By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
Boise State Broncos 2012 Spring Preview
2011 Record: 12-1, 6-1 Mountain West
Spring practice: March 12-April 16
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 1
Passing: Joe Southwick, 23 of 30, 198 yds., 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: D.J. Harper, 115 car., 557 yds., 9 TDs
Receiving: Matt Miller, 62 rec., 679 yds., 9 TDs
Tackles: J.C. Percy, 46
Sacks: Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, 2
Interceptions: Jerrell Gavins, 3
Redshirts to watch: QB Jimmy Laughrea, K Jake Van Ginkel, DL Robert Ash, DB Eric Agbaroji, DE Sam Ukwuachu, DT Jeffery Worth, DB Darien Thompson, RB Jay Ajayi
Early Enrollees: LB Tyler Gray, DL Elliot Hoyte, DL Demarcus Lawrence, QB Nick Patti, TE Connor Peters, TE Hayden Plinke
JUCO Transfer to watch: DL Demarcus Lawrence, TE Connor Peters
Aug. 31 at Michigan State
Sept. 15 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 22 BYU
Sept. 29 at New Mexico
Oct. 6 at Southern Miss
Oct. 13 Fresno State
Oct. 20 UNLV
Oct. 27 at Wyoming
Nov. 3 San Diego State
Nov. 10 at Hawaii
Nov. 17 Colorado State
Nov. 24 at Nevada
Offensive Strength: Even with Doug Martin departing to the NFL, the Broncos should have no issues running the ball in 2012. D.J. Harper has rushed for 1,642 yards and 24 scores in his career, but has struggled to stay healthy. The receiving corps should be one of the best in the Mountain West next year, thanks to the return of Matt Miller, Mitch Burroughs and Geraldo Boldewijn.
Offensive Weakness: How do you replace a quarterback that threw for 14,667 yards and 142 touchdowns in his career? That’s the question coach Chris Petersen and new coordinator Robert Prince must answer this spring. Kellen Moore was one of college football’s most productive quarterbacks over the last four years and will be difficult to replace.
Defensive Strength: The secondary had its issues last season, finishing 43rd nationally in pass defense and was a big reason why Boise State lost to TCU in mid-November. This group should be better in 2012, especially with the return of Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor at cornerback. Both players were limited due to injuries last season, but will be expected to anchor the secondary in 2012.
Defensive Weakness: The Broncos have done a good job of reloading, but their depth will be put to the test in 2012. A handful of key contributors from last season’s defensive line are gone, including All-Mountain West performers Billy Winn, Tyrone Crawford and Shea McClellin. There’s some returning experience, but Boise State may find it difficult to finish 17th nationally in rush defense once again.
Spring Storylines Facing the Broncos
1. Once again, Boise State saw its coaching staff raided in the offseason. Although Chris Petersen was approached by a couple of BCS schools, he showed no interest in leaving Boise State. However, offensive coordinator Brent Pease left for Florida, defensive backs coach Marcel Yates departed for Texas A&M and special teams coach Jeff Choate left for Washington State. Peterson did a good job of filling the voids, bringing in former Oregon State star Jonathan Smith to coach quarterbacks, former player Andy Avalos to work with the defensive line and NFL assistant Jimmy Lake to coach the secondary. Although there’s turnover on the coaching staff, as long as Petersen sticks around at Boise State, the Broncos should be in one of the nation’s top 25 teams.
2. It’s never easy replacing a starting quarterback, especially one that was one of the most productive in college football. Kellen Moore departs after four terrific years as Boise State’s starting quarterback, throwing for 14,667 career yards and 142 scores. Moore also completed 69.8 percent of his passes and tossed only 28 picks. Four players will battle to fill the void under center this spring, with junior Joe Southwick as the early frontrunner. Southwick completed 23 of 30 throws for 198 yards and one score in limited action last year. Grant Hedrick is also in the mix, bringing excellent good mobility to the offense after rushing for 70 yards and one score on eight attempts last season. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea and true freshman Nick Patti will also get an opportunity to shine this spring. Patti is undersized (5-foot-11), but has the talent to start right away. Southwick is the favorite, but this will be one of college football’s top quarterback battles to watch this spring.
3. There’s plenty of weapons at receiver for the new quarterback, but the depth at running back could be an issue. D.J. Harper should be one of the top running backs in the Mountain West this year, but he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. If Harper is injured again, there’s not a ton of experience. Drew Wright had 218 yards in a backup role last season, but the Broncos need freshmen Jay Ajayi, Devan Demas and Jack Fields to contribute carries in 2012.
4. As highlighted in the strengths and weaknesses section, Boise State has some issues to address on defense in spring practice. The Broncos return only one starter on this side of the ball and there’s not a ton of proven depth returning up front. The line loses five significant contributors, and will lean on tackles Mike Atkinson and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe to anchor things up front. Tyler Horn will be charged with generating the pass rush from the outside, while junior college transfer Demarcus Lawrence also needs to make a significant contribution. The linebacking corps loses Aaron Tevis and Byron Hout, but senior J.C. Percy is back to lead this group. The secondary was a source of concern last year and must replace safeties George Iloka and Cedric Febis. However, cornerback could be a strength if Jamar Taylor, Jerrell Gavins and Ebenezer Makinde stay healthy.
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