***BOISE STATE (13-0, 8-0 in the WAC)
*Returning Starters: 12 with five on offense and seven on defense.
*Summary: Boise State became the story of the bowl season last year after an unforgettable overtime victory over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl in head coach Chris Peterson‘s first season at the helm. The win included a hook-and-ladder to send the contest into the extra session, a halfback touchdown pass to bring the deficit to one and a "Statue of Liberty" trick play that Ian Johnson scored on to give the Broncos the landmark victory. It was so good that EA Sports decided to put QB Jared Zabransky on the cover of their new 2008 NCAA College Football game. An end-of-the-year battle at Hawaii, coupled with a non-conference tilt at Washington, will decide if Boise State can once again shake up the BCS.
Zabransky is gone after guiding the Broncos to the second-highest scoring mark in the nation in 2006, averaging 39 PPG. The offense must replace six starters from an explosive bunch. Johnson is back at running back after rushing for a school-record 1,713 yards and 25 TD's last season. The junior will be the backbone of the offensive attack. Last year, Boise State was sixth nationally in rushing offense and four starters return to the offensive line. This will help not only Johnson but the new quarterback. Taylor Tharp and Bush Hamden combined to throw 15 passes in 2006. At wide receiver, the Broncos lost their four top pass catchers. Vinny Perretta is the returning leader with 17 catches for 124 yards and two scores. Jeremy Childs caught 14 balls last year.
Defensively, Boise State was stout against the run in 2006, ranking 8th nationally. The two interior defensive line spots must be replaced but ends Nick Schlekeway and Mike Williams are back. These two combined for just six sacks last year. At linebacker, Kyle Gingg returns after totaling 36 tackles last year. Fellow LB David Shields registered 33 stops in 2006. The strength of the defense might be in the secondary, where three starters are back. S Marty Tadman was second on the team in tackles and tied for first with six interceptions. Orlando Scandrick was fourth last year in tackles and gives the group veteran leadership.
The kicker and punter both must be replaced. The return game must improve as Boise State was in the 60's nationally in kickoff and punt return.
*Impact Players: RB Johnson (1,713 yards, 25 TD's), S Tadman (53 tackles, 6 INT's) and CB Scandrick (42 tackles, INT).
*Key Games: September 8th at Washington, September 27th vs. Southern Mississippi, October 26th at Fresno State and November 23rd at Hawaii.
***BYU (11-2 overall, 8-0 in the Mountain West)
*Returning Starters: 14 with six on offense and eight on defense.
*Summary: After starting out 1-2, BYU ended 2006 with 10 straight wins, including a 38-8 dismantling of Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall's impact is already being felt after a 5-6 2005 campaign. The road back to a double-digit win total won't be easy. Non-conference contests against Arizona and UCLA should test the Cougars early. Also, BYU plays host to TCU on November 8th.
The Cougars were 4th in total and passing offense and 5th in scoring offense. Most of this was because of QB John Beck, who tossed 32 touchdowns to eight interceptions. Sophomore Max Hall has the inside lead to start in the fall but experience will be a problem. The top three pass catchers from last season are gone but Austin Collie returns to campus after a two-year church mission. There's a hole as well at running back where Curtis Brown and his over 1,500 yards of total offense are gone. Fui Vakapuna should get the bulk of the carries after rushing for 481 yards and eight TD's last year. The advantage is that four starters are back on the offensive line.
BYU was 38th in total defense in 2006 but 10th in scoring defense. The Cougars employ a 3-4 scheme and seven starters are back. LB Bryan Kehl is the top returning tackler after totaling 70 stops last season, including eight for losses. LB David Nixon registered 10.5 TFL last year. Up front, DE Jan Jorgensen amassed six sacks off the end. In the second, S Quinn Gooch had 66 tackles and two INT's last season. CB Ben Criddle picked off two passes in 2006 for a group that was 65th in pass defense last year.
Special teams needs to plug a few holes. The Cougars lost their starting kicker and punter.
*Impact Players: RB Kaukauna (481 yards, 8 TD's), LB Kehl (70 tackles) and S Gooch (66 tackles, 2 INT's).
*Key Games: September 1st vs. Arizona, September 8th at UCLA, November 8th vs. TCU and November 24th vs. Utah.
***HAWAII (11-3 overall, 7-1 in the WAC)
*Returning Starters: 13 with six on offense and seven on defense.
*Summary: Hawaii would have won the WAC last season but lost 41-34 at Boise State. That didn't stop the Warriors from winning 10 of their final 11 contests, including a 41-24 decision over Arizona State in the Hawaii Bowl. The schedule looks favorable as both Boise State and Washington head to Honolulu. Could Hawaii be the Boise State of 2007 under head coach June Jones?
The offense starts with Colt Brennan, who is on every possible watch list heading into the year. Last year, the 6-3, 196-pound signal caller tossed a Division 1A record 58 TD's to 12 INT's in leading the nation's highest scoring offense at 46 PPG. Brennan was also responsible for the air attack being ranked 1st nationally, averaging over 441 YPG. The good news is that Brennan's top two targets, Jason Rivers and Davone Bess, are both back. Bess caught 96 balls for 1,220 yards and 15 TD's while Rivers snagged 72 passes for 1,178 yards and 10 TD's. Ryan Grice-Mullen also returns after snaring 10 scores last year. The only potential problem could be to find three new starters on the offensive line. Hawaii must find a replacement for RB Nate Ilaoa, who combined for over 1,700 yards of total offense and 15 TD's.
The Warriors needed every one of Brennan's touchdowns because the defense was bad, ranking 93rd overall. Six starters return to the group. DT Michael Lafaele is the only lineman back up front. At linebacker, three starters return, including Adam Leonard, who led the team in tackles with 114 in 2006. LB Solomon Elimimian registered 89 stops last season. The pass defense was horrible last year, ranking 105th in the country. Three starters are back. CB Gerard Lewis picked off three passes in 2006 and S Jacob Patek amassed 55 tackles but the group as a whole must get better.
Dan Kelly returns after making 13-of-17 field goals last year.
*Impact Players: QB Brennan (5,549 yards, 58 TD's), WR Bess (96-1,220-15 TD's) and WR Rivers (72-1,178-10 TD's).
*Key Incoming Freshmen: CB Kenny Graham (5-11, 190 as a JC transfer), Joshua Leonard (6-3, 273 as a JC transfer) and CB Ryan Mouton (5-11, 185 as a JC transfer).
*Key Games: September 15th at UNLV, November 16th at Nevada, November 23rd vs. Boise State and December 1st vs. Washington.
***TCU (11-2 overall, 6-2 in the Mountain West)
*Returning Starters: 14 with five on offense and nine on defense.
*Summary: After losing two in a row to BYU and Utah earlier in the season, TCU rattled off eight straight wins to end 2006. It concluded with a 37-7 whipping of Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. A statement game comes early for the Horned Frogs. TCU travels to Austin to play the powerhouse Texas Longhorns. If this contest can be won, the Horned Frogs could run the table to a BCS appearance.
The Horned Frogs were effective in running the football last year, ranking ninth nationally by averaging 194 yards per game on the ground. RB Aaron Brown returns after rushing for 801 yards and nine TD's last season, including over five yards per carry. Brown can also catch the ball out of the backfield. There will be a new quarterback under center. Marcus Jackson and Andy Dalton are both in the race to start. Jackson was 26-of-44 for 386 yards and two TD's in 2006 as a backup. Donald Massey is the best returning receiver after catching 26 balls for 332 yards and three TD's. The right side of the offensive line must be replaced.
The Horned Frogs made their mark on defense last season. TCU was 2nd in total defense and 3rd in scoring defense. Nine starters are back to make this an intimidating bunch. Up front, DE Tommy Blake was named to the Hendricks Watch list after totaling 54 tackles and seven sacks last year. Fellow DE Chase Ortiz registered 11 TFL to compliment Blake's 16.5. Both linebackers return in the 4-2-5 scheme, including Jason Phillips, who had 73 tackles in 2006. In the secondary, CB Nick Sanders returns after picking off three passes last year. S Brian Bonner was a stat sheet stuffer after totaling 49 tackles, 9.5 for losses, four sacks and two INT's last season.
Field goals shouldn't be a problem. K Chris Manfredini was 12-for-14 in kicks in 2006.
*Impact Players: RB Brown (801 rush yards, 455 receiving yards, 10 total TD's), DE Tommy Blake (54 tackles, 16.5 TFL's and 7 sacks) and DE Ortiz (11 TFL).
*Key Games: September 1st vs. Baylor, September 8th at Texas, October 13th at Stanford and November 8th at BYU.