Posted: Wed August 14, 2013 11:02AM; Updated: Wed August 14, 2013 11:03AM
Lars Anderson
Lars Anderson>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Top 25 team preview: No. 20 Boise State Broncos

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Boise State's Jay Ajayi
Jay Ajayi averaged 6.7 yards per carry as a backup in 2012 and should star as the featured back in '13.
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images
Boise State's 2013 schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 31at Washington
Sept. 7vs. UT-Martin
Sept. 13vs. Air Force
Sept. 20at Fresno State
Sept. 28vs. Southern Miss
Oct. 12at Utah State
Oct. 19vs. Nevada
Oct. 25at BYU
Nov. 2at Colorado State
Nov. 16vs. Wyoming
Nov. 23at San Diego State
Nov. 30vs. New Mexico

The Mountain West title game is Dec. 7.

Top 25 Previews
1
Alabama
By Lars Anderson
 
2
Stanford
By Stewart Mandel
 
3
Texas A&M
By Stewart Mandel
 
4
Ohio State
By Stewart Mandel
 
5
Oregon
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
6
South Carolina
By Thayer Evans
 
7
Louisville
By Zac Ellis
 
8
Notre Dame
By Lars Anderson
 
9
Florida
By Andy Staples
 
10
Clemson
By Zac Ellis
 
11
Texas
By Stewart Mandel
 
12
Georgia
By Lars Anderson
 
13
Florida State
By Andy Staples
 
14
LSU
By Lars Anderson
 
15
Michigan State
By Ben Glicksman
 
16
TCU
By Dan Greene
 
17
Baylor
By Elizabeth McGarr McCue
 
18
Michigan
By Ted Keith
 
19
Oklahoma
By Richard Deitsch
 
20
Boise State
By Lars Anderson
 
21
UCLA
By R.J. Rico
 
22
Northwestern
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
23
Vanderbilt
By Zac Ellis
 
24
Northern Illinois
By Martin Rickman
 
25
Virginia Tech
By Zac Ellis
 

Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

The case for

In September and October, Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick, now a 6-foot-1, 202-pound senior, said he was tentative, inaccurate and often held the ball too long. But in November, he said, "something just clicked," and Southwick became one of the most productive quarterbacks in the nation. Over the last four games, he completed 76.7 percent of his passes for 888 yards, with nine touchdowns and no interceptions.

Broncos coach Chris Petersen, who has only seven total starters returning -- the fewest of his eight-year tenure in Boise -- believes the 2012 late-season incarnation of Southwick will be on display in '13. To help, Southwick will have his top two receivers back: 6-3, 218-pound junior Matt Miller (769 yards, 5 TDs) and 6-3, 206-pound senior Kirby Moore (368 yards, 1 TD) as well as 6-5, 221-pound sophomore tight end Holden Huff (250 yards, 4 TDs).

The case against

Boise could struggle to defend the pass. The team's weakest position is cornerback, where sophomore Donte Deayon and junior Bryan Douglas are slated to start. The Broncos only lost twice last year and by a total of six points. More close games this season will require those corners to make big plays or an unproven pass rush to step up.

Schedule analysis

The season begins with a bang: an Aug. 31 opener at Washington, one of the noisiest stadiums in the country. After that road test the Broncos face more tough travel: at Fresno State (on Sept. 20), BYU (Oct. 25) and San Diego State (Nov. 23). Fortunately two of the final three (Wyoming and New Mexico) are at home.

Key stat

30.2: Boise averaged 30.2 points per game in 2012, the team's lowest scoring output since 1998. The Broncos could find themselves in multiple scoring shootouts in the Mountain West, so it's imperative they increase this number in 2013.

Breakout player

RB Jay Ajayi: Even as a backup last season, Ajayi carved his name into the Boise State record book: His 6.7-yards-per-carry average was the highest in school history among backs with at least 75 rushing attempts in a season. Playing behind D.J. Harper in 2012, Ajayi, now a redshirt sophomore, gained 548 yards on 82 carries and scored four touchdowns. This season the 6-foot, 215-poind Ajay, whose pile-pushing running style reminds coaches of former Boise star and current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Doug Martin, will be the featured back in the Broncos' offense. "Joe has lost some weight from last year but he's still a bigger back that can rumble and get those tough yards," Petersen said. "We're optimistic that, if he can stay healthy, he'll be very productive for us."

Freshman to watch

LB Joe Martarano: A quarterback and linebacker, Martarano led Fruitland (Idaho) High to four 3A state title games, played on two state championship basketball teams and was chosen in the 2013 MLB draft. At Boise the 6-3, 228-pounder will see action at linebacker.

X-factor

K Tyler Rausa: For the past several seasons the most glaring weakness in the Boise program has been the kicking game. Enter sophomore Tyler Rausa, who spent last year at Riverside (Calif.) Community College, where he connected on 15-of-20 field goals (with a long of 48 yards) and 52-of-53 PATs. Boise lost a chance to play for the BCS national championship in 2010 because of a flubbed 26-yard kick at the end of regulation against Nevada and a shanked 29-yarder in overtime, and those misses still haunt the program. If Boise hopes to get back into the BCS discussion in 2013, it will need a strong season from Rausa.

2013 stat projections (By RotoWire.com)

QB Joe Southwick: 2,680 passing yards, 22 TDs; 90 rushing yards, 1 TD

RB Jay Ajayi: 1,250 rushing yards, 16 TDs; 100 receiving yards, 0 TDs

WR Matt Miller: 790 receiving yards, 8 TDs; 25 rushing yards, 0 TDs

Coach speak: Chris Petersen

SI: You've won 61 games in the last five years. How have you maintained a high level of success?

CP: It's not any one thing. It's really as simple as having good coaches, recruiting the right players and having those players buy into our system. Older guys have always done a good job of teaching the younger players.

SI: What are your expectations for this team?

CP: This is an interesting team. Since I've been here, this is the fewest returning starters [four on offense, three on defense] we've had. So we're young. This is also probably the hardest schedule we've had.

SI: What's the strength of your team?

CP: We hope it will be the offense. We've got experience on the line, experience at quarterback and experienced wide receivers. I think we can pick up where we ended off last year.

SI: Are you happy to stay in the Mountain West?

CP: I am. Geographically, it makes complete sense for us. Leagues keep changing, but we're in a good place. Our fans can drive to away games. And our league is much better than people think.

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