Boise State Football: Broncos' 5 Biggest Threats in the MWC
A lot has gone on in the past month to make the scheduling of Boise State’s 2013 football season much more difficult. First there was the decision by the school to remain in the Mountain West Conference, and then the announcement by the conference that it would be splitting into two divisions and adding a conference title game at the end of the regular season.
At this point, it is anyone’s guess as to what the full in-conference slate will look like for the Broncos in 2013.
What has been determined is that each school in the MWC will play all five of its division members, as well as three cross-divisional games per season.
That being said, the Broncos are guaranteed to see the following five teams each season as long as they remain in the conference: Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State and Wyoming.
The aforementioned teams join Boise State to make up the Mountain Division of the conference, while Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State and UNLV make up the West Division.
While there has already been chatter amongst the Boise State faithful that the Broncos may have ended up in the weaker of the two divisions, there are still several teams in the league that could cause problems for Chris Petersen’s squad.
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest threats to the Broncos in the MWC, specifically for the 2013 season. Note that some of the teams on the list may not end up on Boise State’s schedule for the upcoming season, as they are not members of the Mountain Division.
5. Air Force Falcons
Kale Pearson will likely have the keys to the triple-option offense at Air Force next season.
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The Falcons were not on Boise State’s 2012 schedule, but Troy Calhoun’s team always presents a challenge to opposing squads during the regular season because of the difficult triple-option offense that it employs.
Although the Broncos were able to outscore the Falcons in their only meeting with the academy with Chris Petersen as head coach (a 37-26 victory in 2011), only two teams scored more points on Boise State that season than Air Force. It wasn’t exactly a great Air Force squad, either; the team finished 7-6 overall with a 3-4 conference mark.
Since Boise State’s defense will be replacing a lot of parts heading into next season, an early date with the Falcons could spell trouble. Trying to get an experienced defense ready for the triple-option offense in under a week is one thing. Attempting to do so with a young defense is exponentially harder.
The Falcons have to replace their top two rushers next season, which could impact the effectiveness of the offense. However, junior quarterback Kale Pearson was actually much more successful than starter Connor Dietz at moving the ball in the Falcons’ bowl game against Rice this past season. If Pearson is the real deal, then Air Force will be tricky as usual.
Avoiding Air Force in 2013 as a result of not being in the same division would be a relief to Boise State’s defensive coaching staff.
4. Nevada Wolf Pack
Cody Fajardo isn't Colin Kaepernick, but he can still hurt you with both his arm and his legs.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nevada isn’t in the same division as Boise State, but there is speculation that the Wolf Pack could become an annual opponent with the Broncos because of the history associated with the two schools dating back to their days as part of the WAC.
Boise State only has one true rival in the Mountain West at this point, and Nevada is it. That being said, the Wolf Pack are always a threat to ruin the Broncos’ season.
Chris Ault will no longer be the head coach of Nevada, as he announced his retirement following his team’s loss in the New Mexico Bowl this past December. Ault has been credited with developing the Pistol offense and was also a terrific recruiter, luring talent such as Colin Kaepernick to Reno.
However, the Wolf Pack have been a thorn in Boise State’s side for quite some time, most notably in 2010 when they knocked the Broncos from the ranks of the unbeaten when it looked like Boise State might play for the national title.
Although running back Stefphon Jefferson decided to forgo his senior year for a shot at the NFL, dual-threat quarterback Cody Fajardo will make things difficult on Boise State once again. Fajardo hasn’t done Kaepernick-like things to Boise State’s defense during his career, but he did nearly bring Nevada back from a 17-0 deficit against the Broncos this past season.
Ault may have been the ultimate reason for Nevada’s success over the years, but until that has been proved, the Wolf Pack will remain a viable threat to the Broncos in 2013.
3. San Jose State Spartans
David Fales is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football.
Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports
Mike MacIntyre may have left San Jose State for Colorado, but as long as David Fales sticks around, the Spartans will be trouble for the Broncos if they end up playing each other.
Fales, who will be a senior, has basically come out of nowhere to become one of the top NFL draft prospects at quarterback. Originally a transfer from Monterey Peninsula College, Fales became the starter for the Spartans after the Stanford game last season and hasn’t looked back.
Along with Fales, wide receiver Noel Grigsby will be back to complete one of the most underrated tandems in college football. The pair hooked up 82 times last season and will likely be on award watch lists heading into next season.
Boise State has to find a way to replace starting cornerbacks Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor, two of the most talented players on the Broncos defense last year. If the team struggles to find quality replacements, it could have trouble against teams with solid passing quarterbacks.
No team in the Mountain West (yes, even Fresno State) has a better quarterback than San Jose State. The loss of Gavins and Taylor should have Boise State hoping that it doesn't have to play the Spartans, or at least if it does, that it is late in the season.
2. Utah State Aggies
Chuckie Keeton was a huge headache for WAC defensive coordinators in 2012, and will look to wreak havoc in the Mountain West this coming season.
Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports
Utah State and San Jose State share a lot of similarities. Both teams lost their head coach, but both should be okay in 2013 because of the leadership and skill at the quarterback position. For Utah State, that man is Chuckie Keeton, and he presents a major threat to the Broncos next season.
Keeton is a very talented dual-threat option, throwing for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns as well as rushing for 619 yards and an additional eight scores. As a sophomore last season, Keeton struggled early in the year with leading his team to victory in close games.
However, in the biggest regular-season game of the year against Louisiana Tech, Keeton had his coming-out party, accounting for 461 yards and four touchdowns in a victory over the then-20th-ranked Bulldogs on the road.
Keeton’s prowess on offense as well as the defense, which was the top ranked unit in the WAC last season, should help the Aggies compete for the Mountain Division title in the school’s first year as a MWC member.
Utah State will probably be the Broncos’ stiffest competition within the division in 2013. Unlike the previous two schools, we can be sure that the Aggies will actually be on Boise State’s schedule next season.
1. San Diego State Aztecs
Ronnie who? Adam Muema has fans in San Diego forgetting all about the Denver Broncos third-round draft pick in 2012.
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Only one team in the Mountain West Conference defeated Boise State last season. That team was the San Diego State Aztecs. Chances are Rocky Long’s team will be back again in 2013, giving every Mountain West team fits, including the Broncos.
The Aztecs were strong defensively all season in 2012, and the bulk of that starting squad will be returning in 2013. However, like the Broncos, San Diego State will have to replace both starting cornerbacks, including Leon McFadden, who will likely be playing on Sundays.
Offensively, the Aztecs have one of the more dangerous weapons in the league in tailback Adam Muema.
The junior burst onto the scene in 2012 with 1,458 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns, making it easy to forget that Ronnie Hillman was tearing it up in San Diego just a year prior.
Muema isn’t overly physical, but he is extremely quick and could give Boise State’s defense trouble considering the Broncos must replace its entire linebacking corps.
It isn’t often that anyone goes to play on the blue turf and comes out with a victory, but that’s exactly what the Aztecs did last season. If the Broncos do, in fact, draw San Diego State in 2013, it will probably be an away game.
However, even if Chris Petersen’s squad doesn’t see the Aztecs in the regular season, there is a strong chance that it will if the Broncos make it to the inaugural Mountain West title game.