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Dr. Saturday

12 for ’12: Boise State on the backslide

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

Early narratives for the coming year.

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Thesis. Sans record-breaking quarterback Kellen Moore, Boise State is on the spot (again) to reinforce its staying power. After storming the castle gates with a 50-3 record, four consecutive top-10 finishes and a BCS bowl win over the last four years, the Broncos due for a tumble from the penthouse.

Point. Well, it's not just Moore: The winningest senior class in college football history supplied 17 full-time starters last year, leaving the 2012 Broncos with (by Phil Steele's count) fewer returning starters than any other team in the nation. Besides Moore, Boise is losing its leading rusher, its leading receiver, four starting offensive linemen, nine of its top ten tacklers on defense and all eight of its All-Mountain West picks. On defense, the only returnee who started more than half of the Broncos' games in 2011 is cornerback Jamar Taylor.

And then, yes, of course there is Moore, who leaves as one of the most accurate and efficient passers in Division I history, owner of a 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the course of his career and at least two scoring strikes in 30 consecutive games. In four years, he never missed a start or left a game for more than a play or two for injury; even in the three games he eventually lost (by a combined five points), he had the Broncos in a position to win on a chip-shot field goal on the last play of regulation in two of them. At this point, asking the offense to replace him is like asking it to grow a new brain at the same time it's already trying to replace most of the rest of the body.

Counterpoint. Boise State didn't come charging out of nowhere when it handed the reins to Kellen Moore in 2008. Two years earlier, the '06 Broncos had stunned Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl to sew up an undefeated season; two years before that, they had ripped off 22 consecutive wins before being denied a perfect record in a close, dramatic loss in the 2004 Liberty Bowl. Before Moore ever stepped on campus, Boise had won five consecutive WAC championships and finished in the top 20 of the final polls four times in the preceding five years, and Chris Petersen was already one of the most sought-after coaches in the country. If the Broncos' fate hinges on any one person, it's not Kellen Moore.

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And the cupboard may not be quite as bare as the depth chart makes it out to be, especially on offense, where the receiving corps remains an obvious strength and four offensive linemen return who started at least two games last year. The secondary is lousy with sporadic starters, too. In place of 17 regulars on their way out, their are 22 part-timers with some starting experience filling the gaps, and the difference may not be so obvious against a Mountain West slate that no longer includes TCU.

Noise. For the third year in a row, Boise is replacing a coordinator on his way to a Southern powerhouse: In 2010, it was defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to Tennessee, followed in 2011 by offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin's exit for Texas and now offensive coordinator Brent Pease's defection to Florida, which had to outbid Alabama to get him. Obviously Petersen is accustomed to the turnover by now, and has yet to suffer for it.

That's due at least in part to the fact that a) It's essentially Petersen's offense, and b) He keeps it in familiar hands. Like Harsin and Pease, the new OC, Robert Prince, was promoted from within, so neither scheme nor philosophy is going to change.

Takeaway. Is Boise State going to be back in the thick of another BCS run with a vastly revamped roster? Almost certainly not. Will you necessarily be able to tell the difference in the final record? Again, probably not. With a hop to the Big East on the horizon, the Broncos are a long way from fading into the mist and pining for the glory days.

In fact, they remind me a lot of TCU in 2011, which was also replacing a four-year starter at quarterback and most of the rest of the lineup that capped a 13-0 season in the Rose Bowl in 2010. The baby Frogs were knocked from their pedestal almost immediately, getting burned for 50 points in an opening night to Baylor and falling again a few weeks later — at home — to SMU. From there, they delivered eight straight wins, upset Boise on the blue turf, won the Mountain West for the third year in a row and are right back in the BCS hunt as they arrive in the Big 12. Boise opens up with a formidable trip to Michigan State, and looks ripe for an upset or two in the process. But it will still be a heavy favorite in every Mountain West game, and by the end of the season the notion that the Broncos are yesterday's news should be thoroughly refuted.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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