Top 25 Team Previews
Boise State Broncos"/>
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Boise State Broncos
2009 Record: 14-0 (8-0 in WAC)
Head Coach: Chris Petersen
Kellen Moore:: Gene Lower/Getty
at New Mexico State
at San Jose State
at Fresno State
at Bowling Green
San Jose State
at Louisiana Tech
at Utah State
New Mexico State
TCU (Fiesta Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kellen Moore, QB: As a sophomore, Moore was second in nation in passing efficiency.
Titus Young, WR: The Broncos' leading receiver (1,041 yards), Young also had three rushing and two return touchdowns.
Ryan Winterswyk, DE: He led a fierce defensive line with 17 tackles for loss, including nine sacks.
Kyle Wilson, CB: The dynamic defender was the New York Jets' first-round pick.
Kevin Sapien, OG: The reliable lineman was forced to quit football because of neck and shoulder injuries.
Richie Brockel, TE: The versatile performer doubled as a fullback in the Broncos' potent offense.
.925: Boise State's Chris Petersen's winning percentage in four seasons as a head coach (49-4 record).
Junior quarterback Kellen Moore, who finished seventh in Heisman Trophy voting last year, threw 39 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. His weapons include All-WAC wideouts Austin Pettis (14 TD catches) and Titus Young (15 total TDs), tight ends Tommy Gallarda and Kyle Efaw (Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP) and tailbacks Jeremy Avery (1,151 rushing yards), Doug Martin (15 rushing TDs) and D.J. Harper (6.5 yards per carry before tearing an ACL).
If there's a question, it's the offensive line -- a much-maligned group that made major strides last year by producing 5.1 yards per carry and allowing five sacks, fewest in the nation.
The Broncos have started 17 line combinations in the past 27 games -- and they're still shuffling. Right guard Kevin Sapien was forced to quit because of injuries, and up-and-comers Brenel Myers (two starts), Faraji Wright (none) and Charles Leno Jr. (none) are expected to handle the tackle jobs, enhancing an already athletic line. All-WAC left tackle Nate Potter shifted to left guard in spring ball and is joined by returning starters Thomas Byrd at center and Will Lawrence at right guard.
The Broncos were dominant at times last year, holding Oregon and TCU to a combined 18 points. But they also had a bad habit of surrendering the big play, allowing Fresno State, Louisiana Tech and Nevada to hang around in games that shouldn't have been close. With nine starters returning, the Broncos were able to spend spring ball cleaning up those mistakes.
The group forced 35 turnovers and racked up 26 sacks last season and returns some of the most talented players in the WAC in ends Ryan Winterswyk (nine sacks) and Shea McClellin, tackle Billy Winn (12.5 tackles for a loss), nickel Winston Venable, safety Jeron Johnson and cornerback Brandyn Thompson (Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP).
They'll play for a new coordinator, defensive line coach Pete Kwiatkowski, who was promoted to replace Tennessee-bound Justin Wilcox.
Senior kicker/punter Kyle Brotzman enters his fourth season in the dual role. He was 4-for-11 on left-hash field goal attempts last season and 14-for-14 from everywhere else. He slumped with his punting late in the season, but he has a knack for pinning opponents in big games.
Young returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last season and likely will take on punt return duties this season, replacing Kyle Wilson. The Broncos boast exceptional special teams units that should be even better with the personnel continuity.
The Broncos are widely considered national championship contenders this season -- and for good reason. They return 20 of the 22 Fiesta Bowl starters and they are 26-1, with the one loss coming by just one point to TCU in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.
This should be the best, deepest, most well-rounded Boise State team ever -- and the schedule provides the critical showcase opportunities the Broncos need. They open against Virginia Tech in Landover, Md., and face Oregon State at Bronco Stadium in late September. And for good measure, they'll appear on ESPN2 on three straight Friday nights in November -- keeping them in front of the voters.
If the Broncos survive September, a title shot seems well within reach.