I’ve picked Boise State to finish first in the Mountain West and expressed my opinion that they will be the best program in the Big East next year. Before the Broncos bolt to the new conference, and all the glory that surrounds playing UConn on an annual basis, the boys in Idaho must navigate one more year out West.
With a week before the season begins, Broncos fans (who are never less than extremely confident) should ask themselves these five questions. No, I’m not advancing the idea that the Broncos will fail to answer these quandaries, or that 2012 is doomed before it starts. I will posit BSU had better take these question marks seriously, if they are hoping to run the table or at least contend for bowl games not in Las Vegas.
1. Can Joe Southwick pick up where Kellen Moore left off?
Before we spit out our potatoes, lets be honest here. Southwick does not have to be perfect. The junior does not have to play at the same level that his predecessor Moore did, because that would be asking a little too much. Considering the level of competition that the Broncos face this year, Southwick just has to be smart with ball and avoid costly mistakes. There is talent around the quarterback position, especially on the offensive line. Southwick’s career has mostly been mop up duty for the aforementioned Moore, but when he has played, he has looked capable. Game one at Michigan State will go a long way in breaking Joe in. All indications are that head coach Chris Petersen will pick Southwick as his starter.
2. Will the defensive line hold up?
Boise State showcased an impressive defensive front against Georgia in the season opener last year. Anyone who witnessed the 35-21 thumping (in Atlanta, the heart of SEC country, no less) understood BSU could play with anyone in the trenches. A new year brings a completely new starting four. The most experienced lineman will be Michael Atkinson and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe in the interior. On the outside, the end position will be completely unproven and by far the biggest concern for the season. Demarcus Lawerence, Sam Ukwuachu and Beau Martin have yet to play a snap of FBS football. This trio, including senior Darren Koontz, would be wise to grow up quick.
3. Here’s the kicker?
If any school despises the kicker more than Boise State, I’d be surprised. Two missed field goals over two years have been the difference between a pair of undefeated seasons or three-in-a-row. he Idaho Statesman reported senior Michael Frisina and sophomore Dan Goodale had a solid scrimmage last Saturday. Freshman Jake Van Ginkel is reportedly arriving next week for the start of school. Hopefully for Broncos fans, he brings accurate kicking along with the mini microwave for the dorm room. One of these gentlemen will be called upon to come up with a big kick or two in the coming months.
4. Can D.J. Harper carry the load?
Much is being made about the absence of Moore under center, but the loss of Doug Martin to the NFL is unsettling as well. D.J. Harper and Drew Wright combined for 20 carries at running back last year. Harper averaged 8.9 yards in his limited work last season. After a career plagued by injuries, the senior has a chance to prove his worth behind the best offensive line in the conference.
5. Will the Broncos survive their final three road games?
Trips to Wyoming, Hawaii and Nevada will be solid tests for the Broncos in 2012. Laramie presents problems for the defense with Brett Smith throwing the football. Who knows how far along the Warriors will be with Norm Chow’s new offense, and Nevada–well, we don’t have to get into the perils of Reno.
Overall, the Broncos should be Mountain West Champions. Coach Petersen has higher aspirations than winning a mid-major conference. What makes the Broncos special is their ability to challenge for BCS postseason inclusion. Anything less than a one-loss season will certainly derail that train. If there is any coach who answers questions like the ones above, it would be Petersen.
He better have his thinking cap on.
James Gomez is a Pac-12 and Mountain West columnist for Rant Sports and member of the Football Writers Association of America
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