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March 7, 2010

Boise State begins quest for a national title

Boise State players won't have to wear name tags or stage a meet-and-greet during 2010 spring practice.

Most of the cast - 19 starters - returns from last season's team, which went 14-0 and beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl. The most glaring loss is cornerback/punt returner Kyle Wilson. While that absence shouldn't be overlooked, Boise State has more than enough returning help to field a top-notch defense.

The Broncos also have a new defensive coordinator to replace Justin Wilcox, who was hired at Tennessee. Chris Petersen promoted line coach Pete Kwiatkowski to lead the defense.

Boise State dealt with distractions last season, with questions about the 2009 opener against Oregon starting as early as February. The same will happen this season because of the Labor Day opener against Virginia Tech in Washington, D.C.

This time, Boise State could begin the season as a top-five team for the first time in school history.

BOISE STATE AT-A-GLANCE
Kellen Moore and Boise State open the season against Virginia Tech.
THE BASICS
Coach: Chris Petersen
Last season: 14-0 overall, 8-0 in the WAC. Beat TCU 17-10 in the Fiesta Bowl.
Spring dates: March 8-April 17
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (10): T Michael Ames, RB Jeremy Avery, C Thomas Byrd, TE Tommy Gallarda, G Will Lawrence, QB Kellen Moore, WR Austin Pettis, WR Tyler Shoemaker, T Nate Potter, WR Titus Young.
Defense (10): T Chase Baker, S George Iloka, S Jeron Johnson, LB Daron Mackey, E Shea McClellin, LB Aaron Tevis, CB Brandyn Thompson, S Winston Venable, T Billy Winn, E Ryan Winterswyk.
Special teams (1): K/P Kyle Brotzman.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Where to start? With 19 returning starters, Boise State merely is fine-tuning in several areas, rather than making wholesale changes. The Broncos are loaded in the passing game with QB Kellen Moore, 26-1 as a starter, returning along with his top eight receivers. Titus Young and Austin Pettis are as effective a receiving duo as there is in the nation. The same can be said of TEs Kyle Efaw, the pass-catcher, and Tommy Gallarda, the blocker. Boise State should be fine in the secondary despite the loss of star CB Kyle Wilson. Jeron Johnson, George Iloka and Brandyn Thompson are multi-year starters.

HELP IS NEEDED

At corner, Wilson will be replaced by Jerrell Gavins, who transferred from junior college before last season. He should be prepared to take over after starting the Fiesta Bowl at cornerback while Wilson moved to safety. The Broncos are seeking better play from the linebackers and an improved pass rush after ranking 72nd nationally in sacks. Expect the linebackers to move around - from inside to outside and from first and second string - during spring drills. Boise State also would like to find consistent starters on the right side of the offensive line. Three players started at right tackle last season. Meanwhile, starting RG Kevin Sapien decided to end his career because of chronic shoulder problems.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

LB Bryon Hout: So far, he's best remembered as jawing with Oregon's LeGarrette Blount before getting hit in the jaw. He'll try to change that by moving from a backup defensive end spot to middle linebacker. On paper, it's an unusual move, though Hout did play the position in high school.

OL Brenel Myers: Injuries forced Myers into the starting lineup against TCU in the Fiesta Bowl, and he performed admirably against Horned Frogs DE Jerry Hughes. Myers, a sophomore, should grab a starting assignment this season, either at right guard or right tackle.

LB Hunter White: As with Hout, White is changing positions. He competed with J.C. Percy at inside linebacker last season, but he will move outside during the spring. The competition there will be just as fierce with Aaron Tevis and Derrell Acrey.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

RBs Jeremy Avery and Doug Martin: Boise State rotates its running backs enough that the runner-up in this race will still receive his share of carries. The spring will be an important showcase for the pair before D.J. Harper returns in the fall from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Martin had moved to defense last spring, but he returned to running back after the season-ending injury to Harper - who ran for 284 yards in the first three games.

THE BUZZ

With a group of veterans who have won 26 games in the past two seasons, Boise State will try to guard against complacency this spring. Several projected starters (C Thomas Byrd, OT Garrett Pendergast, DT Chase Baker and LB Daron Mackey) will miss spring with injuries, so younger players will have opportunities to make longer auditions.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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