Last season was supposed to be a transitional year for the Broncos. Instead they went 12--2, beating Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl 38--30. This fall 17 starters return, giving second-year coach Bryan Harsin's squad the necessary pieces to make a run up the rankings.
Boise State's strength is in the trenches. The entire offensive line is back, led by senior center Marcus Henry (6'3", 296) and senior left tackle Rees Odhiambo (6'4", 303), both All--Mountain West selections. On defense, 6'3", 244-pound junior defensive end Kamalei Correa—who had 19 tackles for a loss, including 12 sacks, in 2014—joins senior defensive tackle Tyler Horn to form a pass-rushing tandem that should keep opposing QBs off balance. The secondary should also be formidable with senior safety Darian Thompson and senior corner Donte Deayon, while the linebacking corps features junior Tanner Vallejo, the Fiesta Bowl's defensive MVP. Last year's unit was hurt by the big play, allowing eight TDs of 50-plus yards, but a now-veteran core should bring improvement.
At quarterback, the team is confident a signal-caller will emerge from a four-man race, and the Broncos have five options in the backfield, including brothers Cory and Kelsey Young. "I know everybody thinks it's a nervous thing," says new offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz. "But it's really not." The Broncos have developed a reputation as party crashers. Expect them to live up to it.
Boise State opens with a visit from Washington on Sept. 4, which brings the return of former coach Chris Petersen. Beyond that the Broncos' tough tests all come relatively early: They play road games at BYU, Virginia, Colorado State and Utah State by Oct. 16. To have a chance of convincing the playoff committee to give them a shot, they'll need a clean sweep.
Wideouts Thomas Sperbeck (below) and Shane Williams-Rhodes will be the top targets, but tight end Jake Roh, a 6'3", 219-pound sophomore, needs to emerge as a consistent third option after making 35 catches for 408 yards in 2014. "That's the position that gives this offense all the versatility," says offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz.
OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE
On defense, I don't know if they have a weakness. Their biggest strength has always been their front seven. Running the ball against them is a challenge. Kamalei Correa has developed into probably the best defensive player in the Mountain West, and I'm sure he's only gotten stronger.... They're able to disguise coverages extremely well, but they're a high-risk, high-reward type deal. When you get a chance to crease 'em, you have to take advantage.... It will be interesting to see how things work with a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback. The running back question isn't as vital—they have plenty of those.... I would guess they're going to lean heavily on the run, especially early, until they get their quarterback situation settled.
RICK SCUTERI/AP (SPERBECK)
CHARLES MITCHELL/ICON SPORTSWIRE (ROH)