It’s not often that a team can go 12-2, win a top-tier bowl game, lose both its workhorse running back and extremely accurate quarterback and harbor reasonable expectations of improvement the following season.
Boise State might be the exception next year.
As much as this recently-completed Bronco season was a breakthrough, a rebound, a return to form or whatever one might want to call it, it quietly came with a relatively young team. The roster listed 14 seniors, a fairly small total to begin with, but even that number is deceptive.
Defensive linemen Tyler Horn and Justin Taimatuia both missed most or all of the season with injuries. Each received a medical redshirt and will return next year figuring to either start or at least feature prominently into the depth chart.
Two other seniors who were expected to be among the team’s most important players entering the year missed significant time with health issues and were essentially non-factors when all was said and done, the team’s success coming despite their absences.
Matt Miller was the team’s leading returning receiver, but he was sidelined in the Sept. 27 debacle against Air Force and ruled out for the year with an ankle injury several weeks later. Filling his place was a stable of smaller receivers, most of whom will return next season.
Jeremy Ioane figured to start at safety and did for several games before mysteriously playing less and less as the season wore on. In late November, it came to light that he suffers from a rare and serious kidney disease and is currently awaiting a transplant.
Even among the 10 remaining healthy seniors, there were some who hardly factored into the late-season run to the Fiesta Bowl title.
Dallas Burroughs and Mercy Maston played sparingly, even after injuries to teammates at their respective positions. Connor Peters technically started two games at tight end, but was basically just a blocker. He also missed time early in the year with a suspension.
Granted, that still leaves quarterback Grant Hedrick, defensive end Beau Martin, kicker Dan Goodale and several others who will be significantly missed. And that’s not even mentioning star running back Jay Ajayi, who is leaving early for the draft, or promising pass rusher Mat Boesen, who will not return to the team amidst legal issues.
The Broncos certainly will have holes to fill, but so will everybody else. Furthermore, the heir apparent for many of these contributors are already on campus, or will be by spring practice, leaving Bryan Harsin in a situation that many of his fellow coaches around the country would likely envy.