Last season Boise State powered its way to a 10-2 regular-season record on the shoulders of its blue-collar work ethic. Not every game was pretty, but the Broncos certainly showed a fair amount of grit as they pulled off some very challenging close games.
The 2012 defense was a big reason the Broncos did as well as they did, especially early. However, in 2013 the mirror image might be what head coach Chris Petersen is peering into.
With a decent offense returning for the Broncos in 2013, the defense seems to be the one with unanswered questions as the season approaches.
With the loss of several key starters to graduation, including the two best cornerbacks in Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins, and both of its starting linebackers in J.C. Percy and Tommy Smith, the Broncos were already facing an uphill battle.
Add to all of that the loss of star defensive end Sam Ukwuachu who transferred to Baylor after being dismissed from the Broncos for an unspecified team rules violation, and you have quite the rebuilding project for Boise State.
However, they had an even bigger task of rebuilding in 2012, and that seemed to work out just fine.
In 2013, Boise State will look to re-establish its offensive fire power. It has the talent to do it and the coaching staff to make it happen. The Broncos may struggle in a few areas, but overall they seem to be in good shape for another Mountain West Conference title run.
Let's rank each position group going into the 2013 season and try to determine the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the Boise State Broncos.
Special teams overall should be decent for Boise State. However, the position of field goal kicker is once again a mystery, and that has to make Broncos fans nervous.
The Broncos did go out and get a JUCO transfer to help in this area. However, he didn't look ready to shine in the spring.
Tyler Rausa came to Boise as a sophomore from Riverside Community College. In his freshman season there he made 15 of 20 field goal attempts, and according to BroncoSports.com, his longest kick was good from 48 yards.
All indications are that he should be a decent kicker, but he was outplayed just a bit in the spring game by junior Dan Goodale.
While neither one looked like a clear choice, the competition should produce a decent kicker for 2013. Or, so the Boise State fans hope.
The Broncos do have some returning talent in the defensive secondary. They also have a bunch of players with a vast amount of potential.
However, it is the gamble of the latter that lands the 2013 defensive secondary at No. 7 on this list.
Jeremy Ioane returns at safety, as does Darian Thompson. They will be backed up by Ebo Makinde and Taylor Loffler, both are good players in their own right.
At corner is where the big question marks remain. There is a lot of potential with players like Donte Deayon, Bryan Douglas, Chaz Anderson, Deon'tae Florence and Cleshawn Page.
Mercy Maston, a very highly regarded JUCO transfer, will also be in camp this fall as will newcomers Dionza Blue, Cameron Hartsfield and Jonathan Moxey.
No one knows for sure how any of these talents will pan out, and that big question mark has to make coaches a bit nervous.
We have a tie at No. 5 on our list. Both the offensive and defensive lines have returning talent and big spots to fill.
On the offensive line, Boise State has two returning starters in center Matt Paradis and left tackle Charles Leno Jr. Spencer Gerke, who started a few games last year will also be back.
The Broncos will need to get production from senior Jake Broyles, who has dealt with injuries over his career, and Rees Odhiambo, who seems to have loads of potential. There are also a few redshirt freshmen who will need to step up in a big way.
On defense, the Broncos lost Ukwuachu, as previously mentioned, but they have a lot of talent waiting in the wings.
Outstanding defensive end Demarcus Lawrence is back as is Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe. JUCO transfer Tutulupeatau Mataele made a big splash on the blue this spring, and you can expect him to do big things this fall. Justin Taimatuia is another JUCO player that hits camp this fall.
Kharyee Marshall, Tyler Horn, Beau Martin, Sam McCaskill and Armand Nance will all need to be ready as rotation and depth are big issues over the course of a game and a season.
Blake Renaud and Tyler Gray should be the starting linebackers this fall for the Broncos. Both players have seen a fair amount of playing time, and both look ready to take over where J.C. Percy and Tommy Smith left off last year.
Travis Saxton, Andrew Pint, Ben Weaver, Dustin Kamper and Darren Lee are all capable of being effective backups, and the Broncos will need some or all of them this fall.
Joe Martarano will be with the Broncos this fall as a true freshman. Many fans are excited to see him play, and he may have a legitimate chance of getting some playing time in his first season at Boise State.
The only reason running backs aren't higher on this list is that there isn't a current returning starter or proven backup.
However, projected starter Jay Ajayi looks to be a solid starter, and JUCO transfer Derrick Thomas has all the ingredients of a very good backup.
In fact, if these two do what most fans think they are going to do, the Broncos rushing attack will be the best in the Mountain West.
Charles Bertoli and Devan Demas are two redshirt freshman who could also make noise, and sophomore Jack Fields has the talent to be a solid contributor.
Overall, the Broncos look to be set at running back this fall.
Joe Southwick is back for his senior season and his second year as a starter. He looked confident and mobile in the last four games of the season last year, and that should transfer to 2013.
Boise State also has a couple of exciting backups.
Grant Hedrick looked very impressive this spring, and as most Broncos fans know, he always finds a way into the game to run a few option plays.
Nick Patti could also find the field in 2013 in a similar fashion as Hedrick. Both he and Hedrick are fast and slippery, and they could both be utilized in various ways. That is, if the coaches want to take the chance.
Overall, Boise State looks to be solid at QB in 2013.
Boise State is loaded at wide receiver and tight end. Starters Matt Miller and Kirby Moore are back at wide receiver. Tight ends Holden Huff and Gabe Linehan are back as well.
Shane Williams-Rhodes will no doubt do some eye-popping things in 2013, and there are a number of backups who could do some damage to opposing defenses.
Wide receivers Geraldo Boldewijn and Aaron Burks will play their senior seasons in 2013. Both players are extremely fast and could be utilized to stretch the field in a big way.
Troy Ware is another talented player as is the speedster Dallas Burroughs. Although Burroughs might benefit from a redshirt with all the senior talent on the team.
Tight end and redshirt freshman Kyle Sosnowski did some good things in the spring game, and the Broncos will welcome a handful of new talent in camp this fall.
Quarterback Joe Southwick is going to have some amazing targets this season, and the Broncos passing game should be one of the best in the Mountain West.