by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

Well, now we’re completely sure that Boise State has arrived in the big time of college football. Not because the Broncos haven’t lost a game at home since 2005 or continue to threaten (and occasionally qualify) for BCS bowl bids. Instead, the NCAA has decided to enact the ultimate validation of Boise’s powerhouse status by looking into the Broncos’ operation and uncovering some innocent and not-so-innocent rule-bending. Although they’ve yet to reach the penalty phase of the review, the school has already imposed its own internal sanctions. Mind you, these weren’t Miami Hurricane-type violations we’re talking about; the most serious transgressions appear to have taken place in the women’s tennis program (women’s tennis?), with a series of secondary violations reported on the football side.

The fallout, however, seems to have exceeded the crimes. On August 10, AD Gene Bleymaier became ex-AD Gene Bleymaier, thrown under the bus by school president Bob Kustra in what many regional sources believe was an old-fashioned power struggle between two strong-willed administrators. By most measures, Bleymaier, a former tight end at UCLA during Pepper Rodgers’ and Dick Vermeil’s days in Westwood, was a model AD, having served since 1982 and stewarding the Boise program to national prominence in the process. Along the way, Bleymaier was able to increase the athletic budget from under $2 million to nearly $31 million, masterminded the installation of the famed “blue turf” at Bronco Stadium, piloting the program in its move from I-AA to I-A status, watching the football team emerge as a national power and win two BCS bowl games, and managing moves up the college food chain, from the Big Sky to the Big West to the WAC and now, this year, into the Mountain West. Bleymaier also spearheaded several expansions and upgrades to Bronco Stadium, the latest an ambitious plan to boost capacity to 53,000 (from the current 33,5000) and build a brand new, state-of-the-art football complex in addition to the indoor practice facility, constructed in 2006. Moreover, Bleymaier routinely deflected away interested suitors, remaining loyal to Boise.

No matter, Kustra was looking for a scapegoat for the mostly-minor infractions, and reportedly resented the attention and adulation Bleymaier was afforded by Bronco Nation. So Kustra played hardball politics, something to which he is accustomed after serving in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly as well as Attorney General in Illinois between 1991-98. Rahm Emanuel couldn’t have been more ruthless. As for Bleymaier, don’t expect him to stay unemployed for long. He’s hardly radioactive, and more than a few schools (maybe even alma mater UCLA) will likely have some interest. Stay tuned for Bleymaier’s next move as well as any possible repercussions from such a ham-handed act by Kustra.

Enough, however, about the background info on Boise State football. The action on the field remains the center of attention, and the Broncos this year will be playing under the banner of the Mountain West Conference, a move shepherded by none other than Bleymaier last year. Boise had outgrown the WAC, and some are wondering if it might have already outgrown the new MWC affiliation, too. Which, despite the recent conference switch, is why the Broncos continue to generate more speculation as a possible future target of conferences from coast-to-coast, including the Pac-12 and even the Big East, the latter not as far-fetched as some might believe with TCU already casting its lot eastward in 2012. The sort of top-quality football Boise has been producing over the past decade has merited this degree of unprecedented interest. Keep an eye on future developments.

As for head coach Chris Petersen, he’s just hoping the Broncos can finish what they started last season. Which looked like another invitation to the BCS before a second-half meltdown on Thanksgiving Friday in Reno, when then-unbeaten Boise let Nevada off the hook and missed a chance to finish off the Wolf Pack as usually-reliable PK Kyle Brotzman missed a 29-yard FG at the death of regulation. Brotzman sliced another FG try in overtime, opening the door for Nevada to claim a 34-31 win and sentence the Broncos to the Maaco Las Vegas Bowl, a long way from the Fiesta, Rose, or Sugar Bowl invitations Boise was expecting. The subsequent 26-3 win in Vegas over a Utah team force to use its backup QB was a bittersweet conclusion to a campaign in which the Broncos hoped to end like the year before, when finishing unbeaten and conquering TCU in the Fiesta. The thought of banishment again to a cold and windy Sam Boyd Stadium in late December (where it really does get chilly at that time of the year) should be motivation enough to keep Boise focused on the BCS prize this fall.

The offense returns a couple of familiar faces in Heisman candidate QB Kellen Moore (another 35 TDP last year) and underrated RB Doug Martin, an electric force who popped for 1260 YR and a whopping 6.3 ypc in 2010. One face not returning is offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who was enticed to a similar role for Mack Brown at Texas, but new o.c. Brent Pease is plenty familiar with the Bronco playbook after serving as the receiver coach. If there is a concern on the strike force, it’s with a mostly new-look group of wideouts who are tasked with replacing the explosive and productive Titus Young (Detroit Lions draftee) and Austin Pettis (St. Louis Rams draftee), the top two pass catchers in school history with 433 career receptions between them. Senior Tyler Shoemaker, the third wheel receiver last season when catching 32 passes, figures to assume go-to target duties, and is a proven field-stretcher after gaining almost 19 yards per catch last fall, but the real excitement could come from rangy 6'4 soph Geraldo Boldewijn, a Dutch import with even more blazing speed than soccer winger Arjen Robben.

Boise’s offensive lines have been robust in recent years and should be again this fall after allowing only 8 sacks all of 2010 and opening holes for the runners to gain better than 200 ypg. Two starters must be replaced up front, but the Broncos have been turning out top-shelf line talent in recent years such as Denver Broncos star T Ryan Clady. The next Clady could be sr. LT Nate Potter, an All-WAC performer last year and already high on the draft charts of many NFL teams. Fireplug 5'11, 288-lb. sr. C Thomas Byrd was also All-WAC in 2010 and will be another anchor along the forward wall, where even the new first-stringers were on display in last year’s rotation.

It’s southpaw QB Moore, however, who really makes things tick. He’s 38-2 as a starter since the 2008 season, and over the past two years has tossed a staggering 74 TD passes against a paltry 9 picks, not to mention completing a whopping 71.3% of his tosses in 2010. The Bronco “O” ranked in the top ten nationally in every meaningful offensive category last season save rushing, where it landed a respectable 21st. Don’t expect much of a dropoff this fall.

If anything, the stop unit might have even outperformed the offense a year ago, ranking first nationally in sacks, second in total, scoring, tackles for loss, and pass efficiency defense and a very solid 7th vs. the run. The disruptive line, save platoon leader DE Ryan Winterswyk, returns in tact this fall, and seniors DE Shea McClellin and DTs Billy Winn and Chase Baker each earned All-WAC recognition a year ago. And it’s scary to note that some Mountain observers believe former juco DE Tyrone Crawford, Winterswyk’s replacement, has the potential to be the best of the bunch, which provides pressure from every position up front. Another Dutch native, soph DT Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, was breathtaking in cameo roles last year and provides added quality depth. As far as we know, however, other Dutchmen such as Ruud Gullit and Johan Cruyff are not on this year’s Bronco roster.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski is so loaded with experienced options at LB (5 seniors and 1 junior penciled into the rotation) that Boise is likely to utilize more 4-3 looks on top of the base 4-2-5 alignments just to take advantage of the LB depth at Kwiatkowski’s disposal. MLB Bryan Hout, better known as the guy Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount socked two years ago, made a successful transition from the DL to earn All-WAC status a year ago. The secondary, however, could miss do-everything rover back Winston Venable, a playmaking machine, and top tackler Jaren Johnson. Taking Venable’s place might be touted redshirt frosh Jeremy Ioane, from Barack Obama’s Punahou High in Honolulu. But the veteran presence of SS George Iloka and CB Jamar Taylor will likely provide steadying influences for a pass defense that allowed only 8 TDP a year ago and will likely be helped again (and not have to defend quite as long) if the platoon generates another 48 sacks as it did a year ago.

Spread-wise, Boise keeps doing it as well, 9-4 vs. the number each of the last two seasons, and 26-11-1 since 2008 against the spread. Petersen’s Broncos are also 17-4 vs. the line their last 21 away from home, although the steep pointspread premiums are making it tougher to overcome some leaden imposts at Bronco Stadium, where they’ve covered only 3 of their last 8 in a former profitable role as blue carpet chalk. Don’t be surprised if Boise gets back to boat-racing foes at home, however, as the Broncos are not too happy with a Mountain West edict that prevents them from wearing their all-blue uniforms as a conference host. Would they rather see the all-orange outfits BSU donned vs. Fresno last year? Someone is going to have hell to pay.

Summary...Let’s cut right to the chase in Boise. This looks like it could be a 2-game season for the Broncos, consisting of the high-profile opener in the Chick-Fil-A classic in Atlanta vs. Georgia, and the November 12 Mountain West showdown on the blue carpet vs. TCU. Win those two and avoid any banana peels against other underdogs on the schedule, and the Broncos are back in the BCS, where they probably belonged a year ago. It might even be enough to get them to New Orleans for the BCS title game, depending upon results elsewhere. Boise now has the chops in the polls and computer rankings to likely stay ahead of almost any 1-loss team, save perhaps an SEC powerhouse, in the BCS queue. Add in Kellen Moore’s expected run at the Heisman, and this could be a truly special fall in Boise.

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