2013 record: 8-5 overall, 6-2 in Mountain West (2nd in Mountain division/tied 3rd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl vs. Oregon State Beavers (38-23 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: Not ranked
Head coach: Bryan Harsin (7-5 overall; first season at Boise State)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Sanford (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 33rd rushing offense (198.3 ypg); 27th passing offense (277.7 ypg); 20th total offense (476 ypg); 19th scoring offense (37.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Marcel Yates (first season)
2013 defensive rankings: 64th rushing defense (164.2 ypg); 88th passing defense (249.2 ypg); 75th total defense (413.4 ypg); 50th scoring defense (24.8 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Boise, Idaho
Stadium: Albertsons Stadium (36,387; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012
The Broncos’ skill positions are talented and athletic. Quarterback Grant Hedrick returns at the team’s starting quarterback. Hedrick played in all 13 games last year and threw 16 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. Hedrick is rejoined in the backfield by running back Jay Ajayi. Ajayi finished second in the Mountain West Conference last year with 1,425 rushing yards. And the team’s top two receivers from last season, Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, are also back. Miller finished last year strong with 540 receiving yards in the final four games, including a 206-yard effort against the Oregon State Beavers in the Hawai’i Bowl. The Broncos had to reshuffle their offensive line in the off season, but if they can keep Hendrick upright the Broncos will be able to score plenty of points.
During Chris Petersen’s eight-year tenure as head coach, last season’s defense was by far the worst unit statistically. On top of that, the unit lost a dynamic pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence to the NFL. And key pieces such as Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe, Kharyee Marshall and Tyler Gray left after exhausting their eligibility. Last year’s group had to grow after returning four starters from the 2012 campaign. The silver lining to last year’s defensive struggles is this year’s unit is far more experienced entering the season. New defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has eight returning starters. Yates returns to Boise State after a two-year stint as Texas A&M’s co-defensive coordinator. The Aggies finished 109th in total defense last season.
Boise State has a new football coach for the first time since 2006. Now that Petersen finally accepted one of the rumored jobs he was so often linked to — in this case, the Unversity of Washington — the school turned toward one of its prodigal sons, Bryan Harsin. Harsin, a graduate of Boise State, served on the Broncos’ staff from 2001-10 before leaving to become the offensive coordinator at the University Texas. Harsin used Texas as a stepping stone to get his first head coaching gig at Arkansas State. Harsin spent one year leading the Red Wolves, and the team finished 7-5. Harsin is a young coach that hasn’t had much time to establish himself or an identity, and Boise State took a chance in hiring him. If Harsin blossoms like Petersen did when given the opportunity, the Broncos will continue to be successful. Otherwise, a step back will take the program out of the national spotlight.
MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Ole Miss, Aug. 28
The Broncos built their reputation over the past decade by stepping up big in spotlight games. For most teams, the first game of the season usually isn’t considered a “must win” contest. Most teams aren’t in the Broncos’ situation. For the Broncos to return to national prominence, they’ll need to prove they can beat a talented SEC squad during a national televised game to start the season.
HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Jay Ajayi
It’s been five years since a running back won the Heisman Trophy, and only two workhorses have been handed the hardware since the turn of the century. In a sport that is consistently more about spreading defenses and throwing the football, elite running backs tend to get overlooked. Ajayi, however, is a dark horse candidate to win the award due to a nose for the end zone and punishing running style. The 216-pound back is the nation’s fifth-leading returning rusher with 1,425 yards in 2013. Ajayi is also tied for first among returning backs with 18 rushing touchdowns. Boise State has multiple games slotted in prime time. If Ajayi shines in the spotlight and the Broncos make another run toward a major bowl appearance, Ajayi could work his way into legitimate Heisman contention.
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