The presumption seemed accurate: with a cast of new faces about to enter critical roles, 2008 was supposed to be Boise State's rebuilding year before making another run at the big boys of the BCS in the coming seasons.
Even with a 17-16 loss to No. 11 TCU in Tuesday night's
Poinsettia Bowl that ruined Boise State's hopes for a second
unbeaten season in the last three years, the Broncos will likely
head into the 2009 season with expectations that have rarely been
muttered in their namesake hometown where Boise State is THE game
Landing a second BCS bowl in 2009 wouldn't just be a pleasant
surprise. Fans will be expecting it from the moment spring practice
"Everyone thought we were going to be rebuilding this year
because our team is so young," said sophomore defensive end Ryan
Winterswyk. "But I think our team matured really fast as the year
went on, and kind of grew up fast and had to prove ourselves every
Boise State will bring back 13 starters with a long list of
others who saw significant playing time this season, and its
toughest game - a matchup with Pac-10 power Oregon - will come on
the friendly blue turf of Bronco Stadium.
Still, overcoming the perception of playing feeble competition
could end up being the biggest challenge. Those BCS hopes may
ultimately be hamstrung again by the Broncos' weak Western Athletic
Conference schedule and a relatively tame non-conference slate.
Aside from Oregon and a trip to rising Tulsa, the rest of Boise
State's schedule is a walk with the likes of Toledo, Miami (Ohio)
and UC Davis.
The Broncos toughest WAC game - likely Nevada - will also come
Upgrading its schedule continues to be the biggest obstacle for
Boise State to overcome in regards to how the team is perceived
outside of Boise.
Losses like Tuesday night's setback to TCU only feed the furor
of pundits who believe that in a better conference - like the
Mountain West that features TCU, BYU and Utah - the Broncos would
be a middle-of-the-pack team.
"The best statement we can make is how we play on the field,
year after year, game after game," said Boise State coach Chris
Petersen. "That's all we concern ourselves with."
One challenge will be avoiding the step back the Broncos took
after an 11-0 regular season in 2004. BSU lost to Louisville in the
Liberty Bowl, then stumbled badly to start 2005, finishing 9-4.
Eluding such a setback should be made easier by the possibility
Boise State could have its most talent-laden team this decade in
One cog the Broncos will need to replace is Ian Johnson, who
concluded his career Tuesday night as the WAC's all-time leader in
rushing touchdowns, passing Marshall Faulk with a 20-yard touchdown
sprint in the first quarter.
But Johnson was already being phased out, partly because of an
inexperienced offensive line that couldn't get the push that fits
Johnson's running style. Often, Boise State's best runs were short
dump passes or sweeps handed off to receivers in motion.
Johnson's loss shouldn't be felt too much on the field,
especially with quarterback Kellen Moore returning. The WAC
freshman of the year concluded his first season with a costly
interception with less than 2 minutes left against TCU. But it was
one of only a few mistakes he made all season. Coaches are
considering letting Moore call his own plays next year - as a
"I always say I felt like I was capable of it," Moore said of
his first year. "(I) just never really knew when it would come,
but it came early I guess."
Despite being mostly regarded for its offensive ingenuity, Boise
State's defense carried most of the season, at least until Tuesday
night when it couldn't get off the field against TCU's grinding
offense and gave up a season-high 472 yards.
Still, the Broncos will return 19 defensive players to a unit
that ranked third in the country in the regular season, allowing
fewer than 13 points and 300 yards per game.
Combine an improving defense with another undefeated regular
season and some critics might finally come around.
"Even though we're going to have those great expectations,
we're going to have to prove ourselves again," Winterswyk said.
But he added, "I think everyone is going to be really excited
for next year."