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Team countdown: No. 24 Boise State

Mike Huguenin
Yahoo Sports

Powerhouse programs don't rebuild, they reload. Boise State has a chance to prove it's a true powerhouse this season.

The Broncos are replacing 13 fulltime starters, and the coaching staff has been revamped. That means Boise State's final season in the Mountain West before it moves to the Big East promises to be intriguing.

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Chris Petersen has to replace 13 starters as his Broncos enter their last season in the MWC. (Getty Images)

The Broncos, who finished second in the Mountain West last season, their first in the league, return just one fulltime starter on defense and six on offense. All four starters along the defensive line are gone. So are quarterback Kellen Moore, the winningest starting quarterback in FBS history, and three-time 1,000-yard rusher Doug Martin. The Broncos also have to replace two starting offensive linemen, both starting linebackers and both starting safeties.

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease left for Florida, and Petersen promoted wide receiver coach Robert Prince in his place. Prince was Boise's receiver coach from 2001-03, then spent six seasons in the NFL as an offensive assistant with three teams. He was at Colorado in 2010, then headed back to Boise last season.

The particulars

Last season: 12-1 overall, 6-1 in Mountain West (2nd in league)
Coach: Chris Petersen (73-6, 7th season)
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season): Offense (6) – WR Mitch Burroughs, G Joe Kellogg, T Charles Leno, TE Gabe Linehan, WR Matt Miller, C Cory Yriarte. Defense (1) – CB Jamar Taylor. Special teams (1) – K Dan Goodale.
Fast fact: Boise State has a winning percentage of .877 (136-19) since the start of the 2000 season, the best in the nation.

Offense

Prince has some tough acts to follow. Petersen was coordinator from 2001-05; he was followed by Bryan Harsin (2006-10), who now is at Texas, and Pease (2011). Pease also was the quarterback coach, and Petersen brought in Jonathan Smith for that job. Smith had been coordinator at Montana and is a former starting quarterback at Oregon State.

Smith and Prince have to find a replacement for Moore. Junior Joe Southwick seems the likely starter; he has played in 15 games and attempted 54 passes in two seasons. Sophomore Grant Hedrick and true freshman Nick Patti, who enrolled early, are the other candidates.

At least there will be a veteran tailback. D.J. Harper was granted a sixth season of eligibility because of his injury history, and he adds a needed veteran presence to the backfield. Harper ran for 557 yards and nine TDs last fall, his first healthy season since 2008. Little-used senior Drew Wright seems the likely backup.

Sophomore Matt Miller looks primed to be the go-to receiver and heads a deep group. Miller had 62 receptions and nine TDs last season, when he served as the No. 2 option to the graduated Tyler Shoemaker. Seniors Mitch Burroughs and Chris Potter, juniors Kirby Moore (Kellen's brother) and Geraldo Boldewijn and sophomore Dallas Burroughs (Mitch's brother) also should be in the rotation.

Junior Gabe Linehan (23 receptions, five TDs) did a solid job as the No. 2 tight end last season, and he should vie for all-league honors as the starter this season.

Three starters are back on the line: C Cory Yriarte, G Joe Kellogg and T Charles Leno. Kellogg and Leno have all-league talent. The new starters likely will be senior Faraji Wright at tackle and junior Jake Broyles at guard. Despite the turnover along the line, depth looks good.

[Related: Steve Henson: Matt Barkley's commitment to USC can give Penn State hope]

Defense

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Lee Hightower will move from corner to safety as the Broncos rework their defense. (Getty Images)

Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski doubles as the line coach, and he will have four new starters up front. The tackles should be OK, but the ends are a big question.

Senior Michael Atkinson and junior Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe should start at tackle; both have seen extensive playing time and should vie for all-league honors. They need to play well and stay healthy because depth is lacking.

Sophomores Demarcus Lawrence and Beau Martin are the likely starters at end. Last season's ends, first-round pick Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford, combined for 13.5 sacks. Redshirt freshman Samuel Ukwuachu and senior Darren Koontz are next in line, but depth is a huge concern.

Senior LB J.C. Percy has started six times in his career and has played a key role each season. He has 177 career tackles and needs to maintain consistency because of the inexperience surrounding him at the position. Sophomore Blake Renaud and senior Tommy Smith will vie in fall camp for the other starting job at linebacker; they combined for 28 tackles last season.

Boise lost both starting safeties, as well as three senior backups in the secondary, so that is another concern. CB Jerrell Gavins, who started the first three games last season before being lost to injury, was granted a sixth season of eligibility, and his return provides a huge boost. He and Jamar Taylor, the only fulltime starter back on defense, should be the best cornerback duo in the league.

There is talent at safety, though it is relatively untested. Sophomores Lee Hightower (free) and Jeremy Ioane (strong) should be a strong tandem; Hightower played corner last season as a true freshman and had a pick and four pass breakups. Those two had better come through, as depth is a big concern.

The starting nickelback, who often lines up as a linebacker, will be either senior Dextrell Simmons or junior Jonathan Brown. They combined for 35 tackles last season and should provide solid play at the position.

Special teams

Ks Dan Goodale and Michael Frisina return, but neither played that well last season. They were a combined 6-of-9 on field goals, with zero attempts from 40 yards or beyond; they also combined to miss eight extra-point attempts. Redshirt freshman Jake Van Ginkel, who holds the California state record for field goals (39), could win the job, though he struggled during the spring.

The new punter will be Trevor Harman, who has served as Boise's kickoff specialist the past two seasons.

Mitch Burroughs is a good punt returner, but the Broncos need a new kick returner.

Boise State did a nice job on kickoff coverage last season, but the punt coverage was surprisingly mediocre.

[Related: Pat Forde: Scandal is all around college athletics]

Schedule

There are some tough games, but, frankly, if Boise State wins at Michigan State in the opener Aug. 31, it should go unbeaten.

There also are non-conference games against BYU and Southern Miss, as well as conference battles with San Diego State and Nevada, but Boise would be favored in every game after its visit to East Lansing.

Overview

That this team could go unbeaten despite its many holes is both a testament to Petersen and an indictment of the Mountain West.

This is Boise's final season in the conference before it heads for the remade Big East. Despite the personnel losses, the Broncos are league favorites. One reason is that TCU has left for the Big 12. Another is that San Diego State lost numerous key starters. And another is that no other team in the league can match Boise's talent base.

The recruiting side

Average recruiting ranking for past five years: 70th nationally
The buzz: The Broncos have taken undervalued prospects and cobbled together a national contender, and it looks as if Petersen has done it once again. The Broncos signed numerous three-star recruits, such as DB Chaz Anderson, OL Travis Averill and QB Nick Patti, who were on the cusp of four-star status. And perhaps even more than in recent years, this recruiting class has players who turned down offers from schools in bigger conferences to play at Boise. A lot of players said that's because of the team's success. – Adam Gorney, Rivals.com

Breakthrough player

RB D.J. Harper. Look for Harper to have a stellar senior season. For the first time in his six-year career, the starting job unquestionably is his. Harper had back-to-back 100-yard games late last season against UNLV (109) and TCU (125). He averaged 6.5 and 8.9 yards per carry through three games in 2009 and 2010, respectively, before suffering season-ending knee injuries in each campaign. – Stanley Brewster, Blue-turf.com

For more on Boise State throughout the season, check out Blue-turf.com

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