Boise State preps for BCS run
Broncos await important season opener against Georgia
BOISE, Idaho -- Stepping inside the Boise State locker room during the summer months is a reminder that the Broncos are still just an infant program 15 years removed from playing at a lower level of college football, no matter the recognition or rankings they receive.
It's a sticky sauna on this 90-degree Idaho afternoon. Industrial fans wail on their highest settings while trying to provide some relief since no one had the foresight to make sure the air conditioning that cools other parts of the athletic complex made its way to the main section of the football locker room.
"We play big-time football. We may not have the amenities and all that but we'll get there," wide receiver Tyler Shoemaker said.
Gaining legitimacy has been an incremental process for Boise State that takes another step this season as the Broncos move from the weaker Western Athletic Conference into the Mountain West. It's not the same Mountain West that Boise State expected to join, though, with Utah going to the Pac-12, BYU choosing independence and TCU headed for the Big East in 2012.
Even with what's considered a step up in competition, the position the Broncos hold is the same: favorites and potential Bowl Championship Series busters yet again with a national debate swirling about their worthiness.
Much will be made of the Broncos season opener, for the third consecutive year a pseudo BCS elimination game. After beating Oregon at home to open the 2009 season and dispatching Virginia Tech in last year's opener, the Broncos face Georgia in Atlanta on Sept. 3.
Win, and the conversation will revert to the usual refrain: Is Boise State worthy of a BCS bowl and perhaps a title shot? Lose and it becomes a moot point.
The Broncos are accustomed to this debate by now. It's followed them essentially non-stop for the past two seasons when Boise State went a combined 26-1, the only hiccup a memorable 34-31 overtime loss to Nevada on a cold November night in Reno that likely spoiled a Rose Bowl trip.
"It's keeping that perspective all the time. Not getting too high, not getting too low. You're constantly wanting to stay positive. I think that's a big thing that we always are positive and just enjoy the experience," Boise State's Heisman finalist quarterback Kellen Moore said. "Guys did a great job where there are these expectations, the outside noise, not to worry about that stuff, that stuff doesn't affect us, it's not benefiting us in any way. It's not affecting how we deal with the work we have to do."
Moore again is at the helm, going into his senior season with a chance to re-write the most important record in football: wins. He'll have a shot for at least 12 more and probably 13. He needs only eight to pass Colt McCoy's record of 45 as the most successful quarterback in college history.
If Moore is successful, he'll prove naysayers wrong in the process, those who believe his success was tied to a pair of NFL-caliber receivers in Titus Young and Austin Pettis, both now in the pros. But he'll need steady veterans like Shoemaker and Chris Potter to raise their production and young prospects Geraldo Boledwijn, Aaron Burks and Moore's brother, Kirby, to quickly develop.
"For 10 years we operated not like we operated last year. That was a total anomaly. We had two NFL guys and how often does that happen?" Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. "So we played to our strengths, but for the other nine years it's always been by committee, we've always gotten guys dialed in and just want to make sure we have a quarterback to get them the ball, and if we do we'll get guys open."
It helps that Moore can hand off to Doug Martin, coming off a quiet 1,260-yard season after finally spending an entire year in one position. The one-time linebacker runs behind an offensive line that returns three starters, including left tackle Nate Potter and center Thomas Byrd, who are receiving preseason all-everything accolades.
"It's nice to have that well-rounded, thick, strong back you can rely on and just put the game on him," Potter said.
While the focus of offseason concerns centered on who Moore might be throwing to, Petersen didn't hesitate when asked his biggest worry: linebacker and defensive back. The Broncos defensive line, anchored by Shea McClellin, Billy Wynn and Chase Baker, is as deep a unit as there is in the country.
But the Broncos lost starting linebacker Winston Venable and starting strong safety Jeron Johnson to graduation and with them went 135 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks from a season ago. Senior Cedric Febis will likely replace Johnson but he's helped in the secondary by George Iloka, who has started 27 consecutive games. Byron Hout, he of the infamous punching incident with LeGarrette Blount two seasons ago, will start at one linebacker spot with Aaron Tevis at another.
Should Boise State survive the Georgia game, the Broncos will likely be favored in every game going forward with its two toughest tests -- Air Force and TCU -- both coming on the blue carpet. It could mean another fall of watching the polls, crunching the numbers and debating the Broncos' merits even if the numbers of the last decade bolster the argument they've reached the elite.
"Starting off with a big game, the expectation is still there, the standards are still there set at a high level," Martin said. "The only difference is a different senior class. It's the last time for us."