BOISE — As young as the Boise State football team seemed in 2012, this number will come as a bit of a shock.
The Broncos only return 11 of 25 starters for 2013.
“That's what college football is — there's graduation,” said coach Chris Petersen, whose team beat Washington on Saturday in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas to finish 11-2. “We had that weird crew (in the 2010 and 2011 senior classes) where they played as young guys and we just didn't lose many guys. So now we're kind of on a normal cycle where it's going to be one group or one side of the ball (every year). Hopefully, the program is good enough that we can recruit good players in here and the young guys who are redshirting and playing as young guys are all going to have to take that next step.
“But I think the offense will have some good momentum,” he said.
The offense returns five starters, including quarterback Joe Southwick, All-Mountain West center Matt Paradis, two-year starting left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and leading receivers Matt Miller and Kirby Moore — a nice start for any offense.
Veterans are available to fill many of the holes, and there is some intriguing young talent with sophomore tailbacks Jay Ajayi and Jack Fields and sophomore wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes.
“I see a lot of young talent,” departing tailback D.J. Harper said. “You've seen a lot of young guys making plays this year. Over the next few years, you're going to see these guys doing a lot of big things around here.”
The defense also returns five starters but is plagued by more question marks than the offense — particularly at the two essential building-block positions, tackle and cornerback.
Southwick said the scout-team defense at times was as good as the defenses he saw in games. Those redshirts — as well as part-time players such as linebackers Blake Renaud and Tyler Gray and probably some junior college recruits — need to deliver if the Broncos are going to produce another elite defense.
“There are some guys who need to step up in that (locker) room,” Miller said. “That's how we want it. We've got those quality type of guys who want to step up and get to those show lights.”
Three stars for 2013
QB Joe Southwick, senior: Southwick's outstanding play in the four-game winning streak to end the season gives him confidence and momentum going into his senior year. He also stands to benefit from coach Chris Petersen's talk of streamlining the offense. “The mark of any good quarterback is going to be third down, red zone and then hitting shots (deep balls),” Petersen said. “He's slowly but surely making progress in those areas.”
WR Matt Miller, junior: The consistent, clutch wide receiver has racked up 128 catches for 1,448 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons. The school records are 229, 3,063 and 39.
DE Demarcus Lawrence, junior: He led the Mountain West with 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss in 11 games. He missed two games, including the bowl, for violating team rules — so discipline will be key for him. “Once a guy makes a mistake and crosses the line, the ice gets pretty thin,” Petersen said.
Three emerging players
WR/KR Shane Williams-Rhodes, sophomore: His 47-yard kickoff return set up the Broncos' game-winning field goal in the bowl. He became the primary kickoff returner in the second half of the season and likely will compete for the job at punt returner next season. He also should become a more well-rounded threat as a wide receiver. “Shane is one of those guys you're going to see on ESPN for the next couple years doing big things,” departing wide receiver and punt returner Chris Potter said.
RB Jay Ajayi, sophomore: D.J. Harper's departure opens the door for Ajayi to become the featured back, although he'll get competition from sophomore Jack Fields. Ajayi averaged 6.7 yards per carry as a freshman but only once carried 10 times in a game.
CB Donte Deayon, sophomore: He played in the final five games of 2012, gaining valuable experience that should give him an edge in the competition for two open starting spots next season. Washington seemed to attack him in the second half of the bowl; that should motivate him as he prepares for next year's opener.
THREE REDSHIRTS TO WATCH
QB Nick Patti, redshirt freshman: The Offensive Scout Player of the Year will compete with junior Grant Hedrick and sophomore Jimmy Laughrea for the backup job and the right to push Southwick. Patti's development next spring and summer will draw significant fan interest.
LB Ben Weaver, redshirt freshman: The Defensive Scout Player of the Year plays a position of need for the Broncos — inside linebacker. The only returning players with experience are junior middle linebacker Blake Renaud, a likely starter, and sophomore weak-side linebacker Tyler Gray.
Offensive linemen Travis Averill, Steven Baggett and Mario Yakoo, redshirt freshmen: The Broncos lose three starting offensive linemen and a key backup. Four seniors with starting experience return, but there's a need for the 2011 and 2012 offensive line recruits to contribute.
THREE HOLES TO FILL
Defensive tackle: Senior starter Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe will fill one spot in the four-man rotation, but he's the only proven option unless junior end Tyler Horn moves there permanently. The Broncos have recruited two junior college tackles to help fill the void.
Cornerback: Standout duo Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins — the key reason the Broncos only allowed four passing touchdowns in 2012 — are gone. If junior Bryan Douglas, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in late October, isn't ready when the season starts, the void gets larger. Two JC transfers are on the way at this position, too.
Kicker: Michael Frisina stabilized the position in 2012 by making all 14 of his field-goal tries from 30 yards and in, including the game-winner against Washington. But he's gone and the job is open again. JC transfer Tyler Rausa joins junior Dan Goodale and redshirt freshman Sean Wale.
Information from: Idaho Statesman, http://www.idahostatesman.com