The Boise State Broncos check in at No. 24 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Offensive MVP: D.J. Harper, RB
With Doug Martin off to the NFL, the Boise State running back tradition falls to sixth-year senior D.J. Harper. However, the senior has struggled to stay healthy, and depth is a concern with walk-on Drew Wright listed as the backup. These two players are the only two ball carriers on the roster with game experience and Harper has shown a penchant for making the big play. Wright earned his first scholarship this spring and has established himself as the clear No. 2 option. The best way for Chris Peterson to break in a new quarterback for the first time in four years will be with a great running game.
Trap Game: BYU (Sept. 22)
Early in the schedule will be the best time to get this Boise State team as it breaks in a new quarterback, new running game and entirely new defense. The Cougars return with a big chunk of the offense and should be a bowl team in 2012. However, it should visit Boise with a 1-2 record after facing an improving Washington State team in Week 1 and visiting rival Utah in Week 3. They will be better than their record indicates at that time, and with two road trips looming for Boise State, the Cougars could easily sneak up on the Broncos.
Upset Alert: At Southern Miss (Oct. 6)
Any road trip against a team that won 12 games a season ago is going to be tough. However, the early October trip to Hattiesburg for Boise State won’t feature former star Eagles quarterback Austin Davis or offensive guru Larry Fedora. Despite replacing most of its starting line-up, Boise State should still be favored, but Southern Miss is one of the most successful mid-major programs and new head coach Ellis Johnson will have his squad ready to compete.
Unsung Hero: Michael Atkinson, DT
With five defensive linemen departing, Chris Peterson needs to find players he can count on in the most important area of his defense. Winning games starts with a solid defensive line and Atkinson is poised for his best season as a senior. He is lighter and quicker than ever before and appears to be the vocal leader of the totally reworked D-Line. He posted a career-best 31 tackles
Biggest Game: At Nevada (Nov. 24)
No one has to remind fans of what playing at Nevada means to this Boise State program. The last time this team visited Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nev., a missed field goal cost the Broncos a trip to the national championship game. While that type of pressure likely won’t be on the line in this fall, a conference title and potential BCS bowl bid could hang in the balance for the Broncos in the 2012 season finale.
Freshman To Watch: Nick Patti, QB
The former Orlando star graduated high school early and went through his first collegiate spring practice this April. He has Kellen Moore size and skills and played at an elite level in the prep ranks — Dr. Phillips High School. He posted a 34-4 record as a starter and set school records for completions (374), yards (5,701), touchdown passes (66) and completion rate (67%) while earning Florida 8A Player of the Year honors. Class 8A is the highest level of competition in the talent-rich Sunshine State.
Comeback Player: Jerrell Gavins, CB
The redshirt senior started the first three games of the season last fall before suffering a season-ending injury. His picked-off three passes in his short three-game season and actually finished with the team lead in interceptions. Gavins played in every game in 2010 and should return to the starting line-up this fall. On a defense with only one starter returning, any experience is a welcome sight for Broncos fans.
Defensive MVP: Jamar Taylor, CB
Taylor is a complete student athlete and is the top returning defensive player on the field. He possesses tremendous work ethic and leads by example. On a defense that returns only one starter (him), the onus of leadership falls to Taylor. He elevated his game throughout spring practice and has many people comparing him to former standout defensive dynamo and first round NFL pick Kyle Wilson.
Season Defining Moment: Week 1 at Michigan State
This game might not be a season defining moment but possibly a program-defining moment. While neither team should challenge for national supremacy this season, Boise State enters a brutal environment against a team that has entered “reloading-not-rebuilding” status. The Spartans also replace their program’s greatest quarterback and will be a bowl team. But if the Broncos, with only six returning starters, can walk into East Lansing and win the first game of the year, they can no longer be considered a mid-major program — at least, until they enter the Big East.
Position Battle: Quarterback
The right to replace legend Kellen Moore won’t be easy for anyone on the roster, but junior Joe Southwick and true freshman Nick Patti both appear ready for the challenge. Southwick (6-foot-1, 191 pounds) enters the summer with the lead for the starting job and is easily the most experienced option on the roster. The Kellen Moore-esque Nick Patti graduated high school early and participated in spring camp. The 5-foot-11, 195 pound Orlando, Fla., product was a finalist for National Gatorade Player of the Year and could swipe the starting job come fall camp.
Newcomer To Watch: Jeremy Ioane, SO
So this is stretching the definition of “newcomer” but Ioane has been on campus for two years and has made four solo tackles in nine career games. He hasn’t played much, but his recruiting hype may finally be realized this fall as he enters the starting line-up. The 5-foot-10, 192-pound redshirt sophomore could be the most significant new starter in the Boise State two-deep.
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