Boise State's 2007 Fiesta Bowl winning squad was led on offense by quarterback Jared Zabransky, running back Ian Johnson, wide receivers Drisan James and Jerard Rabb, and tight-end Derek Schouman. Their offensive line, which was so brilliant in the BCS game against a much heavier Oklahoma squad, was anchored by future NFL Pro Bowler OT Ryan Clady. The defense was bolstered by safeties Marty Tadman, Gerald Alexander and LB Korey Hall.
The 2010 Fiesta Bowl also featured a pretty impressive collection of talent, including QB Kellen Moore, RB's Doug Martin and Jeremy Avery, WR's Austin Pettis and Titus Young, and on defense, DE Ryan Winterswyk and CB Brandyn Thompson.
If the Broncos are going to go for the trifecta, or better yet, one-up the '07 and '10 squads and reach the impossible dream of making an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game, they're going to need some pretty epic performances from some of the lesser known members of the squad.
The speedy Young and sure-handed Pettis are gone, as are Winterswyk and Thompson, leaving a wealth of underclassmen to step up and make huge contributions.
For the most part, the hopes of the Broncos' season rides on these youngsters, so without further ado, let's get to know the players who will have to play integral roles this year in order for the team to reach their ultimate goal.
If the Broncos are going to have any shot, it lies with the left arm of Moore, who has been simply sensational for three straight seasons. With another strong season, he'll go down in college football lore as one of the top quarterbacks of all time. But stats have never defined Moore, and they aren't going to start now.
He's in this thing for the victories and the championships. He already has three WAC titles, a BCS victory and two honorable-mention finishes in the Heisman voting. He's also just a handful of wins away from becoming the winningest college quarterback in NCAA history.
However, Moore will enter this season with few familiar faces. The guy he's handing the ball to will have a familiar look, but his receiving corp has experienced massive turnover. In addition to his brother Kirby who is a redshirt sophomore, and senior Tyler Shoemaker, he'll have to rely on mostly freshman and sophomores to keep the high-octane Bronco offense churning.
He'll also be competing against much stiffer competition in the Mountain West Conference, where there are no New Mexico States or Utah States. Moore has always played up to his level of competition and has had some of his best, mistake-free games against top-flight opponents, but this season will be a true test of his greatness.
After quietly building some momentum in 2009, Martin exploded onto the scene last year, taking full advantage of an injury to D.J. Harper.
He ended the campaign with over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, and another 338 yards and two more scores through the air. Like Moore, he was at his best in big games. He rushed for 83 yards on just 12 carries in the season opener against Virginia Tech, went for 230 total yards and three scores in the nail-biter against Nevada and finished on a high note with 147 yards and a TD in the Broncos dominating Las Vegas Bowl victory over Utah.
With Jeremy Avery graduated, and D.J. Harper recovering from yet another knee injury, the majority of the workload will get thrust upon Martin, so it's going to be up to him to continue Boise State's development in the running game.
He'll get some help from juniors Raphael Lambert and Drew Wright, sophomore Malcolm Johnson and flex-option Mitch Burroughs, but Martin should get upwards of 200 carries again. If he falters, and Harper fails to make an impact in his return, the Broncos could be in a world of hurt.
Burroughs didn't make much of an impact last year, handling only six receptions, three carries and 10 punt/kickoff returns, but he's going to likely be a huge part of the Broncos game plan this fall.
Expect him to be used very much in the same way that Chris Petersen used Vinny Perretta a few seasons ago. He'll see some snaps at running back, but will be used mostly in the slot, seeing as how he's one of BSU's fastest players. And considering he has quarterbacking experience, he could even see a few pass plays thrown his way.
He should also be a major contributor in the return game, where the Broncos have continually excelled over the years.
If Petersen could get 400-500 receiving yards out of him, I think they would be happier than a pig in mud.
Most people tend to think of last year's receiving corp as being dominated by Austin Pettis and Titus Young, and while that's mostly true, Tyler Shoemaker also played a big role in the Bronco's passing attack.
Shoemaker caught 32 balls, good for third on the squad and actually outpaced both of the bigger names with 18.2 yards per reception. He was also one of Moore's favorite targets in the red zone, catching five scores.
Shoemaker doesn't have blazing speed, but is the closest thing the team has to a receiver as sure handed as Pettis was. He'll likely be relied upon in the short passing game this year, so expect to see his YPC average drop, but his reception total increase dramatically.
If the Broncos are to reach uncharted territory this year, they'll have to hope that the Moore-to-Moore connection takes a big step forward.
The sibling duo hooked up 21 times back in 2009 for two scores, before the younger Moore decided to redshirt in an effort to bring more depth to the receiving corp after both Pettis and Young graduated. With his redshirt lifted, he is expected to play a huge role in the passing game.
With better size than Shoemaker and the majority of the Broncos' other targets, Moore could be a frequent option in the red zone.
With few experienced options in the receiving corp, it was only a matter of time before an unknown stepped up and threw his name in the ring.
At 6'4" and 200 pounds, there's no denying that Geraldo Boldewijn is the most physical option the Broncos have to offer, but he's also been the most impressive receiver at all of the team's camps this year.
If you don't recognize the name, it's because Boldewijn played under the name Geraldo Hiwat last year. He contributed slightly to the passing game, hauling in 11 receptions for 160 yards. He had, by far, his best showing in last year's contest against Hawaii, in which he caught three passes for 75 yards, including a 48-yard bomb.
In addition to his impressive size, Boldewijn is also one of the fastest receivers on the Broncos roster. That should make him one of Moore's top downfield options.
In the Broncos' spring-game, Boldewijn caught six passes for 97 yards and had two receptions of 20 yards or more.
On paper Root isn't even a starter, but he sure played like one in the Broncos' spring game. He was the only player to record a sack of starter Kellen Moore, a feat that NCAA opponents have only been able to accomplish 24 times in three seasons.
The Broncos defense prides themselves on having at least two or three players at each position worthy of starting, so when an injury inevitably occurs they lose little with a replacement. Root, who is currently sitting third on the depth-chart at defensive end, is the ideal backup.
He has plenty of energy, tons of enthusiasm and is one of the most vocal leaders on the squad. If he can continue to back up his talk with sterling play, he could take over one of the starting end positions by midseason.
Root had three sacks last season.
Few units performed better against the run than Boise State last year, and Winn was one of the primary reasons. He helped anchor the team's defensive line that held opponents to 2.9 yards per carry and just over 100 yards per game.
Winn was the Broncos' breakout star on defense last year, racking up four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss, and earning All-WAC second-team honors. Teamed with Ryan Winterswyk, Shea McClellin and Chase Baker, he made the Broncos defensive line one of the top units in the country.
Gone is Winterswyk, but with McClellin and Baker returning and a rush of youngsters chomping at the bit, Winn could be in for another huge year. As one of the biggest, and fastest Bronco linemen, he'll be relied upon to force pressure up the middle and his favorite past-time, stuffing the run.
Jeron Johnson, Brandyn Thompson and Kyle Wilson have all gotten credit for the Broncos' outstanding pass defense the past few years, but with all three players off fighting for jobs in the NFL, the bulk of the pressure now falls on the shoulders of Iloka.
Luckily, he's very seasoned, with 27 consecutive starts under his belt and 40 game appearances heading into this, his senior campaign. Iloka was one of the first players to sign with Boise from the great state of Texas, and his success (seven INT) will only continue to benefit their recruiting efforts in the Longhorn state.
As a freshman, he played in all 13 games and recorded four interceptions, good for second on the squad. He backtracked to just one in 2009, but started all 14 games and had six tackles in the Fiesta Bowl victory over TCU.
Last year, Iloka earned All-WAC first-team honors and this year he's already been tabbed as a second-teamer on the Athlon Sports Preseason All-America team.
With great size, soft hands and outstanding field presence, he's going to be the key in the defensive backfield to shutting down the passing game.
I'll be the first to admit that we Bronco fans have been spoiled in the special teams department for the past five years. First we had Kyle Stringer, who was one of the best punters in school history, if not the top guy, and one of the most underrated in college football during his time at BSU.
Then, to top it all off, we lucked out with Kyle Brotzman, the kicker, who made a career out of rugby-style squib kicks. During his career, he really boomed some punts: 54, 55, 57, 60, 67, 68, 71 and a personal best 72 yards.
Not bad for a guy who was moonlighting as a punter.
After Brad Elkin failed to lock down the job last year, the door was opened for then freshman kickoff specialist Trevor Harman, who punted with great success in small doses. He averaged 44.7 yards per punt and had a long of 64 yards.
Duties will likely fall to him this year, with Elkin possibly getting a few in here and there.
Considering Brotzman held both kicking and punting duties for the majority of three seasons, it's no wonder that the kicking game is one of the most interesting battles heading into the final weeks of the offseason.
Coaches haven't named a starter yet, but the consensus seems to be that redshirt freshman Dan Goodale would likely be the go-to guy if the season began today. He has more leg and is more accurate that his opponent, Michael Frisina, a former All-Conference JUCO transfer.
Replacing Brotzman will be a tough task. He ended his career with more points than any other kicker in NCAA Division I history, although he will almost surely be remembered most for his two shanked kicks in the penultimate regular season game against Nevada, that at the time appeared to cost Boise State a potential shot at a berth in the BCS National Championship Game.