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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|
|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.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||63||1st Down Rk||72|
|Q2 Rk||53||2nd Down Rk||48|
|Q3 Rk||54||3rd Down Rk||45|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Grant Hedrick||6'0, 202||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||167||242||1825||16||5||69.0%||15||5.8%||6.8|
|Ryan Finley||6'3, 186||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Thomas Stuart||5'11, 190||So.||2 stars (5.3)|
|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%|
|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%|
|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.
|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|
|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|
|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.
|Charles Leno, Jr.||LT||39||1st All-MWC|
|Matt Paradis||C||27||2nd All-MWC|
|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|
|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)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|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|
|Q1 Rk||57||1st Down Rk||45|
|Q2 Rk||90||2nd Down Rk||52|
|Q3 Rk||9||3rd Down Rk||52|
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.)
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|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|
|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)|
|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|
|Christopher Santini||SLB||6'0, 215||So.||3 stars (5.7)||11||8.5||1.0%||1.0||0.0||0||0||1||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)|
|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|
|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.
|Sean Wale||6'2, 188||So.||21||41.5||0||3||8||52.4%|
|Dan Goodale||5'10, 196||Sr.||90||61.0||37||1||41.1%|
|Dan Goodale||5'10, 196||Sr.||57-60||15-16||93.8%||2-3||66.7%|
|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|
|Special Teams F/+||3|
|Field Goal Efficiency||23|
|Punt Return Efficiency||9|
|Kick Return Efficiency||47|
|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
|28-Aug||vs. Ole Miss||26|
|27-Sep||at Air Force||105|
|8-Nov||at New Mexico||116|
|15-Nov||San Diego State||83|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||25.2% (8)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||65|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||3 / 2.0|
|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.
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.
5. Colorado State
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.
10. New Mexico
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.