College Football Analysis: Can Nevada, Fresno State Challenge Boise State in 2012?

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Today we continue our series of Conference Conversations by taking a look at Boise State and the the Mountain West Conference. The Saturday Edge is very pleased to present a Boise State and MWC football Q & A session with Drew Roberts of the Boise State blog One Bronco Nation Under God.

Question # 1: Now that TCU has moved on to the Big 12, is there any other team in the MWC realistically capable of challenging Boise State this year for the conference title? Why?

TCU was obviously the team that was the most evenly matched with the Broncos as far as talent and coaching…Boise State has met them on the field 4 times since 2003, went 2-2 and all of the games were decided by a touchdown or less. That’s good rivalry material, but now TCU is gone and, at least for this season, Boise State will be without a marquee conference game.

That isn’t to say that none of the teams in conference can hang with the Broncos—there are a lot of question marks surrounding Boise State and no one knows what kind of product will be on the field in 2012. That said, I think the only teams in conference capable of hanging with the Broncos will be the new additions from the WAC…old rivals Nevada and Fresno.

Both teams have just one win over the Broncos in the last 10 tries, but have some talent returning and if they were going to steal a win from the Broncos, this *might* be the year to do it. Nevada probably has the best shot since they get us at home. Fresno will likely be improved with the canning of Pat Hill and return of QB Derek Carr and RB Robbie Rouse, but they are playing in Boise, so they have the tougher road to victory.

Question # 2: Name me a few unknown players that could become stars this season?

Middle linebacker Blake Renaud played last season as a true freshman and quickly became a special teams demon and provided some good depth in the middle behind Byron Hout. This Spring, Renaud took most of the snaps with the first team and local media reported that he’s become a bit of a ballhawk on top of his already-strong run-stopping ability—Renaud had something like 6 INTs in Spring Camp.

Safety Lee Hightower is another kid that played as a true frosh, and even got a few starts under his belt when injuries hit the defensive secondary. Hightower mainly played CB last season, but in his limited minutes delivered some of the year’s biggest hits. Here’s one:

I think every Bronco fan is excited to see what this kid can do at safety…he is a very hard-hitter and seems to have a nose for the ball.

The last one I’ll mention is DE Demarcus Lawrence. The Broncos lost their top 3 defensive ends to graduation (and subsequently, the NFL), so the end spot was obviously going to be a huge question mark in 2012. The Broncos wisely went out and grabbed a JC defensive end to add an immediate impact player like the ones they lost…they got a good one in Lawrence. Lawrence chose the Broncos over a host of offers from the likes of Clemson, Tennessee, Kansas State, Ole Miss, and South Carolina and looked extremely good in Spring ball. He’ll likely lead the team in sacks in 2012.

Question # 3: Which team do you believe will show the greatest improvement over last season? Which team is overrated (not nearly as good as they are being made out to be)?

I think that Fresno will show the most improvement from last season because of the coaching changes and installation of a more dynamic offense. Pat Hill was a good coach, but his schemes had grown a bit tired. I think that Dave Schramm and Tim Deruyter should inject some life back into the struggling program—a program that many once believed could become what Boise State did become.

They return some good players and I think could finish in the top 2 in conference in their first season, but will have to erase the memories of back-to-back 50+ point losses to the Broncos if they want a title.

I think the team that is a bit overrated in the MWC is probably San Diego State. They had about a decade of mediocrity followed by a couple years of being “okay”, but I think they’re more “flash-in-the-pan” than “program on the rise”. If the Aztecs could have held on to Brady Hoke, it might be a slightly different story, but I don’t think Rocky Long is the guy to take them to the next level…and the loss of Ryan Lindley and Ronnie Hillman will hurt…a lot.

Of course, SDSU is a MWC short-timer like Boise State and they might be able to re-invent themselves in the Big East—but in 2012, I expect a backwards step in conference play.

I would like to thank Drew for his participation and great answers to our MWC football questions. If you get a chance please check out One Bronco Nation Under God, they have some great information on Boise State and MWC football. And don’t forget to leave us your Boise State and MWC football comments below.

- Pez.

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