The team, No. 22 in the AP poll, opened up at 13th-ranked Michigan State and failed to score an offensive touchdown in what turned into a stunning 17-13 loss for the Broncos. It was the first time since an ugly 58-0 setback to Washington State in 1997 that BSU failed to score a touchdown on offense. Boise State did force four turnovers in the meeting, but with new quarterback Joe Southwick taking over the offense, the unit sputtered and never got on track.
Needless to say, after just the first game the Broncos were on an uphill climb to regain their composure and Southwick was fighting to keep head coach Chris Petersen from sitting him on the bench. Southwick, who entered 2012 with a grand total of just 400 passing yards during mop-up duty the previous two seasons, rebounded with a 300-yard passing game versus Miami-Ohio two weeks later and led the Broncos on a seven-game win streak in order to get Petersen back on his side, but considering the competition during the run the outcomes should have gone in favor of the Broncos.
Against San Diego State at home on Nov. 3, the Broncos suffered an unexpected 21-19 loss, a rare feat for a visiting opponent over the last decade or so in Idaho. It certainly didn't help that SDSU began the meeting with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, putting Boise State in an early hole. The Broncos were able to respond with three more regular-season wins against Hawaii, Colorado State and Nevada, in order to move to 10-2 overall and 7-1 in conference play (tied for first), but still BSU was relegated to the Las Vegas Bowl for the third year in a row, and for the fourth straight season Petersen and the Broncos brought home a postseason trophy with a narrow 28-26 victory over Washington.
The Broncos fed off their defense a season ago as they held opponents to a mere 15.8 ppg (eighth nationally), although the unit somehow allowed a season- high 29 points to a New Mexico group that finished just 4-9 overall, was 1-7 in MWC play, and yet played BSU to within three points in September nonetheless. One of the most successful head coaches in the last decade, Petersen now has a record of 84-8 overall in seven campaigns in Boise and is a staggering 51-4 in conference play, finishing no worse than second in any one year.
OFFENSE: Clearly, coach Petersen was not thrilled with the early efforts of Southwick, but backup Grant Hedrick threw a total of just 17 passes a year ago which implies the coaching staff wasn't prepared to make a change in 2012. Now, 2013 might be a different story depending on how the schedule plays out, but coming out of the gate the job still belongs to Southwick after he completed almost 67 percent of his passes for 2,730 yards and 19 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Southwick, who was picked off seven times, he is playing on the heels of one of the most dominant passers in the history of college football in Kellen Moore who is the winningest signal-caller in FBS history (50-3) before leaving in 2011. The good news for Southwick is that he has his top two receivers back in Matt Miller and Kirby Moore who combined for 102 receptions, more than 1,100 yards and six TDs last season.
"Kirby is one of the rocks of our offense," coach Petersen said during Fall Camp. "He is always out here competing, he is always going full speed and he is always giving good effort."
Another holdover is Holden Huff who, with just 17 catches in 13 games, averaged almost 15 yards per grab and tied for second on the team with four receiving scores. Unfortunately, what the offense is missing this time around is a major rushing presence with the loss of D.J. Harper who was responsible for 1,137 yards and a massive 15 touchdowns. Now just a sophomore, Jay Ajayi figures to get more action after placing second on the team a year ago with 548 yards and four scores on 82 attempts. Placing sixth in the country in sacks allowed (0.77 per game), the offensive line will have to fill a few vacancies as well, although Charles Leno and Matt Paradis are coming back as returning starters in the trenches.
DEFENSE: While the BSU offense continues to pull out a few gimmicky tricks now and then, the defense will once again be the focal point of the program even though it too is going to be rebuilding. Last season the unit was third in the nation in forced turnovers with 36 and second overall in turnover margin with a plus-1.54 per game, but those sort of numbers will be hard to come by in 2013 given the number of new faces that will be trying to grab a spot in the starting lineup.
Gone is top tackler J.C. Percy who hammered out an impressive 118 stops. So dominant was Percy, his 70 unassisted tackles was the same number of overall tackles that Jeremy Ioane managed as the second-best tackler on the squad. Ioane's return at safety also, along with that of Darian Thompson, means the Broncos have one of the best secondaries in the league once more this season as both players logged three interceptions for BSU. Earning a spot on the 2013 Preseason All-Mountain West Football Defensive Team is Demarcus Lawrence who comes back after claiming All-MWC First-Team honors following a 2012 campaign in which he led the Broncos in tackles for loss (13.5), sacks (9.5) and forced fumbles (four), not to mention registering the only blocked kick of the season for the group.
Another player to keep an eye on is junior linebacker Corey Bell who came on strong with fourth starts in the final five games of the season, finishing with 45 total tackles, 22 solo.
"Corey knows only two speeds - fast and full," Petersen noted in early August. "He is very dialed in to what we're doing out here, and he brings a lot of positive energy to this team."
SPECIAL TEAMS: Last season the Broncos outscored the competition by a combined 253-57 in the first half, and then called off the dogs after intermission when they registered 91 points in the third and only 49 points in the fourth frames, respectively, with 87 of those 393 total points coming from kicker Michael Frisina. With Frisina now gone, that leaves Dan Goodale and Tyler Rausa to compete for the job.
Goodale has game experience, thanks to being a kickoff specialist, so he probably has the inside track, while Rausa spent time at a junior college where he handled the placekicking responsibilities. From a punting perspective, Southwick actually booted seven kicks himself, with five landing inside the 20-yard line, but really the job belongs to Trevor Harman after he averaged better than 41 yards per kick on 42 attempts a year ago.
OUTLOOK: Once again, Boise State stands alone when it comes to representing college football outside of the BCS conferences in the initial coaches poll, placing 19th on the list, one spot behind Nebraska and ahead of a TCU squad that was a mere 7-6 a year ago. The squad is also 19th on the initial AP poll as well.
The Broncos have been ranked in the debut release of the national polls in each of the last five seasons, one of only 11 teams to achieve the feat, but that also puts a huge target on their back as they tee off against Washington on the road to begin the 2013 campaign. However, the schedule appears to be quite kind to BSU for the most part, save for a road trip to Fresno State the third week of September, as well as stops at Utah State and BYU later in the calendar. Aside from the meetings with the Huskies and Cougars, the only other non-conference bouts involve first-time opponent Tennessee-Martin at home on Sept. 7 and a visit from a Southern Miss team that was not only thumped by the Broncos last year (40-14), it is also the lone winless team in the nation from a year ago as well.