The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The most anticipated season-opener on the docket in 2010 takes place on Labor Day in Landover, as the third-ranked Boise State Broncos set out to prove their lofty ranking is warranted, as they take on the 10th-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies at FedEx Field.
Head coach Chris Petersen has amassed an impressive 49-4 record in his four seasons at Boise State, including leading the Broncos to 26 wins in their last 27 games. Last season was banner year, with BSU becoming just the second team in NCAA history to record a 14-0 season, capped off by a 17-10 win over TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
This season will be Boise State's last opportunity to terrorize the rest of the Western Athletic Conference, as the team will make the move to the more competitive Mountain West in 2011.
Virginia Tech has been a picture of consistency for some time and 2009 was more of the same, as the team posted 10 victories, the sixth straight season with double-digit wins. The Hokies finished 6-2 in league play last season, good for a second-place finish in the Coastal Division and capped off the year with a 37-14 whipping of Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
As a reward, head coach Frank Beamer was recently awarded a contract extension through the 2016 season.
"I appreciate Virginia Tech?s confidence in me leading this program. I believe that continuity has led to the consistency in our program, and we hope for even better days ahead."
This marks the first-ever meeting between these two teams.
Coach Petersen is certainly aware of the pressure that will come each and every game for the Broncos, as they set out to burst the BCS bubble in 2010 and his confidence in star QB Kellen Moore and the rest of the offense is evident.
"Our whole offense is set up, and always has been, to make our quarterback as successful as anybody in the country and if we can do that, those other 10 guys can do that, then it's going to bode well for our program. There's going to be one guy who gets a lot of headlines because other guys are playing well around him and Kellen gets that."
System quarterback or not, Moore is a special player that ranked second in the nation last year in pass efficiency (161.65) and TD passes (39). Even more impressive is the fact that Moore attempted 431 passes a year ago and had just three interceptions, setting a new NCAA record for the lowest percentage of passes (0.69) picked off.
It certainly helps to have a pair of All-American candidates on the outside in Titus Young and Austin Pettis. Both are poised for a huge 2010 after posting eye-popping numbers a year ago. Young was responsible for 79 receptions for 1,041 yards and 10 touchdowns and Pettis converted his 63 catches into 855 yards and a team-best 14 scores.
Senior Jeremy Avery will again be the primary ball carrier, but a healthy D.J. Harper will only further enhance a strong ground game that netted 186.1 yards per game in 2009.
Add a solid offensive line, and there's very little this offense won't be able to do this season.
The scoring offense for the Broncos was ranked first in the nation last year with 42.2 ppg, and that may have taken a little of attention away from a solid defensive unit. The Broncos finished first in the WAC and 14th nationally in scoring defense (17.1 ppg), and coach Petersen thinks it can only get better given the coaching staff he's got supporting him and the players.
"We're blessed to get Bob Gregory (Nickels/OLBs) back, with his history with us and with our defense, he's as good as a coach as there is out there in the country. For him to come back and be a part of our staff was huge. I think Peter Kwiatkowski, our defensive coordinator...is a heck of a football mind. I've said this earlier, if we're not as good on defense as we've been in the past it's not because of our coaches, its because of some other things."
Everything starts with a defensive line that moves fast and hits hard. Leading the way in the trenches is defensive end Ryan Winterswyk, a two-time First Team All-WAC selection. Winterswyk finished second in the league in both tackles for loss (17) and sacks (nine) last season. Fellow lineman Billy Winn can also cause problems up the field, placing second on the team with six sacks and 12.5 TFLs last year.
Returning linebackers JC Percy and Hunter White will be aided by plenty of returning talent in the secondary. One such player is Jeron Johnson, who finished first on the team in tackles in '09 (91).
The Tech offense was set for a letdown in 2009, as ACC Freshman of the Year, Darren Evans was lost to a knee injury before the season even started. However, Beamer found his savior on the ground in the form of freshman Ryan Williams, who burst on the scene en route to Third-Team All- American honors, racking up 1,655 yards rushing (5.6 ypc) and a whopping 21 TDs. Williams was the workhorse for an offense that managed an impressive 208.2 yards rushing per outing. Not much should change in 2010, as Williams will try to build on his highly successful debut season, while Evans, by all accounts, is ready to return as well. With undoubtedly the best tailback tandem in the country, expect Tech to do what it does best and that is run the football. Williams came into camp this year in phenomenal shape and is chomping at the bit to get going.
"I feel good at 202," said Williams. "I played half the season last season at 195-197, so I feel good with where I'm at. The weight works good for me right now."
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor will once again resume his role under center and while the Hokies don't throw the ball very much, Taylor did complete over 56 percent of his passes last season, for 2,311 yards and 13 TDs, so he is more than willing to air it out when given the opportunity. It certainly helps to have his top six pass catchers back in the fold, headlined by WRs Jarrett Boykin (40 receptions, 835 yards, five TDs) and Danny Coale (30 receptions, 614 yards, three TDs). Taylor will also have the luxury of three returning starters up front, led by right tackle Blake Christopher (6-5, 305), who was All-ACC Honorable Mention in 2009.
There is depth behind Taylor at QB as well and Beamer has confidence that both redshirt freshman Logan Thomas and redshirt sophomore Ju-Ju Clayton will be up to the challenge if called upon this year.
"We're fortunate to have two quality back ups at quarterback, both of whom are at a stage that they can go in and win a game for us."
It is expected year-in and year-out that Virginia Tech is going to put a stingy defense on the field and 2009 was no different, limiting foes to a mere 15.6 ppg, on 295.5 yards of total offense. The 2010 version returns just five starters, but talent abounds on this side of the football in Blacksburg and there is little doubt that Beamer will find the right additions to once again put an elite stop unit on the field. Mass defections along the line is a reason for some concern and someone will need to step up and make plays upfield. The linebacking corps has some losses as well, but the unit should hold its own, led by junior ILB Barquell Rivers, who finished 2009 with 96 tackles (6.5 TFLs). The secondary lost some talent too, but the hope is that seniors like CB Rashad Carmichael and S Davon Morgan can lead by example. Carmichael is regarded as one of the ACC's best cover corners after collecting six INTs in 2009.
This game will probably live up to the hype. Tech is no stranger to big season-openers, following last year's slugfest with national champion Alabama. Still, the changes on the defensive side of the ball couldn't have come at a worse time, as the Hokies' new look defense will be staring down the barrel of the most potent offense in the country. Fireworks are likely to ensue and in the end, Boise State may just pass its toughest road block en route to a national title shot.