The Boise State football team will enter 2016 facing a similar scenario as this year — with a twist.
This time, it’s the offense that’s loaded with nine returning starters, and the defense is a major question mark with only four returning starters.
The schedule sets up about the same, too — two Power Five opponents in Washington State and Oregon State, a home game against BYU and the less-distinguished half of the Mountain West West Division.
One wrinkle: The Broncos will have to take their option-defense problems on the road to New Mexico, where they have struggled in victories, and Air Force, where they lost in 2014.
Here’s a quick look at the year ahead:
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Offensive scouting report
The Broncos’ 654-yard outburst in the Poinsettia Bowl provided a glimpse of what this group could look like. Quarterback Brett Rypien, tailback Jeremy McNichols and wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck should be the Mountain West’s top offensive trio. But the Broncos have two major personnel issues to address: They must identify a replacement for center Marcus Henry and find a playmaker to fill the unique role of wide receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes. They also need to develop more depth at wide receiver and tailback to take some of the workload off McNichols and Sperbeck.
Defensive scouting report
It’s almost a total rebuild, with linebackers Ben Weaver, Tanner Vallejo and Joe Martarano returning as the key building blocks and two returners in the secondary (cornerback Jonathan Moxey and safety Chanceller James). Safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner, who was a starter before breaking an ankle in September, should fit back into a starting role, too. Seven defensive linemen who contributed this year, including all four starters, have left. Safety Darian Thompson and cornerback Donte Deayon depart, too — taking their 36 career interceptions with them. The defense has been wildly inconsistent the last three years. That needs to change for the Broncos to get back to the days of dominating their conference.
Special teams scouting report
Kicker Tyler Rausa will be a preseason Lou Groza Award candidate after setting a school record with 25 field goals. He only missed field goals twice from inside 50 yards. Punter Sean Wale returns, too, after posting a 42-yard average for the second straight year. The Broncos need to find a big-play kick returner and fill one of the scariest vacancies in the sport: long snapper.
▪ Offense (9): LT Archie Lewis* (jr.), LG Travis Averill (sr.), RG Steven Baggett (sr.), RT Mario Yakoo (sr.), TE Jake Roh (jr.), WR Chaz Anderson (sr.), WR Thomas Sperbeck (sr.), RB Jeremy McNichols (jr.), QB Brett Rypien (so.)
▪ Defense (4): LB Ben Weaver (sr.), LB Tanner Vallejo (sr.), CB Jonathan Moxey (sr.), S Chanceller James (sr.)
▪ Specialists (2): K Tyler Rausa (sr.), P Sean Wale (sr.)
▪ Offense (3): WR Shane Williams-Rhodes/TE Holden Huff, C Marcus Henry, LT Rees Odhiambo (Odhiambo was the starter until an injury but Lewis started eight games to count as a returner)
▪ Defense (7): DE Tyler Horn, DT Armand Nance, DT Justin Taimatuia, DE Kamalei Correa, LB Tyler Gray, CB Donte Deayon, S Darian Thompson
▪ Specialists (0): Long snappers aren’t usually counted as starters, but the Broncos lose four-year snapper Kevin Keane.
Returning stat leaders
▪ Passing: Rypien 273-for-429, 3,353 yds., 20 TDs, 8 ints., 140.9 rating; Ryan Finley 46-for-70, 485 yds., 1 TD, 4 ints., 117.2 rating
▪ Rushing: McNichols 240 att., 1,337 yds., 20 TDs; Devan Demas 29-171-2; Ryan Wolpin 25-155-0.
▪ Receiving: Sperbeck 88 rec., 1,412 yds., 8 TDs; McNichols 51-460-6; Anderson 42-578-3; Roh 33-357-1
▪ Tackles: Weaver 68, Vallejo 57, James 55, Joe Martarano 53
▪ Sacks: James 3, Jabril Frazier 2.5
▪ Tackles for loss: Vallejo 8, James 5
▪ Interceptions: Weaver 3, Moxey 2, Raymond Ford 2
The Broncos face two Pac-12 teams in nonconference but again play the weaker half of the Mountain West West Division. Of their 12 opponents, seven reached bowl games this year but only five will finish with winning records.
▪ Nonconference: at Louisiana (Sept. 3), vs. Washington State (Sept. 10), at Oregon State (Sept. 24), vs. BYU (Oct. 22)
▪ Mountain West home opponents: Colorado State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State
▪ Mountain West road opponents: Air Force, Hawaii, New Mexico, Wyoming
2016 RECRUITING CLASS
The Broncos have 20-25 available scholarships for 2016, a fluid number. The recruiting class includes four players who have signed and will join the team in January and 15 known commitments. National Signing Day is Feb. 3.
Signed letter of intent
OL Will Adams, 6-7, 303, Sr., Auburn (Tyrone, Ga.)
WR Cedrick Wilson Jr., 6-3, 190, Jr., Coffeyville CC (Memphis, Tenn.)
OL Kole Bailey, 6-5, 285, Fr., Twin Falls High
LB Tyson Maeva, 6-0, 230, Cathedral Catholic High (San Diego)
QB Micah Wilson, 6-3, 205, Lincoln Christian School (Tulsa, Okla.)
DL Chase Hatada, 6-3, 260, Rocklin (Calif.) High
CB Robert Lewis, 5-10, 170, Augustus Hawkins High (Los Angeles)
RB Robert Mahone, 6-0, 200, Prosper (Texas) High
WR Julian Carter, 6-2, 175, Saguaro High (Scottsdale, Ariz.)
OL Ezra Cleveland, 6-6, 270, Bethel High (Spanaway, Wash.)
CB Reid Harrison-Ducros, 5-11, 175, Heritage High (Colleyville, Texas)
LB/S Desmond Williams, 6-0, 190, Centennial High (Corona, Calif.)
RB Damarea Crockett, 5-11, 211, Little Rock (Ark.) Christian
TE Nick Crabtree, 6-6, 250, Huntington Beach (Calif.) High
LB Ali’i Niumatalolo, 6-2, 225, Broadneck HS (Annapolis, Md.)
DE Derriyon Shaw, 6-4, 225, Legacy High (Las Vegas)
K/P Joel Velazquez, 6-1, 225, Trabuco Hills High (Mission Viejo, Calif.)
DT Danielson Auelua, 6-2, 285, Mesa CC (Alpine, Utah)
DB De’Andre Pierce, 5-11, 175, Long Beach Poly HS (Palos Verdes, Calif.)
CORREA LEAVES FOR NFL
Junior defensive end Kamalei Correa has signed with Priority Sports, the sports management firm announced Thursday. That makes official Correa’s decision to leave early for the NFL.
Correa had two sacks in the Poinsettia Bowl on Wednesday against Northern Illinois and was named defensive MVP. He said afterward that he needed to talk to his family before announcing a decision on his future.
Correa tied for eighth on the team with 39 tackles this season and was first in sacks (seven), tackles for loss (11) and forced fumbles (three). He was named to the All-Mountain West second team. He was an All-MW first-teamer last year.
Previous Boise State players to leave early include tailback Jay Ajayi (fifth-round draft pick, 2015), defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (second-round pick, 2014), wide receiver Jeremy Childs (undrafted, 2009), cornerback Orlando Scandrick (fifth round, 2008) and left tackle Ryan Clady (first round, 2008).