June 30, 2011

Transition Outlook: Boise State Broncos

We finish our look at western teams transitioning to new conferences with an overview of Boise State. The Broncos posted the most wins in all of college football last decade and have risen from FCS call-up to national power. What scenarios could play out for the boys in blue as they move to the Mountain West?


NEW CONFERENCE: Mountain West Conference


PREVIOUS CONFERENCE:  Western Athletic Conference (2001-2010)
Record: 114-16 (75-5 in WAC)
Conference Championships: 8 (6 outright, 2 shared)
All-Time Bowl Record: 7-4
Best All-Time Finish: 2009 -- 14-0, Fiesta Bowl Champions, #4 Final Ranking

Can you find me?
OFF THE FIELD:
The key off-the-field issue is that Bronco fans will have to deal with is making sure they receive all three TV channels involved in the MWC TV deal (The Mtn, Versus, and CBS Sports) with whatever cable or satellite provider they have. The MWC's TV deal isn't absolutely prohibitive, but fans will have to do their homework to find out exactly where each station is, and what they have to do to get it on their TV package--which could mean switching providers.

This issue may be more easily resolved with an announcement that came this week. Cable One announced its addition of CBS Sports to its lineup, making it so Cable One carries all three channels in the MWC TV deal. None of the three are available in HD through Cable One, however.

ON-THE-FIELD HISTORY:
Since the Mountain West was created in 1999, Boise State has posted a 13-1 record against MWC teams. Three of those wins (Utah, New Mexico x2) came when Boise was still in the Big West. Boise State fans have long loved to run this statistic up the flag pole for their MWC buddies to see. But it is of note that five of those 13 wins came against Wyoming. How does that stack up to the MWC's former best? In their last five matchups with Wyoming, Air Force and BYU are both 5-0, while TCU and Utah are both 4-1. So while going 5-0 against Wyoming isn't unique, some have slipped up on occasion as well, which Boise State hasn't.

The Broncos did also post three wins against Utah and two against BYU, and went 1-1 against TCU. The 14 games are a good sample, but there is still room for more to be played out. Boise State has not played Air Force, Colorado State, San Diego State, or UNLV.

But, with all that said, their record is their record. Boise State scheduled as big of a cross-section of MWC teams as they reasonably could in non-conference play, faced MWC teams in three bowl matchups, and went 13-1. So while there will be some unfamiliarity, by no means are the Broncos unproven against MWC schools, nor will they be in completely foreign territory--except maybe with Air Force.

OTHER CHANGES:
Coach Pete leads a new staff
Like the other three teams highlighted in this series, Boise State will also move into new conference affiliation with a new offensive coordinator. Bryan Harsin, long-time assistant coach and offensive coordinator since 2006, was lured to Texas to be a co-offensive coordinator on Mack Brown's newly-constituted staff.

Replacing Harsin will be Brent Pease, who had been coaching Boise's receivers since 2006. (2006 is an important year--it was the year Chris Petersen became head coach. The Broncos have enjoyed a lot of coaching stability.) Pease accepted a job to be offensive coordinator at Indiana, but was welcomed back to Boise to be the Broncos' offensive coordinator after just four days.

However, unlike BYU and Utah, who are changing offensive schemes, Boise State's offense should be business-as-usual according to Pease. "The foundation of everything is still there. One thing I grew a part of is how we use the personnel, the shifts and motion, the tempo — that’s all good stuff."

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: 12-0
Chris Petersen. Isn't that all you need to know? Oh, and Kellen Moore. He's back. You know, the guy who has thrown 99 touchdowns against only 19 interceptions in his career. The guy who has a career record of 38-2. And a made-for-ESPN game to start the year against a historically-strong BCS opponent? Been there, won that. The Broncos defense is stout as always (was Top 5 in 3-and-out defense last season). They gut out a few close games, and at the end of the season, there is Boise State yet again. Clockwork.

LIKELY SCENARIO: 11-1
My gut wants to tell me Boise needs to fear three matchups in particular: Georgia, Air Force, and TCU. Every time I doubt Boise State (like I did against Virginia Tech and in the Fiesta Bowl with TCU), they simply find a way to win. Again and again. So while I can't stop thinking that maybe the Broncos going 9-3 isn't entirely unreasonable, I have to remind myself how many times I have been wrong. Given that two of those three "games to fear" are at home, Boise State should still be sitting pretty. I'm going to say they go 2-1 in those three games. Not sure who they will lose to. Perhaps even saying that is doubting them.

But, when it's said and done, 11-1 will still have the Broncos crowned as MWC champs in their first season in the fold. Kellen Moore will be invited to New York at the end of the season, and Boise State will be this-close to another BCS bowl berth. In fact, if the one loss is to Georgia, the momentum of 11-straight wins may be enough to get Boise State into a BCS bowl with one loss if other things shake their way.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO: 8-4
Even with questions surrounding what wide receivers will replace Titus Young and Austin Pettis, and even with a new offensive coordinator for the first time since 2006, I still don't think Boise State's bottom falls any further than 8-4. In my mind, this means going 1-4 in games against Georgia, Fresno State, Air Force, TCU, and San Diego State. Even if the Broncos struggle for some reason, they should still handle the Wyomings and New Mexicos on the schedule. They can chalk one up to a season of transition (replacing major yardage, new offensive coordinator, new conference), and be ready for battle the next season.

---------

After 2011, it's hard to see any situation where Boise State doesn't sit at the top of the MWC. Air Force will be strong as always, and may finally have the opportunity to win a conference title with TCU's exit. But every year, the path to the MWC title is going to travel through Boise.

Tell us how you think Boise State will finish in 2011.

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