Now that we definitively know where Boise State and TCU will play in 2011, we can safely start a way too early speculation post on whether the Broncos will be able to go undefeated.
Right now, I put the proposition at 50-50.
First, there are going to be several key players missing from a 2010 squad that missed out on a BCS game because of a loss to Nevada. The 2010 team was the most experienced in the nation, but you cannot say the same going into next season. Yes, Kellen Moore returns. But he is going to have to get chemistry with some new receivers, losing Austin Pettis and Titus Young. Jeremy Avery is gone, too. The defense loses nearly its entire starting secondary, plus Ryan Winterswyk. But there is plenty of returning talent, enough that Boise State should start the season ranked in the top 5 and be the favorite to win the Mountain West.
Now let us take a look at the schedule. Boise State should be favored to win every game. Among the toughest games:
Opening the season against Georgia in Atlanta. Boise State will be facing a Georgia team that just completed a 6-7 season, but the Bulldogs will have the home-crowd advantage once again in the Georgia Dome. Aaron Murray will be a year more experienced at quarterback, but he also will be missing A.J. Green. Still, you can bet the Bulldogs will try to test a revamped Boise State secondary early in this game. Boise State should also test Georgia on the ground, since that was one of the Bulldogs' weaknesses this past season. Plenty are expecting improvement out of that defense, in its second year in the 3-4. But the Broncos should win this game, and hopefully that will put an end to everyone holding their 48-13 loss to the Bulldogs in 2005 against them.
TCU. To me, Boise State would win regardless of the location of the game. TCU is losing many more players than Boise State does, most notably Andy Dalton, one of the more underrated quarterbacks in college football. You don't win 40-plus games by accident. Of course, Boise State has a huge advantage at home, having not lost a regular-season game there since 2001. The last time it lost a conference game on the blue turf was 1998. There already is speculation this game could be played to close the season, to potentially set up a mini-championship game.
At San Diego State. This one could be tougher than a lot of people believe. I realize the Aztecs lost coach Brady Hoke, but Rocky Long is familiar with the program, having served as defensive coordinator the last two seasons and being a part of the rebuilding effort. Ryan Lindley and Ronnie Hillman return, although the Aztecs need to develop new receivers. Defensively, leading tackler Miles Burris returns. The game is on the road, though at this point the big question is when this game will be played. The schedule should be announced in April or May.
Tulsa. This team loses head coach Todd Graham, but it returns 16 starters, including Conference USA Player of the Year G.J. Kinne. The contest is slated for early in the season as part of the nonconference schedule, which means the Golden Hurricane could pick on a secondary without much experience. They have plenty of talent on offense, especially with Damaris Johnson returning. Defensively, the Tulsa secondary will be another year experienced with great players already. Marco Nelson could be a force.
Boise State also will face 2010 bowl teams Fresno State, Nevada, Air Force and Toledo. I think Air Force will have a better season than Fresno State and Nevada in 2011. I think the Broncos smack the Wolf Pack in Boise to avenge 2010. Plus they will be without Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua on offense. The Bulldogs also will have new faces on offense as well, though Derek Carr is highly touted.
But of course it has to be said it is only January. There's plenty of time to think and rethink and, more importantly, see how the schedule is laid out and what spring practice brings. We will revisit this topic as the season draws closer.