2014 CFN Preview - Boise State Broncos
Boise State WR Shane Williams-Rhodes
Boise State WR Shane Williams-Rhodes
Posted Jul 22, 2014

Preview 2014 - Can the new coaching staff live up to the high standards? (Getty Images)

Boise State Broncos

Preview 2014 

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Bryan Harsin
1st year
2nd year overall: 7-5
Lettermen Returning:
Off. 18, Def. 25, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 17
Ten Best Boise State Players
1. RB Jay Ajayi, Jr.
2. WR Matt Miller, Sr.
3. CB Donte Deayon, Jr.
4. LB Ben Weaver, Soph.
5. QB Grant Hedrick, Sr.
6. S Jeremy Ioane, Sr.
7. S Darian Thompson, Jr.
8. WR Shane Williams-Rhodes, Jr.
9. DT Armand Nance, Jr.
10. CB Bryan Douglas, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 28 Ole Miss (Atl)
Sep. 6 Colorado State
Sep. 13 at Connecticut
Sep. 20 Louisiana-Lafayette
Sep. 27 at Air Force
Oct. 4 at Nevada
Oct. 17 Fresno State
Oct. 24 BYU
Nov. 8 at New Mexico
Nov. 15 San Diego State
Nov. 22 at Wyoming
Nov. 29 Utah State

Good luck, Bryan Harsin. Either you’re going to take Boise State two ten-plus win seasons every year with championships and flirtations with the new College Football Playoff, or you’re just not pulling your weight.

And it’s not just Chris Petersen and his phenomenal 92-12 run – with last year’s eight-win campaign an epic disaster compared to the rest of his era. Harsin has to deal with the history of Dan Hawkins, who went 53-11 in his five years with a three-year stretch going 36-3 and not losing a WAC game.

Harsin also has to deal with Dirk Koetter, who got the ball rolling going 26-10 from 1998 to 2000, parlaying two straight double-digit win seasons into the Arizona State gig.

Of course, a funny thing happened to both Koetter and Hawkins after leaving the screaming blue turf – they suddenly became mediocre college football coaches. Petersen is just getting his era rolling at Washington, but to go out on a limb, he’s probably not going to crank out seven straight seasons with ten or more wins and just eight losses.

So what is it about Boise State? Why has this thing worked so well, and can Harsin crank things back up after they started to dip a bit last year?

Part of the success was the conference – the old WAC and the Big West were nowhere near as good as the Mountain West is now, and teams are gunning for the Broncos more than ever. Boise State is the powerhouse. It’s the gold standard. It’s the program that everyone in the Mountain West wants to be like, at least in terms of consistent success and national attention, and now it’s up to Harsin to keep it that way.

Fortunately for him, Petersen is leaving a heater of a team with enough talent, athleticism and experience to show that last season was simply a blip. Considering how relatively light the schedule is – with almost all the tough Mountain West home games on the blue turf – there’s a chance to kick off the new era with a thunderous bang.

The offense wasn’t bad last season, and this year the weapons should be fantastic with RB Jay Ajayi and receivers Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes all dangerous. The defense that took a step back returns eight starters and should be far better in the secondary.

It’s Mountain West title or bust, and for Harsin, there’s no grace period. That’s the legacy left by Koetter, Hawkins and Petersen.

What to watch for on offense: Expect a more efficient and effective passing game. Bryan Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford know how to get a passing game moving, and while throwing for 3,610 yards and 28 touchdowns was hardly a bad year, the new coaching staff can push for 4,000. Grant Hedrick might not be Kellen Moore, but he’s a veteran who had the entire offseason to prepare for being The Guy, after last season getting into the mix mostly after Joe Southwick went down. With Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes back after combining for 165 catches and close to 2,000 yards, the passing game that was the 20th most efficient in America should be dangerous.

What to watch for on defense: Can the secondary stop someone? The pass rush was good enough, and there was talent and athleticism in the secondary, but the pass defense was lit up for 3,240 yards and 17 touchdowns after allowing 2,203 yards and four scores in 2012, 2,741 yards in 2011 and 21 touchdowns in 2011, and 1,962 yards and eight scores in 2010. Making things statistically worse, that’s counting games against Air Force and New Mexico teams that couldn’t throw a forward pass. Everyone buy those two teams connected on a whopping 60% of their passes or more, and it was nightmare time against the teams with decent quarterbacks. Washington, Fresno State, Oregon State and Nevada all spent their respective games playing catch. Fortunately, all four starters return and experience should translate into more production. There’s depth to play around with, too – expect a major turnaround.

The team will be far better if … the defense doesn’t allow so many first downs. It goes hand-in-hand with the problems stopping the better passing teams, but the defense simply let too many teams keep things moving allowing a whopping 295 first downs – more than 100 the defense gave up in 2010 and 70 more than it allowed in 2012. The Broncos allowed 25 first downs or more five times last season after giving up that many or more just once – the loss to Michigan State – in 2012, no times in 2011 and just twice in 2010.

The schedule: It’s not going to be as easy as going 13-0 if the Broncos can beat Ole Miss to start the season, but if they come away from Atlanta with a win over a rising star SEC program, look out. Going to Connecticut and hosting Louisiana-Lafayette and BYU aren’t going to be walks in the park, but if the team is good enough to think big, it has to be good enough to win those games. The rough stretch comes early with three road games in a four week stretch, closing out with a massive landmine at Nevada. Fortunately, there’s a week off to prepare for Fresno State, and that’s the theme for the Mountain West campaign – almost all of the big games are at home. Colorado State, Fresno State, San Diego State and Utah State all come to Boise, while going to Air Force, New Mexico and Wyoming – along with the Nevada date – isn’t that bad.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Jay Ajayi. The talented speed back is a dangerous threat every time he touches the ball, and after earning all-star honors last season, he should be even better behind a good line and with teams having to worry more about the passing game. The junior took over the job from the start, and he was the only running back who made any real noise whatsoever – quarterback Grant Hedrick was the No. 2 rusher and freshman Aaron Baltazar came up with just 234 yards to Ajayi’s 1,425. Stopping Ajayi will be everyone’s No. 1 priority, but that’s not going to be easy. Even when keyed on last year, he still produced.

Best defensive player: Junior CB Donte Deayon. The secondary might have had a nightmare of a time last season, but Deayon came on to be one of the bright spots making 54 tackles with nine broken up passes and six picks. He’s not big, but he’s physical, and this year he’ll combine forces with Bryan Douglas on the other side and the safety tandem of Bryan Douglas and Darian Thompson to improve the pass D – at least that’s the hope. Deayon has the burst to the ball and the lockdown potential, but he has to be prepared for teams staying away from him after his statistically strong 2013.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore DE Gabe Perez. The one gaping hole going into the season is a sure-thing pass rusher after losing Demarcus Lawrence and his 72 tackles, 10.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss. Perez isn’t all that big at 6-4 and 235 pounds, but he’s quick off the ball and he showed potential last season as a good part of the rotation. No one’s expecting him to be Lawrence, but he and Beau Martin on the other side have to get to the quarterback on a regular basis or else the coaching staff will have to get creative.

The season will be a success if … the Broncos win ten games or more and take the Mountain West title. The talent might not be there to beat Ole Miss, and it’s not going to be easy to take out BYU at home or Nevada on the road, but after last year’s dip and with a new energy and a new coaching staff, proving that things are back on track with a season with ten or more wins and with a conference title will more than do that. Ramp the expectations up to 11 if there’s a win over Ole Miss.

Key game: Aug. 28 vs. Ole Miss. One of the big keys to Boise State’s success over the years was the ability to rise up and slap down a big boy when given the chance. The Broncos rolled into Atlanta to start the 2011 season and took out Georgia. They tagged Virginia Tech in what amounted to a Hokie home game in Landover, Maryland to start the 2010 season, and beat two fantastic Oregon teams early in both 2008 and 2009. Even in 2012 when they lost to Michigan State in East Lansing, it was a tough battle. And then came last year. With a chance to make a statement early, they got blown away by Washington 38-6. This time around, if Bryan Harsin can pull out a win in Atlanta against the Rebels, watch how quickly the national spotlight turns to Boise.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: Opponents 74 for 618 yards – Boise State 54 for 489 yards
- Completion Percentage: Boise State 329-of-466 (70.6%) – Opponents 294-of-455 (64.6%)
- Time of Possession: Opponents 31:37 – Boise State 28.23

- 2014 Boise State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players