Editor's Note: First in a series of nine articles previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at three-time defending champion Boise State.
By DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
All you have to do is listen to Boise State football coach Dan Hawkins speak for a few minutes, and you realize why the Broncos have won three straight WAC titles and have become a national name.
Hawkins is a firm believer in the theory that you are only as good as your last game. He is as focused as a head coach can be. He won't let his team dwell on the 54-9 record since 2000, its 26 straight wins in conference or its 25-game home winning streak.
"This is the first year coming back where getting ready for practice is less stressful than vacation," said Hawkins, who had a house built over the summer. "We have a tremendous schedule. I think we play five bowl teams. It behooves us to be strong-willed and strong-minded.
"What happened last year (11-1) doesn't mean anything. We have to go back out and re-establish things. If we are willing to start over from page 1, we have the opportunity to do some good things. Success spoils us. You forget what got you there. We do a good job of dealing with it."
Indeed. The Broncos, who have only one loss in each of the last three years, certainly feel the big target they have on their backs.
"Boise State is clearly the class of the league," new San Jose State coach Dick Tomey said. "Don't be confused about who is the best. They have played with such tremendous consistency. They have excelled everywhere; offense, defense and special teams.
"They haven't had the peaks and valleys (like other teams). I don't think you can compare Boise State to anybody."
When you talk about the Broncos, you always start on the offensive side of the ball. Boise State has long been blessed with top-notch quarterbacks like ex-Hug star Bart Hendricks, Ryan Dinwiddie and Tony Hilde.
Before the next two years are over, all three may take a backseat to junior Jared Zabransky, who passed for more than 2,900 yards and 16 scores, and ran for 326 yards and scored 13 times. Those numbers made Zabransky the WAC media's choice for Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
"He deserved it," teammate Daryn Colledge said. "He's a great player, and he's only going to get better. You can't compare him to Ryan Dinwiddie (ex-BSU star, who started for three years). Jared has better feet and a little more size. He's worked hard to get better in the offense."
"He had a great year last year," Hawkins said. "He's good and he's going to get a lot better. Coach (Chris) Petersen has done an awesome job with him."
Hawkins said that as Zabransky has grown in the position, he has taken on more responsibilities. According to Hawkins, Zabransky is checking off at the line and calling some of his own plays because he is learning so much.
Hawkins said the Broncos have a "plethora" of running backs, and he intends to try and use as many of them as possible.
Lee Marks (968 yards rushing), Jon Helmandollar (231 yards, 14 TDs), Jeff Carpenter (268 yards rushing, 110 receiving) and Antwaun Carter (278 yards rushing, 7 TDs) are in the mix at tailback. Brad Lau and Michael Lose team with Helmandollar at fullback. Helmandollar is the guy to look for around the goal line.
Drisan James, who was honorable mention all-WAC last year, caught 40 passes for 568 yards and one score. Chris Christopher (13 catches, 197 yards), Josh Smith (7-72), Jason Murray (4-43-1), Legedu Naanee (4-45) and Cole Clasen are the leading returnees.
The offensive line e is led by Colledge, a senior, who has started 39 straight games at left tackle. Tad Miller returns at left guard and Elko's Jeff Cavender will move from right tackle to center. Redshirt freshman Ryan Clady, Colledge's backup, played so well this spring that he was moved to right tackle. Pete Cavender, Jeff's twin brother, won the starting right guard slot.
"Daryn has done a nice job," Hawkins said. "He's a tremendous athlete. He's starting to get a lot more attention (from the NFL)."
Defense has been unheralded over the years, and the Broncos led the WAC in scoring defense two of the last three years. BSU also led in turnover margin the past three seasons and has been tops against the runs since the 2002 season.
"They (the defense) have been an unheralded part of our program," Hawkins said. "We had the top rushing defense. I'm not a big stat guy. I put a lot of credence in that (rushing defense). I'm a proponent of stopping the run."
The biggest losses on defense are the graduation of safety Chris Carr and linebacker Andy Avalos, and the legal problems of free safety Cam Hall, who will miss his final season of eligibility. Marty Tadman (14 tackles) and Austin Smith (36 tackles) will replace Carr and Hall.
Chris Barrios (18 tackles) steps in for Avalos, and Hawkins said he has confidence that the hole will be plugged. Colt Brooks (40 tackles) and Kory Hall (85 tackles) are the other starters at linebacker.
Gerald Alexander and Quinton Jones man the cornerback spots. Jones takes over for Gabe Franklin, who had 61 tackles last year. Alexander finished with eight deflections last season.
The defensive line is led by tackles Alex Guerrero (46 tackles) and Andrew Browning (31 tackles). Mike Williams (40 stops) and Mike Dominguez (13 tackles) are on the outside.
Hawkins is concerned about the kicking game. Currently, Kyle Stringer is handling the punting and place-kicking, but could be challenged by Andrew Montgomery, a JC transfer, for the place-kicking spot.
n Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281