Column: Boise State Looks for Answers at Fall Camp

2013-08-03T19:58:00Z Column: Boise State Looks for Answers at Fall CampBy Nick Ruland -- nruland@magicvalley.com Twin Falls Times-News

There have been more celebrated offseasons for the Boise State fan base. 

There have been springs with more intrigue. Heading into fall camp last year, all eyes were on new offensive coordinator Robert Prince and the battle to replace the great Kellen Moore, along with receiver Tyler Shoemaker and NFL draftees Shea McClellin, Doug Martin, Tyrone Crawford, Billy Winn, George Lloka and Nate Potter.

The 2013 offseason was much closer to the norm for a non-BCS automatic qualifier (even if the best).

Fresh off a two-loss reality check, Bronco fans can come to enjoy their team’s position heading into 2013 — just a bit under the radar compared to seasons past. Sure, Boise State is a preseason top-20 team again, but there’s less national chatter of the Broncos running the table and busting the BCS as there was during the Moore years.

Long gone is the clamoring about the Broncos having to earn their respect and placement in the coaches’ poll with a “statement win” in their opening non-conference game.

While Washington isn’t as strong of an opener as the Broncos have faced in seasons past, the Huskies are the first obstacle (they are an early favorite) in what could be the most challenging road gauntlet in program history (at Fresno State, at Utah State, at BYU, at San Diego State). At least, if you believe what Chris Petersen says he believes: that the Mountain West in 2013 could be the toughest conference in which he’s ever coached.

And while Petersen has always been able to insulate his program from incessant external noise, it won’t take as much work this season — at least early on.

His starting quarterback, who was darn-near perfect in the last quarter of the 2012, is a relative afterthought, not just nationally, but even in the conference.

There isn’t a face outsiders can associate with this Broncos team, untethering them from daily national preseason exposure, nor is there an overarching narrative that consumes the local media sessions like there was last season in the wake of dramatic change.

In a way, it’s just the right set of circumstances for the horse to breach Troy.

As yet, that preseason ranking gives the Broncos one last crack at the BCS before the new college football playoff system debuts in 2014.

When fall camp starts Monday, there will be plenty of position battles to watch — but that’s a constant in all fall camps — and there is plenty of uncertainty, especially on defense.

But outside of linebacker and corner back, each position group has at least one rock, one player that, barring injury, should be a lock for consistent high-end production. Many believe that includes quarterback.

The Broncos are full of thunder and lightning at running back, featuring both in one with Jay Ajayi, who is tough to tackle with one defender. They have all variety of skill threats inside and outside. Matt Miller is a reliable top target, but it seems likely that at least one of Shane Williams-Rhodes, Geraldo Boldewijn and Aaron Burks develops into a dynamic star that changes games with pure talent.

There is uncertainty about depth on the offensive line and the ability to consistently open up running lanes, as the Broncos went backwards more often last year than they had historically, but left tackle Charles Leno Jr. is surefire.

Defensively, each level will need a fall breakout for the Broncos to reach the historical levels of dominance.

Is Tyler Horn able to complement Demarcus Lawrence at end, and can the Broncos generate a natural pass rush at different spots on the line and take advantage of the attention Lawrence is sure to receive?

Are special teams star Blake Renaud, scout team MVP Ben Weaver and Tyler Gray ready to take over the field general responsibilities in BSU’s 4-2-5 scheme?

Can Cory Bell (nickel), Donte Deon and Bryan Douglas — taking over on the outside for Jerrell Gavins and Jamar Taylor — help slow down the prolific passing offenses the Broncos are going to stare down throughout the year?

There is the perpetual question of special teams consistency. Can the Broncos come to rely on either Dan Goodale or Tyler Rausa in the kicking game? What about Trevor Harman or Sean Wale changing field position?

For those who bleed blue, it’s an unsettling thought: Will the Broncos’ BCS hopes once again come down to a foot?

For diehards, that’s just the surface. There are the known unknowns that make two-a-days so dramatic — injuries, surprises and disappointments leading up to Aug. 31, when Washington inaugurates its plush new stadium against the Broncos.

And just as the process of the team’s development over a long season has become the far greater fascination for fans than the big-picture prospect of the underdog unsettling the system, August could very well be a forgotten time when January rolls around.

With the new Mountain West Conference championship game an opportunity to further elevate the Broncos in the BCS, this could finally be the year, as the BCS is prepared to be lowered to its final resting place, for the Broncos to — fittingly — shut its casket and bury the long nemesis of justice.

For the next month, such a fate may be hidden in faint clues, or it could be shattered in an instance.

Either way, August is time to get lost in it all.

Copyright 2015 Twin Falls Times-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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