BOISE — A year ago, Boise State knew what it had. In 2012, there are a lot more question marks to be answered.
That’s what makes this year’s fall camp, which begins Saturday, so exciting.
“I’m more excited for this than usual, really,” senior defensive tackle Mike Atkinson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys looking to step up, and it’s tough to really know what’s ahead. As a senior, we have a good chance to go out with a bang.”
The Broncos lose six NFL draft picks, a quarterback who finished in the top five all-time in NCAA history in passing yards and touchdowns, nine of their top 10 tacklers plus their top receiver.
Yet thanks to all those blowouts the Broncos have accumulated over the years, this year’s team is hardly inexperienced.
Seniors like running back D.J. Harper (41 games) and linebackers J.C. Percy (40) and Tommy Smith (36) have not been full-time starters, but have been solid contributors. The 25 seniors on the roster have bided their time and have their last chance to make an impact.
“I think it should make for a really exciting fall camp — all that competition, you don’t know who will win each spot,” senior guard Joe Kellogg said. “I honestly feel like all 22 spots are open, and that’s how it should be.”
A common question asked of Boise State coach Chris Petersen and his players are what players might be names to watch in fall camp — and Petersen admitted “there will be lots of them.”
“It’s going to be interesting … we’ve got some seniors that might not have some notoriety the old seniors had, but they know it, they’ve been around,” Chris Petersen said.
Boise State will find starters who will step into much larger roles namely at quarterback, defensive line, linebacker and safety. The spring may have helped begin to sort out who will begin fall camp with the first-team at some positions, but the team’s depth will mean jockeying at every position for playing time.
“Competition is what it’s all about, if there’s one theme that possibly runs through our program, that’s the one I get most excited about,” Petersen said.
Many preseason publications have Boise State as a top 25 team once again, while the Mountain West media had 90 percent of its first-place votes in the preseason poll go to the Broncos. Even though many agree the Broncos are the type of program that can reload instead of rebuild, there’s enough of that old-fashioned Boise State edge to continue in this age of unparalleled success.
“I think people say that stuff based on what we did last season,” senior cornerback Jamar Taylor said. “This year’s team has a lot of things we don’t know yet. We haven’t proven anything. We still have a chip on our shoulder because of that.”
Added to the losses on the field, the Broncos also have four new coaches, losing three long-time assistants to BCS conference schools in the offseason.
As the Broncos face their final year in the Mountain West before heading to the Big East, they’ll try to find answers in a whole barrel of uncertainties and try to do what even one of the most talented teams in school history couldn’t accomplish.
“We’re fixated and focused on having a good year, trying to win this conference, which we couldn’t do last year with a really good team,” Petersen said. “... There’s a lot to prove, with all the guys that left us.”