The Boise State Broncos will begin the 2013 season exactly as they finished the 2012 season: a date with Washington.
The Huskies, the erstwhile leviathan of the top left quadrant of the country, have ceded that throne in the past decade to both Pac-12 foe Oregon and, of course, Boise State. Kudos to Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian for agreeing to this August 31 season opener, in Seattle, against Chris Petersen’s crew. In seven seasons in Idaho’s state capitol, Petersen is 84-8 (.913). Knute Rockne, who has the best Division I winning percentage of all time (.881), was on the job for 13 seasons in South Bend before a plane crash claimed his life.
True, Boise State does not play in the Southeastern Conference. But Petersen, who will not turn 49 until the day after the Broncos visit Utah State (Oct. 12), is in the midst of an historic tenure. Last season was a down campaign for Boise State as it lost two games by a total of six points to finish 11-2. In the year 1 A.K. (After Kellen), the Broncos failed to score at least 50 points in a game for the first time since 1996 (the coach was Pokey Allen).
Is the veneer of dominance gone or did it simply go on sabbatical? The Broncos still finished second nationally in turnover margin (the top five teams in that category finished 55-11) and eighth in scoring defense. First-year starter Joe Southwick tossed only 19 TDs against seven interceptions, but after the early November home loss to San Diego State – only the Broncos’ second regular-season home loss in 73 games (read that again, just to let it sink in) – he threw nine TD passes and zero interceptions.
A corner has been turned.
Southwick returns for his senior season, as do his two favorite targets: receivers Matt Miller (66 receptions) and Kirby Moore (36 receptions and, yes, he is). Jay Ajayi, who averaged 6.9 yards per carry as D.J. Harper’s backup last season (82 carries, 548 yards), becomes the starter. Harper and his 1,137 yards (and two knee surgeries) signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers. There are far worse places to land.
Defensively, the Broncos are monsters up front and meek at linebacker. But then hasn’t that always been the case during this era? Defensive ends Demarcus Lawrence (9.5 sacks) and Samuel Ukwuachu (4.5 sacks as a freshman) will take care of the edge, while safeties Jeremy Ioane and Darian Thompson provide the safety net for a unit that was fifth nationally in passing defense.
The script would appear to be relatively unchanged – begin with a road contest at a highly regarded, though not truly elite, AQ school, then attempt to run the table in the Mountain West Conference. There are two major wrinkles, though. The MWC has split into two six-team divisions, so there will be an inaugural conference championship game at season’s end. That contest will be played at the home of the team with the higher BCS ranking, so pencil in a visit to the Blue Turf in early December.
Second, the Broncos make two visits across the southern border to Utah in October, first to MWC newcomer Utah State and 13 days later to Brigham Young. Both of those games will provide rigid tests for the Broncos. The Aggies, with quarterback Chuckie Keeton, themselves only lost two games last season by a total of five points (by two at Wisconsin and by three at BYU), while the Cougars, now an independent, have won 15 of their past 17 in Provo.
Lose either game and Boise State would likely return for a fourth consecutive visit (and victory) at the Las Vegas Bowl. Only Zach Galifiniakis approaches as many sequels in Sin City.
That, however, is the deal for Chris Petersen in the final season of the BCS bowl era, and likely for the four-team playoff format era as well: just having the best winning percentage in the history of college football is not good enough. As far as the SEC and their deep-pocketed pals are concerned, Boise State must be perfect. Otherwise, don’t bother knocking.