Boise State Broncos (2000: 10-2)
The following team preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the nation's most comprehensive look at this and all Division I-A teams, be sure to order the 2001 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.
Coach and programOne of the best programs in the country over the last few years has quietly built its reputation in Boise, Idaho. In the last two seasons alone, Boise State has won 20 games, won back-to-back Big West titles and two Humanitarian Bowls. The 20 wins are the sixth most in the country since 1999.
The offensive production is even more impressive. Last season, the Broncos led the nation with 45 points per game, including a staggering 53 points per game during Big West play. Quarterback Bart Hendricks was the Big West Player of the Year and tailback Brock Forsey ranked sixth in the country in all-purpose yards.
Boise State's success and the Western Athletic Conference's need for another western team has brought the two together this season. Though the Broncos will be playing their inaugural season in the league, Boise is familiar with the territory, having beaten future bunkmate UTEP in the Humanitarian Bowl last year.
The WAC isn't a tremendously big step up in competition, but it is a higher level than Boise has seen in conference play.
Multiplying the challenge will be the fact Boise has a new coach in Dan Hawkins, who became the school's third head coach in the last five years after Dirk Koetter left for Arizona State. There is always a transition period for new coaches, but this one should take little time. Hawkins was on Koetter's staff for three years and has been a head coach before.
Under Koetter, he was the tight ends and special teams coach and developed a reputation for being close to all Boise players, not just the ones he coached. He was instrumental in the Broncos ranking 10th in the nation in kickoff returns and helping turn Forsey into one of the most productive all-purpose players in the nation.
Hawkins has challenges ahead. His only head coaching experience is on the NAIA level and he has almost an entirely new staff.
"There are some definite story lines to this season," Hawkins said. "New quarterback, new defense, new coach, new league. We're making a jump up. Will it be business as usual? No. We're stepping up. Status quo isn't good enough any more."
OffenseThere may not ever be another at Boise State quite like Hendricks. He started for three years and was a two-time Big West Offensive Player of the Year selection. He holds 10 school records, and his evolution as a player mirrored the development of the Broncos' program.
Sophomore Ryan Dinwiddie (6-0, 192) will be the starter in the season opener against South Carolina. Dinwiddie has a lot of the same characteristics as Hendricks, and Hawkins -- who saw Hendricks' three-year development up close -- may be willing to hand Dinwiddie the keys to the offense.
If Dinwiddie has problems adjusting to the system or to the rigors of being a starting quarterback, the running game will have to carry the offensive load, something that isn't normally done in the Broncos' attack.
Forsey (5-11, 198), a junior, will make the Broncos' offense tick. Last season, Forsey finished sixth in the country in all-purpose yards, averaging 183.0 per game, including three games of more than 200-plus yards.
Boise returns a receiver corps that goes eight deep and includes five players who caught at least one touchdown pass.
Junior Lou Fanucchi (5-11, 191), senior Jeb Putzier (6-5, 234) and junior Jay Swillie (6-3, 207) are the leaders of the bunch. Fanucchi is the big-play threat. Last season, he led the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns and averaged almost 20 yards per catch.
Defense and special teamsNew defensive coordinator Bob Gregory switched things up when he got to Boise. He eliminated a safety spot and added a linebacker. He must have watched film and decided to face some pretty ugly realities. There isn't much returning on defense and especially up front, where it will be essential in the pass-happy WAC to get a pass rush so the secondary doesn't get hung out to dry.
The linebackers and defensive backs may make more tackles than the Broncos want because of a depleted line that lost three starters, including ends Jeff Copp and Zach Weber, both of whom were first-team All-Big West selections a year ago. Junior Tony Altieri (5-10, 280) returns at tackle, but the rest of the line will be chosen among spare parts.
The new linebacker spot has senior Greg Sasser (5-9, 206) with new letters beside his name on the depth chart, but probably has done little to change his duties. He finished third on the team in tackles and tied for second in tackles for losses.
Junior free safety Quintin Mikell (5-10, 197) was the Big West Co-Defensive Player of the Year after leading the team in tackles with 118. He played a big role in the Humanitarian Bowl win over UTEP, making nine tackles, intercepting a pass and recovering a fumble. And, in his spare time, he returns punts. He is the unquestioned leader of the defense and a player who will have to become an even bigger part of the team in 2001 for the defense not to be a liability.
Boise State immediately becomes one of the best special teams units in the WAC because of Nick Calaycay (5-7, 168). A former walk-on, the junior was a Lou Groza Award nominee last season after making 15-of-16 field goal attempts and leading the nation in field goal accuracy at 93.8 percent.
Bottom lineBoise State has always put up points and will again this year. The running game is there as well as the protection up front. The question at quarterback -- who will replace Hendricks? -- and the fact Boise is making a significant jump in competition probably means the Broncos will miss out on a bowl game. But the Broncos have enough talent to show the folks in the WAC that there is a new threat at the top.