Boise State Football: Broncos' Biggest Strengths and Weaknesses Headed into Fall
The Boise State Broncos will be looking to repeat as Mountain West Conference champions in 2013. This time, however, there will be no tie.
Last season, three teams in the MWC finished with 7-1 conference records and tied for the conference title. San Diego State, Fresno State and the Broncos shared the league trophy.
In 2013, a new era begins: the era of the Mountain West title game.
To win the championship this season, the champion of the two MWC divisions, appropriately named the "Mountain" and the "West," will face each other in a December title match. The game will be hosted by the team with the highest BCS ranking.
Boise State players, coaches and fans are hoping that means Boise, Idaho, will be hosting the inaugural event.
The Broncos have the talent to complete such a task, but to do so they will also have to overcome a few possible weaknesses.
Let's look at each soft spot and try to determine how much of a hindrance it might be in 2013.
Strength: 2nd Year for Offensive Coordinator Robert Prince
One of the best things Boise State has going for it in 2013 is the fact that offensive coordinator Robert Prince has a year under his belt.
Talk about baptism by fire.
In 2012, Prince inherited an offense that had just lost its best running back, several key offensive contributors and the school's all-time quarterback in Kellen Moore.
When you look back at their 11-2 overall record, shaky start or not, what Prince was able to do with his offensive group was quite impressive. Still, it didn't look like Bronco ball.
The offense scored a total of 393 points in 2012. That is down from the previous season, when Boise State scored 575 points in 2011.
Not only that, but it was the lowest point total since 2001, when then-offensive coordinator Chris Petersen led his team to 411 total points. In fact, in the years since 2001 until the 2012 season, the Broncos were averaging 542.72 points per season.
So, the 393 of 2012 is certainly not acceptable by Boise State standards. You can expect, however, the 2013 season to look much more like business as usual for the Broncos.
Weakness: Lack of Experience at Offensive Line
One area on offense that could give Coach Prince and the rest of the coaching staff pause is the lack of starting experience on the O-line.
There are two returning starters from last season. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and center Matt Paradis will be back in 2013. Spencer Gerke, who started six games in 2012 and two games in 2011, will be back as well.
Beyond those three, Jake Broyles is the only other player with significant playing time. A senior, Broyles has contributed over the years. However, injuries have hindered his contributions greatly. If he stays healthy in 2013, his veteran presence could be helpful.
After Broyles, there are a couple of guys who have some minimal experience. Marcus Henry and Rees Odhiambo are two big bodies that have some huge potential.
Then the list of other players begins.
Redshirt freshmen Mario Yakoo, Steven Baggett and Travis Averill will be slugging it out for minutes. They will be joined by a handful of others, including senior Chris Tozer, redshirt freshman Kellen Buhr and a few true freshman who will be in camp this fall competing for a spot on the line.
If history is any indication, the O-line will be strong and ready to go for the opener against Washington. But it has to be a key area of concern right now for the Broncos.
Strength: Quarterback Joe Southwick
One thing that might help the offensive line in 2013 is the fact that the Broncos have a mobile quarterback.
Joe Southwick is back for his senior campaign, and if he starts 2013 the way he finished 2012, he should be hard to sack and confident as a leader.
Southwick will also have a number of experienced targets on the field in 2013, and all indications point to a very solid running game to boot.
This all points to a very successful season for Joe Southwick.
Strength: Experience and Talent at Wide Receiver
As mentioned, Joe Southwick is going to have a handful of veteran wide receivers helping him look good in 2013.
It starts with junior Matt Miller. Miller has been the leading pass-grabber for the past two seasons. In 2013, he may get some competition for that title, but that only means good things for the Broncos.
The guys who could be nipping at Miller's heels are seniors Kirby Moore, Aaron Burks and Geraldo Boldewijn.
All three are talented, and Burks and Boldewijn have the speed to get open downfield. With Southwick as a more confident and accurate passer in 2013, the long ball could be a serious weapon in the Broncos' arsenal.
Sophomore Shane Williams-Rhodes will add some excitement into the mix, and Troy Ware could do some contributing of his own. Junior Dallas Burroughs is another very fast player. If he isn't redshirted, he should bring even more talent to a loaded position.
Strength and Weakness: Excellent Talent at Running Back, but Not Yet Tested
The position of running back for the Broncos has to be exciting for all of Bronco Nation. However, it also has to be a bit of a concern and a mystery.
On the one hand, you have Jay Ajayi.
Ajayi is a redshirt sophomore running back who did some very impressive things last season. In fact, his 82 carries for 548 yards as D.J. Harper's backup was good enough to set a school record for average yards per carry at 6.68.
On the other hand, Ajayi has not had a full season as a starter. He was also playing with a knee brace last season after suffering a serious knee injury in his first year as a Bronco.
He looked to be 100 percent in spring, but the position of running back is extremely demanding on the body. If he's able to stay healthy in 2013, then it could be a season to remember for Ajayi. If the injury bug bites, then there are big question marks as to who would step up.
At backup running back, the Broncos have a very talented veteran player, but his experience is not with the team.
JUCO transfer Derrick Thomas joined the Broncos this spring and looked very good in the spring game. He also looked very good in his first two seasons at Butler CC.
According to BroncoSports.com, as a sophomore Thomas carried the ball 157 times for 829 yards and helped lead his team to a NJCAA National Championship Game. He also had 793 yards on 145 carries his freshman season.
How all of his junior college success translates to the FBS is anyone's guess at this point. But, to be fair, he sure seems to have what it takes. It will be interesting to see how he does as a backup and how he does if he has to add carries late in the season.
Beyond Ajayi and Thomas, the Broncos have guys who may be able to contribute but for whom game-time experience is lacking.
Jack Fields did get some carries for the Broncos in 2012, but he did not impress. Still, he has the talent to be a very good running back. It seems like only a matter of time before he figures things out.
Redshirt freshmen Devan Demas and Charles Bertoli are two others who could contribute, but neither have played a game at the collegiate level.
True freshman Aaron Baltazar will be in camp this fall as well. He is extremely talented, but a redshirt is no doubt in his future.
Overall, the position of running back could be a feast or famine for the Broncos in 2013. There are too many unknowns to call it a strength, but far too many selling points to call it a weakness.
It all adds up to butterflies and expectations for fans, players and coaches alike.
Strength: The Coaching Staff Intact
Boise State has a very good head coach. One of the reasons he is such a good head coach is because he knows how to pick his company.
Head coach Chris Petersen has had some excellent assistant coaches on his staff. However, because they are so good, they are often hired away by other programs.
In fact, last season coach Petersen had to replace several coaches, including his offensive coordinator, when Brent Pease took the same position at Florida.
Fast forward to 2013, and most of the 2012 coaching staff is still intact. That has to be a relief for Petersen, and it certainly means stability and unity among the Broncos overall.
It also means big problems for those who face Boise State in 2013.
Weakness: Field Goals
Last season, Boise State won the Las Vegas Bowl with a late field goal. That was such a relief for Bronco fans considering the pain the kicking game had caused the blue and orange over recent seasons.
However, going into the 2013 campaign, kicking field goals seems to be a mystery once again.
Boise State went out and got JUCO transfer Tyler Rausa to fill the vacancy that last year's senior Michael Frisina left. However, Rausa didn't overly impress anyone in spring ball.
In fact, at the spring game it appeared that junior Dan Goodale was kicking with a bit more accuracy and strength. Either way, there wasn't a clear leader for the starting job coming out of spring camp.
It will be interesting, to say the least, to see which of these two emerges with the starting job. Last year, field goals were improved, but anything over 30 yards was usually out of the question.
This season, with five difficult away games on the schedule, you have to believe kicking will be key in at least one or two of those contests.
Right now, Boise State fans and coaches are probably nervous about the possibilities.
Weakness: Lots of New Faces at Cornerback
The defensive secondary was a key strength last season for the Broncos. However, after losing Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor at corner, new faces will have to step up to shut down opposing offenses.
Sophomore Donte Deayon and juniors Deon'tae Florence, Bryan Douglas and Cleshawn Page will be facing challenges from JUCO transfer Mercy Maston, redshirt freshman Chaz Anderson and true freshmen Dionza Blue, Cameron Hartsfield and Jonathan Moxey.
Among this group is a lot of talent, but it would be hard for any combination of these players to do what Gavins and Taylor did last season.
Junior Jeremy Ioane and sophomores Darian Thompson and Taylor Loffler will be back at safety, as will backup senior Ebo Makinde. They will get competition from true freshman Thomas Sperbeck and redshirt freshman Chanceller James.
Safety is less of a concern for the Broncos, as this group should get the job done. However, depth could be an issue.
Strength: Good Talent on the Defensive Line
With the loss of Sam Ukwuachu in the offseason, some might think the Boise State defensive line could struggle a bit in 2013.
Well, don't count on it.
Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence will return, as will defensive linemen Tyler Horn and Beau Martin. D-tackles Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe and Armand Nance are also back, and they will be joined by a very talented JUCO transfer named Tutulupeatau Mataele, who also goes by the name "Deuce."
Mataele looked very good in the spring, and he may find a starting spot by the time the season rolls around.
JUCO transfer and defensive tackle Justin Taimatuia is a guy to watch, as is freshman defensive end Kamalei Correa.
Defensive ends Kharyee Marshall and Sam McCaskill are two others who could earn some serious playing time, and if nothing else could bring much-needed depth to a defensive line that could always use it.
Overall, there is a load of talent on the defensive line for the Broncos in 2013. They should take off where the 2012 group left off.