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The big 2014 Boise State football preview: A fresh start and the right guy

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Boise State is quite a bit easier to beat than it used to be, but the Broncos have more proven entities than any team in the conference. Bryan Harsin and his energetic staff have a very good chance of engineering a MWC title in their first year.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

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1. A new start

They've still gone 19-7 since Kellen Moore left. It bears mentioning. Some of the shine has worn off of the Boise State football program in the last couple of seasons, but in terms of mid-major status, the Broncos are still as well-established as anybody.

That said, of course, if there were a time for a fresh start, this might be it. Boise State went 8-5 in 2013, its first time with more than four losses since 1998. Chris Petersen's squad dealt with some injuries, sure, and was breaking in one hell of a 2013 recruiting class, so it's not like there were nothing but 8-5 seasons in the future, but after losing just two games (and by a total of six points) in 2012, the Broncos were straight-up thumped in three of five 2013 losses (by 32 at Washington, by 17 at BYU, by 15 against Oregon State in the Hawaii Bowl). If Petersen had stayed, the odds of a rebound in 2014 were pretty solid.

Petersen didn't stay, however. Washington snatched him up after losing Steve Sarkisian to USC. Boise State replaced him with a guy with quite a Boise background and all sorts of youth; Bryan Harsin was a BSU grad assistant in 2001, coached Bronco tight ends for four years, and moved up to offensive coordinator when Petersen took over as head coach. He spent a decade in Boise, moved to Austin for two years (Texas offensive co-coordinator, 2011-12), and spent one year at a school attempting to emulate the Boise blueprint (Arkansas State head coach, 2013).

Boise State's run to start the Petersen era -- 84-8 from 2006-12, top-10 F/+ rankings in 2006 and 2008-11, No. 1 F/+ ranking in 2010 -- may have been too unique and too improbable to duplicate. But Harsin appears the perfect person to try.

2. A touch of Stanford

The Harsin hire is a clear, sensible nod to Boise State's recent history. He has Boise ties, and he witnessed and/or took part in the steps that made Boise State elite. But the way he put his staff together reminds me not of Petersen or Dan Hawkins at BSU, but of another young, hungry coach.

When Jim Harbaugh took over at Stanford in 2007, he had a culture to change. He built everything around a single word -- competition -- and crafted his staff with that in mind. Sometimes a younger, newer coach will lean on old hands and make sure he has plenty of experienced assistants around him at all times. Harbaugh, however, went with youth and hunger. He filled his staff with smart guys with chips on their shoulders, and in turn, they went about building a roster of smart players with chips on their shoulders.

I see the same thing in Harsin's staff, at least up top. New defensive coordinator Marcel Yates played in the Boise State secondary from 1996-99 and spent the last two years as co-coordinator of Texas A&M's defense. Offensive line coach Scott Huff was a Boise State lineman from 1998-01. Linebackers coach Andy Avalos was a Boise State linebacker from 2001-04. Secondary coach Julius Brown was a Boise State defensive back from 2000-03. Receivers coach Junior Adams played for Oregon State and Montana State from 2000-03. Tight ends coach Eliah Drinkwitz was a graduate assistant and magna cum laude student at Arkansas Tech from 2001-04. And of course, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is a 2005 Boise State grad who spent the last three seasons under David Shaw at Stanford.

Now, experience can be a good thing sometimes. There's a reason coaches lean on it. Harsin did bring aboard 30-year veteran Steve Caldwell (former defensive co-coordinator at both Pacific and Nevada) to coach the defensive line and 20-year veteran Kent Riddle to coach running backs and special teams.

But this staff skews young and has all sorts of ties to both Boise State and the Pacific Northwest. Color me impressed.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 45
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug at Washington 18 6-38 L 24.7 - 35.7 L
7-Sep UT-Martin N/A 63-14 W 24.9 - 25.1 L
13-Sep Air Force 113 42-20 W 34.9 - 23.3 W
20-Sep at Fresno State 49 40-41 L 32.6 - 24.7 W
28-Sep Southern Miss 120 60-7 W 37.5 - 25.2 W 4.1
12-Oct at Utah State 32 34-23 W 40.4 - 24.9 W 9.4
19-Oct Nevada 88 34-17 W 35.8 - 30.0 W 10.6
25-Oct at BYU 30 20-37 L 34.3 - 32.2 W 8.7
2-Nov at Colorado State 66 42-30 W 40.0 - 27.1 W 9.7
16-Nov Wyoming 102 48-7 W 27.2 - 13.9 W 10.0
23-Nov at San Diego State 89 31-34 L 20.2 - 17.1 W 7.5
30-Nov New Mexico 110 45-17 W 22.3 - 19.0 W 7.0
24-Dec vs. Oregon State 42 23-38 L 31.7 - 32.5 L 6.4
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +3.9% 47 -1.5% 72 +4.7% 3
Points Per Game 37.5 19 24.8 51
Adj. Points Per Game 31.3 44 25.4 41

3. The game changed

After a dud of a season opener against Washington, the Boise State offense established a pretty high level of play for much of the season. But after a while, the injuries began to pile up. Quarterback Joe Southwick was hurt early in Game 7. Running back Aaron Baltazar began to click in Game 4 and was lost for the season in Game 5 (and then transferred). Receivers Shane Williams-Rhodes and Aaron Burks each missed two games. Kirby Moore missed six.

After a while, it appears the attrition took its toll.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 9 games): Boise State 33.9, Opponent 27.6 (plus-6.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Boise State 25.4, Opponent 20.6 (plus-4.8)

After averaging a robust 6.5 yards per play in Games 3 through 9, the Broncos averaged just 5.7 against Wyoming's awful defense and 4.2 against SDSU. They did average 6.7 against New Mexico, but that wasn't particularly impressive given the caliber of the Lobo defense. Just as the BSU defense began to pick things up a notch or two, allowing a solid 4.3 yards per play in the final three regular season games, the offense struggled, leading to a tight loss to SDSU and a huge first-half deficit against Oregon State.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.16 57 IsoPPP+ 99.6 64
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 46.4% 28 Succ. Rt. + 105.8 44
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.0 28 Def. FP+ 100.4 55
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.4 49 Redzone S&P+ 107.3 34
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.3 ACTUAL 24 +2.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 20 48 45 49
RUSHING 32 46 58 47
PASSING 27 53 28 46
Standard Downs 43 48 44
Passing Downs 54 37 109
Q1 Rk 63 1st Down Rk 72
Q2 Rk 53 2nd Down Rk 48
Q3 Rk 54 3rd Down Rk 45
Q4 Rk 74

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Grant Hedrick 6'0, 202 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 167 242 1825 16 5 69.0% 15 5.8% 6.8
Joe Southwick 151 208 1654 12 5 72.6% 11 5.0% 7.3
Nick Patti 8 11 63 0 0 72.7% 0 0.0% 5.7
Ryan Finley 6'3, 186 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Thomas Stuart 5'11, 190 So. 2 stars (5.3)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Jay Ajayi RB 6'0, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 249 1425 18 5.7 5.6 40.2%
Grant Hedrick QB 6'0, 202 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 53 351 6 6.6 6.7 47.2%
Aaron Baltazar RB 50 234 2 4.7 3.9 36.0%
Jack Fields RB 5'9, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 46 139 1 3.0 2.1 26.1%
Derrick Thomas RB 6'0, 208 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 32 95 0 3.0 4.8 12.5%
Joe Southwick QB 31 173 3 5.6 4.0 54.8%
Devan Demas RB 5'8, 172 So. 3 stars (5.5) 21 125 1 6.0 5.7 42.9%
Charles Bertoli RB 5'11, 200 So. NR 18 115 1 6.4 4.0 55.6%
Shane Williams-Rhodes WR 5'6, 157 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 73 1 7.3 5.3 60.0%
Nick Patti QB 5'10, 196 So. 3 stars (5.7) 4 19 0 4.8 9.8 50.0%
Cory Young RB 5'10, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Jeremy McNichols RB 5'10, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

4. Running downhill

Boise State will forever be tied to football underdog tactics, and underdog tactics are often falsely tied to the pass. But the Bronco offense under Petersen was at its best when the Broncos could lean on a solid running game. Perhaps their two most successful teams -- 2006 (in which they went 13-0) and 2010 (in which they lost a game but ranked first in overall F/+) were the two best at running the ball: Boise State ranked ninth in Rushing S&P+ in 2006 and 20th in 2010.

After falling to 48th in 2011 and 51st in 2012, Petersen seemed to put extra emphasis on running in 2013. It began to work midway through the season -- Baltazar rushed 18 times for 92 yards against Fresno State (gaining particular success from a slow-developing power play up the middle in which he seemed to line up about 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage; yes, that's an exaggeration), and Jay Ajayi rushed 107 times for 726 yards (6.8 per carry) and eight touchdowns in the six games between Southern Miss and Wyoming. But backups not named Baltazar struggled to do much of anything, and Ajayi's random fumble problems (he had four of them in 2013) tripped the Broncos up in losses to Fresno State and BYU.

Harsin's Arkansas State team ran the ball heavily in 2013, and Boise State will almost definitely attempt to establish the run in 2014. Ajayi should have all the opportunity in the world to prove that he's over whatever fumbleitis he was suffering from in the first half of the season; he could also get enough opportunity to cross the 1,500-yard rushing mark if he stays healthy.

Combine Ajayi with a nice one-two punch at receiver -- Matt Miller is a solid downfield threat for his size, and Shane Williams-Rhodes is a tiny J.D. McKissic (McKissic was used in basically an extended-handoffs role for ASU in 2013, catching 80 percent of his passes at 8.1 yards per catch) -- and you've got quality atop the Boise State depth chart. You've also got a batch of unknowns after that.

Running backs Jack Fields and Derrick Thomas did very little with their opportunities last year (Devan Demas showed some potential late in the season), junior receiver Troy Ware caught just nine passes last year but is the third-leading wideout, and most of the more highly touted recruits at the skill positions are really young. There are plenty of candidates for breakthroughs and no guarantees.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Matt Miller WR-X 6'3, 222 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 112 88 1138 78.6% 25.5% 59.6% 10.2 170 9.0 138.5
Shane Williams-Rhodes WR-H 5'6, 157 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 87 77 702 88.5% 19.8% 65.8% 8.1 -102 7.3 85.4
Geraldo Boldewijn WR-Z 61 39 528 63.9% 13.9% 50.0% 8.7 54 9.9 64.2
Kirby Moore WR-H 42 36 280 85.7% 9.6% 54.1% 6.7 -101 6.2 34.1
Aaron Burks WR-Z 37 18 309 48.6% 8.4% 48.0% 8.4 55 8.7 37.6
Jay Ajayi RB 6'0, 220 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 26 22 222 84.6% 5.9% 47.1% 8.5 -12 10.2 27.0
Holden Huff TE 6'5, 236 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 11 6 32 54.5% 2.5% 50.0% 2.9 -47 3.2 3.9
Troy Ware WR-Z 6'2, 188 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 11 9 104 81.8% 2.5% 60.0% 9.5 7 9.0 12.7
Connor Peters TE 6'4, 250 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 9 7 58 77.8% 2.1% 66.7% 6.4 -19 6.0 7.1
Dallas Burroughs WR-X 5'8, 171 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 7 2 11 28.6% 1.6% N/A 1.6 -29 0.0 1.3
Gabe Linehan TE 7 2 38 28.6% 1.6% 100.0% 5.4 -2 5.3 4.6
Jake Hardee TE 6'3, 241 Jr. NR 7 5 73 71.4% 1.6% 50.0% 10.4 15 11.5 8.9
Thomas Sperbeck WR-H 6'0, 174 So. 2 stars (5.4) 5 5 40 100.0% 1.1% 100.0% 8.0 -10 3.9 4.9
Alec Dhaenens TE 6'3, 243 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Jake Roh TE 6'2, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Tanner Shipley WR 6'0, 182 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
D.J. Dean WR 6'0, 187 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Chase Blakley TE 6'4, 235 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)









A.J. Richardson WR 6'0, 196 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)









Sean Modster WR 6'0, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)









5. A parting gift

In terms of rankings, Boise State's 2013 recruiting class fell into the same range as most Petersen classes -- between 50th and 70th -- but whereas the overall play-making ability at the skill positions suffered in recent years, the 2013 class was loaded with potential in this regard.

Granted, Aaron Baltazar was the most touted skill position player of the bunch, and he is indeed gone. But tight end Jake Roh might start this year, and the class features three other three-star skill position players -- A.J. Richardson, Alec Dhaenens, and Tanner Shipley. Throw in 2012 grayshirt D.J. Dean and 2012 recruits like Williams-Rhodes, Demas, and Fields, and you've got a healthy number of high-upside youngsters. Harsin only added to that by bringing in four-star tight end Chase Blakley, three-star receivers Jeremy McNichols and Sean Modster (a Petersen commit), and three-star running back Cory Young.

Potential isn't production, but it does appear the skill-position roster has quite a bit more upside than it had over the last couple of years. So perhaps the biggest question mark for the offense this year comes up front, where three multi-year starters (including all-conference performers Charles Leno, Jr., and Matt Paradis) are gone. The line also has upside and is young enough to be quite strong in 2015 and 2016, but 2014 might be an issue.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 104.6 3.08 3.67 39.5% 74.1% 19.0% 102.4 4.6% 6.6%
Rank 47 48 28 64 33 64 66 62 60
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Charles Leno, Jr. LT 39 1st All-MWC
Matt Paradis C 27 2nd All-MWC
Spencer Gerke LG 21
Marcus Henry C 6'3, 285 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 13
Rees Odhiambo LT 6'4, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 8
Travis Averill RG 6'3, 304 So. 3 stars (5.7) 3
Steven Baggett LT 6'3, 288 So. 2 stars (5.4) 2
Chris Tozer LG 0
Mario Yakoo LG 6'4, 330 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Archie Lewis RT 6'3, 275 RSFr. NR
Andrew Tercek OL 6'1, 276 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Eli McCullough OL 6'5, 297 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Jerhen Ertel OL 6'5, 258 Jr. 2 stars (5.4)
Troy Bacon OL 6'3, 280 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Tennessee Su'esu'e OL 6'2, 295 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.04 12 IsoPPP+ 112.3 15
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 42.4% 61 Succ. Rt. + 98.2 61
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.4 40 Off. FP+ 102.5 32
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.9 32 Redzone S&P+ 119.0 15
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.3 ACTUAL 27.0 +3.7
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 76 44 61 43
RUSHING 65 21 34 31
PASSING 89 90 106 63
Standard Downs 37 54 18
Passing Downs 65 82 17
Q1 Rk 57 1st Down Rk 45
Q2 Rk 90 2nd Down Rk 52
Q3 Rk 9 3rd Down Rk 52
Q4 Rk 58

6. Not bad, but no longer elite

The most underrated aspect of Boise State's elite teams was the defense. Players like Kellen Moore and Ian Johnson got the headlines, but Boise State ranked in the Def. F/+ top 20 every year between 2008 and 2012. The Broncos even ranked first in 2010.

The shine came off in 2013. Boise State still had a decent mid-major D, but you have to add the "mid-major" distinction. Good offenses tore the Broncos apart: Washington averaged 7.0 yards per play, Fresno State averaged 6.2, and Oregon State averaged 6.8. Even BYU (6.2) and Colorado State (5.7) had some success.

Most of the problems came in pass defense. Boise State basically had a one-man pass rush (Demarcus Lawrence had 10.5 sacks, but BSU still ranked just 72nd in Adj. Sack Rate), and in order to prevent big plays, the Broncos couldn't get as aggressive as normal on the outside, allowing all sorts of shorter completions.

It's a strength-gets-weaker, weakness-gets-stronger situation for new defensive coordinator Marcel Yates in 2014. The back seven returns virtually everybody -- the top five linebackers, and the top 10 defensive backs -- but three of four starters from a line that was quite good against the run are gone. Harsin signed three JUCO linemen (two tackles), and if the line holds up, this should still be a solid mid-major defense. But that's not a guarantee.

(One note from the neither-here-nor-there department: Almost all of the returning linemen are listed five to 10 pounds lighter than last season, while a majority of the linebackers are listed five to 10 pounds heavier. Take that as you will.)

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 107.6 2.68 3.48 39.1% 56.7% 21.2% 93.3 3.8% 6.8%
Rank 37 31 83 63 11 37 72 81 63
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Demarcus Lawrence DE 12 55.5 6.7% 20.5 10.5 0 1 3 0
Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe NT 12 36.5 4.4% 4.0 1.0 0 4 1 0
Armand Nance DT 6'0, 311 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 34.0 4.1% 4.0 1.0 0 1 1 0
Tyler Horn DT 6'5, 276 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 29.5 3.6% 5.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
Kharyee Marshall DE 13 27.0 3.3% 7.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Gabe Perez DE 6'4, 235 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 25.0 3.0% 7.0 2.5 0 0 2 0
Justin Taimatuia NT 6'0, 294 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 19.0 2.3% 2.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
Beau Martin DE 6'2, 254 Sr. 2 stars (5.1) 13 17.5 2.1% 6.5 3.5 0 2 0 0
Kamalei Correa DE 6'3, 247 So. 3 stars (5.5) 13 9.0 1.1% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Robert Ash DT 6'3, 282 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 6 6.5 0.8% 1.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Sam McCaskill DE 6'3, 249 So. 2 stars (5.3) 11 5.5 0.7% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Elliot Hoyte DL 6'4, 276 So. 2 stars (5.2) 4 3.5 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nick Terry DT 6'3, 276 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Tutulupeatau Mataele DT 6'3, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Rondell McNair DE 6'4, 250 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Antoine Turner DT 6'3, 280 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Jabril Frazier DE 6'4, 225 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Kaleb Hill DE 6'1, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ben Weaver WLB 6'0, 240 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 70.0 8.4% 4.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Tanner Vallejo MLB 6'1, 227 So. 3 stars (5.6) 11 39.5 4.8% 5.5 0.5 0 3 0 0
Tyler Gray WLB 6'4, 224 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 30.0 3.6% 0.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Blake Renaud MLB 6'2, 247 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 10 18.5 2.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Darren Lee MLB 6'1, 226 So. 2 stars (5.2) 13 13.0 1.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jonathan Brown SLB 6 9.0 1.1% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Christopher Santini SLB 6'0, 215 So. 3 stars (5.7) 11 8.5 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Dustin Kamper LB 11 7.0 0.8% 0.0 0.0 1 0 0 0
Travis Saxton LB 6'1, 233 Sr. NR 2 4.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Andrew Pint LB 6'1, 232 So. 2 stars (5.2) 3 2.0 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mat Boesen LB 6'4, 227 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)





Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Corey Bell NB 5'11, 208 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 62.0 7.5% 4.5 1 0 2 0 1
Jeremy Ioane S 5'10, 190 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 49.5 6.0% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Darian Thompson S 6'2, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 48.5 5.8% 1.5 0 4 1 1 0
Donte Deayon CB 5'9, 151 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 47.0 5.7% 3 0 6 9 0 0
Dillon Lukehart S 6'1, 207 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 37.0 4.5% 2 0 0 0 1 0
Mercy Maston CB 5'11, 196 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 36.0 4.3% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Bryan Douglas CB 5'9, 178 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 29.0 3.5% 0 0 4 9 0 0
Jonathan Moxey CB 5'10, 179 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 11.5 1.4% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Taylor Loffler S 6'3, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 10.0 1.2% 0 0 1 1 0 0
Cleshawn Page CB 5'9, 174 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 6.0 0.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Ebo Makinde S 5 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Chaz Anderson CB 5'10, 176 So. 3 stars (5.7) 9 4.0 0.5% 1 1 0 0 0 0
Dionza Blue CB 5'11, 191 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Dylan Sumner-Gardner S 6'1, 195 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)






7. All the experience you could possibly want in the back seven

The back seven didn't make quite enough plays in 2013, particularly against good offenses. But one can see how inexperience might have been an issue. Counting Corey Bell as more of a nickel back than strongside linebacker, three of the top five linebackers were freshmen, as were four of the top seven; plus, only two linebackers played in all 13 games. Inexperience plus shuffling tends to equal some level of disarray. And there were three sophomores among the top five in the secondary.

The good thing about inexperience, however, is that it becomes experience. Last year's shuffling means that this year's linebacking corps returns five players who have logged decent minutes. And while the secondary had its issues, it now returns four safeties who combined for eight tackles for loss in 2013 and three corners who combined for 10 picks and 19 passes defensed. Plus, four-star freshman Dylan Sumner-Gardner was already able to make a bit of an impact in spring ball.

Aside from defensive end, this defense is loaded with experience, and last year's weaknesses shouldn't be quite as weak.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Trevor Harman 26 42.6 0 15 9 92.3%
Sean Wale 6'2, 188 So. 21 41.5 0 3 8 52.4%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Dan Goodale 5'10, 196 Sr. 90 61.0 37 1 41.1%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Dan Goodale 5'10, 196 Sr. 57-60 15-16 93.8% 2-3 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Bryan Douglas KR 5'9, 178 Sr. 13 30.4 1
Dallas Burroughs KR 5'8, 171 Sr. 10 23.4 0
Shane Williams-Rhodes PR 5'6, 157 Jr. 16 14.6 0
Donte Deayon PR 5'9, 151 Jr. 5 21.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 3
Field Goal Efficiency 23
Punt Return Efficiency 9
Kick Return Efficiency 47
Punt Efficiency 22
Kickoff Efficiency 5
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 34

8. Even-numbered jinx

Boise State had an on-and-off relationship with special teams in recent years.

We know all about the key kicks the Broncos missed in the 2010-12 window, but beyond that, they ranked first in Special Teams F/+ in 2011, third in 2013, and 10th in 2009 ... and 52nd in 2012 and 56th in 2010. Even-numbered years apparently aren't kind to this unit, but Boise certainly returns a hell of a returns unit and a confusing but solid kicker in Dan Goodale (Why confusing? Because he made 15 of 16 field goals under 40 yards but still managed to miss three PATs.)

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
28-Aug vs. Ole Miss 26
6-Sep Colorado State 85
13-Sep at Connecticut 86
20-Sep UL-Lafayette 79
27-Sep at Air Force 105
4-Oct at Nevada 62
17-Oct Fresno State 46
24-Oct BYU 32
8-Nov at New Mexico 116
15-Nov San Diego State 83
22-Nov at Wyoming 100
29-Nov Utah State 69
Five-Year F/+ Rk 25.2% (8)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 65
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 3 / 2.0
TO Luck/Game +0.4
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (7, 9)

9. Still Boise, no longer Boise

It's safe to say that the era of Elite Boise State is over. We may see another one begin at some point in the future, but after four straight top-10 campaigns from 2008-11, the Broncos fell pretty far in 2012, then fell quite a bit further in 2013.

So no, Boise State probably won't threaten to crack the top 10 this year. But the Broncos still have loads of experience and a wealth of young play-makers, and considering the losses at Fresno State (on offense) and Utah State (on defense), they probably have more known, proven entities than any school in the conference. Harsin has proven himself in each step of his career, and I really do love the premium he seemed to put on both young energy and local ties when putting his staff together.

Boise State should be able to run the ball, and the Broncos should once again have too much on defense for most Mountain West opponents. They probably won't have enough to beat Ole Miss in Atlanta to start the season, but with Fresno State and Utah State coming to play on the blue field, they are pretty clearly the conference favorite to me in 2014.

It was as good a time as any for Petersen to step aside, and with Harsin, Boise State remains the program to beat in the Mountain West ... even if the team is a little easier to beat than it used to be.

10. Mountain West balance of power

At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.

Tier 1
1. Boise State
2. Fresno State
3. Utah State
4. San Diego State

These teams are all experienced and potentially fun. I think the new energy will serve Boise State well, but any of the top three teams here could run away with the conference without surprising me much.

Tier 2
5. Colorado State
6. UNLV
7. San Jose State

I've talked myself into and out of UNLV about six times since I finished the Rebels' preview. Their postseason ban became official, and we could see that serve as either a galvanizing or destructive force, but I love the experience there. But if one team is going to break through to the first tier, it will be CSU.

Tier 3
8. Hawaii
9. Nevada
10. New Mexico
11. Wyoming
12. Air Force

Wyoming is the biggest wildcard. I love the Craig Bohl hire, and I see them moving up soon ... but I struggle to see it happening immediately.

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