unranked mid-major squad and find yourself in a BCS game now.
But maybe the Broncos would thrive in the role of the underdog. It’s been quite awhile since Petersen’s team has been called that.
If Boise State does manage to beat Washington and somehow runs the table in 2013, it will be in the same position regardless of whether it starts the season at No. 19 or unranked. It isn’t like the team has “national title contender” written all over it.
Let the big boys think that they are one of the Top 25 teams in the nation, and have the Broncos creep up as the season matures. Let the defense prove that it won’t miss a beat despite losing six starters from the 2012 team. Let Southwick quietly become one of the better quarterbacks in college football.
Don’t overrate a team that is used to being disrespected. Boise State doesn’t need the No. 19 Way-Too-Early ranking when it isn’t really the 19th-best team heading into next season.
They'll earn it if they deserve it.