The season following Boise State's remarkable 2007 Fiesta Bowl upset can be summed up as nothing but pure disappointment. End of the season polls revealed the Broncos at No. 5, then the highest ranking for a non-BCS team, and the upcoming season had unparalleled expectations.
However, the Broncos faltered under the national spotlight, losing four games, including a three-point loss to East Carolina in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
Once again, after its recent Fiesta Bowl victory versus Texas Christian, Boise State has big expectations for the 2010 season. For the first time since the inception of the BCS, a non-AQ team is getting preseason hype as a national title contender.
So what does BSU have to do to avoid another post-Fiesta Bowl collapse? Reigning Coach of the Year Chris Petersen returns 21 of 22 starters, including quarterback Kellen Moore, the 2009 WAC Offensive Player of the Year.
While Moore and wide receivers Austin Pettis and Titus Young may be among the most dangerous offensive players in the country, it will be the performances of five certain players that will decide the Broncos' fate in 2010.
5. Derrell Acrey
Quick Hits (position, number, class for 2010 season, size, hometown): LB; No. 52; senior; 6'1'' 235 lbs; East Highland, California
Every strong defense has a linebacker that not only unites the defense, but provides a fast, physical presence in the middle of the field. However, since Korey Hall graduated in 2007, the Broncos have lacked a star linebacker and have relied on cornerback Kyle Wilson to lead the defense. Now that Wilson has dashed from the blue, it appears Acrey is the perfect candidate to anchor the team.
Acrey has always possessed the perfect blend of size and emotion to become a superstar. He started the season as the starting middle linebacker, but BSU created a new defensive scheme early in the season, adding a hybrid position of safety/linebacker. Winston Venable became the starter of the hybrid position, forcing Acrey to bench-warming duty. Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left for the University of Tennessee in January, so it's uncertain whether or not the Broncos will continue to use the same defensive scheme.
Regardless of the setup of the defense, Acrey is expected to play a significantly larger role next season. His stalwart size and aggressive style of play will provide the foundation for the rest of the defense.
4. Kyle Brotzman
Quick Hits: K; No. 35; senior; 5'10'' 201 lbs; Meridian, Idaho
The local product has been the starting placekicker and punter since his freshman year and even tossed a pass in the Fiesta Bowl on a crucial fake punt in the fourth quarter. Based on his resume, one would assume Brotzman is a Jason Elam/Ray Guy wonder-kid, but he has yet to fully gain the trust of Bronco Nation.
Brotzman is a safe bet for extra points (he has converted 185 of 186), and has become an elite punter with his unique roll-out punts. Unfortunately, he can't continue his success for placekicking.
As a freshman, Brotzman made 88.9 percent of his field goal attempts, but that percentage has dropped significantly. As a sophomore he made only 65 percent of his field goal attempts, and last season he made a mediocre 72 percent. Brotzman poses a big question mark on attempts beyond 30 yards, making under 60 percent of his attempts.
Considering the elevated level of teams on the 2010 schedule, there is a good chance BSU will be in a close game. It is imperative for Brotzman to dig up the confidence he showed as a freshman and become a clutch placekicker.
3. Brandyn Thompson
Quick Hits: CB; No. 13; senior; 5'10'' 180 lbs; Elk Grove, California
Thompson has shown glimpses of greatness in the secondary, but these moments always seemed to be overshadowed by streaks of poor play. He had a career game versus Hawaii in 2008, picking off three passes and recording five tackles. But later on in the season, in the Poinsettia Bowl versus TCU, Thompson dropped a crucial, routine pass.
On multiple occasions in 2009, Thompson was beaten badly, especially against Tulsa, where the defense gave up an unheard of 35 points. But Thompson then put on amazing display in the Fiesta Bowl, nabbing two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
Now that Kyle Wilson has graduated from the blue, Thompson is expected to become the No. 1 cornerback. He has to fill perhaps the largest shoes for any defensive player in school history, as Wilson was a four-year starter. Thompson must become more consistent and erase any chance for the opponent to burn him on a deep route.
Although he is undersized, Thompson is quicker than anyone on the team, and is a sure-fire tackler and solid at pass breakups. He must take his game up a notch in 2010 and willing to challenge the No. 1 wide receiver for each team.
2. Kirby Moore
Quick Hits: WR; No. 34; sophomore; 6'2'' 196 lbs; Prosser, Washington
College football was a difficult transition for Kellen's younger brother. He set the national record for receiving touchdowns in a high school career, but as a true freshman last season, Kirby caught only two touchdowns.
Pettis and Young make up one of the best receiving duos in the country, but it deeply drops after that. Tyler Shoemaker was mildly productive last season, but a hernia injury cost him the end of the season. It takes more than two receivers to make up a dynamic supporting cast for Kellen, and Kirby has the potential to be that third weapon.
The chemistry between the brothers provides a huge advantage for Kirby. He understands Kellen's game and can anticipate how and where the ball will be thrown. At 6'2'', he is taller than most WAC cornerbacks, although just like his brother, Kirby lacks game-changing speed.
Since Pettis and Young graduate next season, Kirby will soon be the team's primary target. The 2010 season provides the opportunity for Kirby to prepare for the future by getting a lot of playing time. Kirby's production should triple next season. Expect him to catch 50 passes for at least five touchdowns in 2010.
1. Jerrell Gavins
Quick hits: CB; No. 10; sophomore; 5'9'' 171 lbs; Miami, Florida
A walk-on from El Camino Junior College, the Miami native accounted for 31 tackles last season and was also used as a returner. Gavins will be the only new starter on the entire team for 2010, filling the void left by Wilson at cornerback.
Besides Moore, the WAC features some magnificent quarterbacks. Vandals signal caller Nathan Enderle had the sixth highest passer rating in the nation last season, and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick was the WAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2007. It's imperative for the secondary to stay consistent and physical, and Gavins must become an imposing force at corner.
Not only does the departure of Wilson leave a hole at corner, but in the return game as well. Gavins will join the kickoff return team, along with Young and Doug Martin, and will likely share punt return duties with Young.
Gavins is going from the second-team secondary in 2009 to starring at three positions for 2010. His performance will be a key component to the overall success of the team.