It will take a dominant defense to allow the Broncos to try and at least match last year's record given that the offense, even if it rises to last year's level, will take some time to gel and the defense will more than likely have to carry the team in the first few games.
There's many holes to fill on offense, and that's why a dominant defense will be so important. It may take the offense a few weeks to get it together with all the new faces. Most ‘experts' are focusing on the top 4 wideouts' and Brock Forsey's graduation as the reason for a pending dropoff this season for the Broncos. Probably more critical is the rebuilding of the interior Oline (Center and both Guards). That group had been together for 3 years and was the heart of the Oline.
Ryan Dinwiddie comes back to lead the offense and that's a very good start, but he'll need to be protected, find someone to throw to consistently and have a good running game to go to. This year's offense could actually end up gaining more yards than last year if it becomes a pass first offense. Who steps up at WR and TB may just dictate which way we go.
Watching the Broncos in Spring ball and listening to interviews with the coaching staff, it's clear that this is where the concern lies. Gone are All WAC 1st teamers Scott Huff (C) and Rob Vian (G) as well as the other starting guard, Matt Navest. Good for the Broncos that there are 3 outstanding tackles returning that all saw significant time last year. Sophomore Daryn Colledge is the best of the group. When the NFL scouts came to Boise last year to see Brock and Quinten Mikell, they came away asking about Colledge. They were shocked that they were looking at a freshman. At 6'5", 290, he's got great footspeed and is very strong. The other starting tackle will either be Jr. Rusty Colburn (6'4", 300), or Sr. Jason Turner (6'4", 280) . Both Turner and Colburn have played guard in the past 2 seasons and the one that doesn't start at tackle will more than likely get the nod at one of the guard positions. There are 3-4 very good looking redshirts to back up at tackle including Tony Volponi (6'4", 300#) and Kevin Worack (6'6", 300#).
Center position is the heart of the line and replacing Scott Huff will not be easy. Redsirt freshman Joe Wiegand looked very good in spring and will be given every chance to get the job. The coaches seem to love his nasty attitude on the field and he's tailor made to be a center; low center of gravity at 6'2" and a very strong lower half. Senior Tyrone Tutogi (6'2", 280) looks like a lock at the other guard.
Gone is Brock Forsey and his 1648 yds rushing and 32 total TD's out of the backfield. In his place, David Mikell (655 yds and 8 TD's last year) who had a better yards per carry average than Forsey and brings more speed. Can he last the season taking the punishment that Forsey did is the question. If so, the Broncos are fine. If not, then more responsibility falls on Dinwiddie's shoulders and So. Donny Heck, So. Jeff Carpenter, JC transfer Antwaun Carter (210 lbs and runs a 4.3) and speedy Rs Fr Quinton Jones will have to grow up quick. At the FB spot, watch for Brad Lau to begin making his presence felt. Amongst the strongest players on the team, he should become a bull of a blocker, and should provide the tough yardage when necessary. Of course Lau will have to take time away from senior Greg Swenson who has seen frequent playing time over the past 2 seasons.
29 of 32 receiving TD's graduated last year. But that was spread out across 5 receivers with no one receiver having more than 7. The only returning WR that saw any real playing time is Tim Gilligan. He's got the heart of a lion, is fearless and has great hands but is undersized and can't be counted as the number one threat unless we're in big trouble. Size and speed is needed. Wyoming transfer, So. Brett Ralph (6', 185) will be counted on to step in as one of the starters. A phenomenal athlete, Ralph started as a freshman at Wyoming before leaving on his mormon mission. Also in the mix will be newcomers coming off redshirts and a couple JC transfers. Three JC transfers that will see time (and that bring serious speed) are Lawrence Bady, Chris Christopher and Mark Onibokun. All these guys are about 6' so we won't be overly tall at WR.
The defense lost the WAC Defensive POTY in Quintin Mikell and the HBowl MVP in tackle Bobby Hammer. Also gone is 1st team all WAC DE, Ryan Nelson, and all WAC LB Chauncy Ako. So why is coach Hawkins so confident in his defense?
Jr. Chris Carr steps into Mikell's spot at free safety and he's a good one. Same nose for the ball that QM had, with more speed. He gives up a bit of size (1-2 inches and 15 pounds) so he'll have to show he can handle the wear and tear. The other Safety spot will be manned by returning 2-year starting Safety Wes Nurse. Nurse was a track star coming out of HS who has bulked up to play headhunter in the Bronco defensive backfield.
Both returning CB's return, including Jr. Gabe Franklin who had 8 int's last year, with most of the WAC avoiding him like a plague. His 2nd team all WAC status should be elevated to 1st team this year. Alongside him will be Sr. Julius Brown who led the team in pass breakups last year with 15 and had 2 int's as well.
The LB corps could be the strength of the defense with at least two talented players at each position, led by returning leading tackler, Jr. Andy Avalos. Other returners include Sr. Travis Burgher, So. Chris Barrios, So. Clint Furr. Newcomers to watch will be true freshman Korey Hall (6'1", 235#), a monster who will be a fixture for years at middle LB, outside LB Jared Hunter (6'4", 215#) and Canadian Josh Bean (6'2", 215#). All are big and strong with motors that don't quit. But like much of this year's team, they have to prove it.
The Dline is always seemingly a concern for the Broncos, yet every year we find guys to step up and make plays. This year the tackles are solid with 3 returners in a 2 spot rotation (Sr Dane Oldham, 6'3" 285#, So. Alex Guerrero, 6'1" 285 and Sr. Paul Allen, 6'2", 300#) with 3-4 new kids that have the size we've been looking for each year. Look for one of the new DT recruits, (True Freshmen Jeff Biederman , Ian Smart, and Dan Gore) to get some playing time like Guerrero the season before.
The ends will be Jr. Julius Roberts (6'5" 245#) a 2 year starter and either newcomer Jason Wardlow (USC transfer; 6'3", 235#), redshirt Fr. Mike Williams (6'3", 240#) or Alex Guerrero if he's not starting at tackle. Alex played DE last year as a Freshman and played very well according to the coaches.
Truthfully, this is a mystery in many areas going into this season. We lost our placekicker and our punter. Return teams will be solid again this year with several return threats including fearless Tim Gilligan who had over 500 yds in punt returns last season with a long of 63 yards.
A punter may actually be a requirement this year (the Broncos punted less than 3 times a game last season) and that's a real concern going in.
Kicking will be fine. Strong legged Tyler Jones will fill that spot. His long last year in the backup role was 52 yards.
Should be another good year for Boise State but I have a hard time seeing another one loss season. Truthfully, the Broncos should end the year with somewhere between one and 4 losses. I'll go out on a limb and predict 10-2 but a lot has to fall into place for that to happen. The Broncos won't lose at home but there are 4-5 road games that will be huge tests for this year's team.
Players to Watch:
QB Ryan Dinwiddie, TB David Mikell, WR's Brett Ralph, Lawrence Bady and Mark Onibokun, CB Gabe Franklin, LB's Korey Hall, Andy Avalos, Jared Hunter, DE Jason Wardlow
Predictions (minus Boise State):