Joe Southwick, Boise State out to bust the BCS one last time
All Boise State's Joe Southwick had to do last season was replace a guy who went 50-3 and threw for 14,667 yards, 142 touchdowns and 28 interceptions over his four-year career. Just step right into the shoes of Division I's all-time winningest quarterback, a player who finished in the top eight of Heisman voting in each of his final three campaigns.
Oh, and Southwick had to do it after the departures of star running back and first-round NFL draft pick Doug Martin, the team's clear No. 1 wide receiver in Tyler Shoemaker and multiple starters on the offensive line.
So perhaps it's understandable that Southwick, a two-year understudy to Broncos legend Kellen Moore before inheriting the reins to the nation's most notable non-AQ darling, isn't exactly apologetic after leading Boise State to an 11-2 record and a Las Vegas Bowl win last season. That doesn't mean that the experience didn't leave a significant impression.
"It was just a great life experience. Learned a lot about people. Learned a lot about myself," Southwick said during last month's Mountain West media day. "Not only am I going to take last season just for this following year, I'm going to use this experience for the rest of my life. Just learning how to treat people, understand people, where they're coming from. It definitely wasn't the easiest circumstances, You can't please everybody, obviously."
The adversity started immediately for Southwick, who was mediocre in a season-opening 17-13 loss at Michigan State and continued to struggle as the Broncos' normally explosive offense remained uncharacteristically shackled. He didn't broach 200 yards passing in six of the team's first nine games, culminating in a surprise 21-19 home loss to San Diego State that knocked Boise State out of the national discussion.
Southwick bounced back to shine the rest of the way, tossing nine touchdowns without a pick in Boise's final four games. That was a good way to finish a season that had an overarching sense of disappointment, with a notable lack of big plays hampering the Broncos' ability to hang big numbers on the scoreboard. Southwick averaged only 7.4 yards per attempt last season, well below the numbers Moore racked up in any of his four seasons, let alone Moore's 10 yards-per-attempt average during his dazzling 2011 performance.
While the Broncos' defense picked up a solid amount of the slack last season, Southwick understands that he and the offense need to rediscover Boise's big-play ways this year.
"I think there's a lot that goes into that," Southwick said of Boise's less potent attack. "Being more explosive, maybe throwing it farther down the field, maybe a guy catches it and breaks a tackle.
"Just to throw [new] guys out there and say 'Go do the same thing' [as the former stars] I think is a little unrealistic. I think it showed early, but the great thing about this process is it showed that we got better and by the end the of the year, I think we were clicking pretty good."
The experience gained last season should help the Broncos carry momentum into 2013. Still, to crash the BCS one last time, they'll have to navigate a tricky league schedule and get through the Mountain West's first conference championship game. In addition to a season-opening road date at Pac-12 foe Washington, the Broncos also have trips to West division favorite Fresno State, San Diego State and Utah State. They also should be challenged at BYU on Oct. 25.
Previous seasons have shown that teams like Boise State have very little margin for error when it comes to landing lucrative major-bowl invitations, but head coach Chris Petersen was pretty levelheaded when talking about how his program has been treated in the past.
"I don't know if we were saying it, but everyone around was saying it's not fair and this and that," said Petersen about the BCS set-up. "But I've said this a million times. It [has] been fair to us. When we took care of business, we ended up playing in BCS games."
For that possibility to stay on the table this season, Southwick must play like the guy who closed out last year. The Broncos placed just three players on the league's preseason all-conference team (Fresno State had seven), so improvement will have to come from within. Petersen specifically mentioned that the team's seniors will have to reach a higher level of performance.
Of course, Southwick is one of those seniors, and he's charged with revitalizing what is annually one of the nation's most vibrant attacks. This is the final season before the College Football Playoff goes into effect. As the BCS bids farewell, Boise is expected to make one more run toward to the top.
Southwick understands the pressure of those expectations, not just for this season, but against the benchmarks established by Moore and others who helped establish Boise State at this level. He welcomes them, even if comparisons may not be the most enjoyable part of his job.
"Is it tough on you personally sometimes? Yeah, of course it is," Southwick said. "Especially being the quarterback. You're the guy that's out there. But I just love that the program is there, and this is what I signed up for. The chance to play for a nationally ranked team year in and year out is a privilege."
For more coverage, check out SI.com's 2013 college football preseason content archive.