Broncos will need more than Kellen Moore
Boise State and TCU head up the class of the non-AQs once again, but the Broncos have questions on and off the field before opening the season against Georgia.
The Broncos are poised to begin the season ranked in the top 10 again thanks in large part to the return of Heisman Trophy finalist Kellen Moore. But the Broncos lose their top two receivers in Austin Pettis and Titus Young, their leading tackler in Jeron Johnson, their defensive MVP in Winston Venable and the NCAA record holder for points by a kicker in Kyle Brotzman.
They also have the specter of NCAA sanctions looming after the football program committed a spate of secondary violations. The NCAA has alleged a lack of institutional control because of one major and many secondary violations across five sports.
The school self-imposed three scholarship losses and three fewer preseason practices on the football team, but the NCAA could add more penalties following a Committee on Infractions meeting in June.
On the field, this team is not as experienced as the 2010 squad. But it does have Moore returning, not only an excellent quarterback but an excellent leader. This spring has already revealed several potential playmakers for 2011, including Geraldo Hiwat, Tyler Shoemaker and Kirby Moore. Shoemaker and Hiwat combined for 43 catches for 742 yards last season while Moore -- Kellen's brother -- redshirted.
"The way we've played receiver around here, we've done it so much by committee," coach Chris Petersen said recently. "It was only the last two years where we had the emergence of Titus and Austin. To have two guys like that in the same class, that's rare anywhere. We hung our hat on those guys, but to me, it's business as usual.
"We'll have six guys, seven guys in the mix and play to all their strengths and do things like we've done in the past. We have good talent there and can be really productive in our offense."
Kellen Moore has used the change in receivers to challenge himself.
"It's a new environment working with some younger guys and that can get you excited and moving forward in a positive way," the quarterback said. "It's a huge challenge anytime guys have to step in for players like Austin and Titus. We have some young guys that have just as much ability. They just have to get that game experience."
They will get that experience in the opener on Sept. 3 against the Bulldogs, in what will be another huge nonconference test to start the season.
What we learned this spring
Were there any answers to some of the most pressing questions of the spring? Some, but not many.
Here are five impressions from the spring:
1. Geraldo Hiwat is a rising star. By all accounts, the young Boise State receiver had a terrific spring. Even better news for Broncos fans is how much improvement he can make, considering he has played only three years of organized football.
2. BYU picked up where it left off in 2010. The last time we saw the Cougars, they were trampling UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl to the tune of 52 points and 514 yards. That momentum carried them throughout the spring. Coach Bronco Mendenhall said it was his best spring as BYU head coach.
3. TCU's defense could be No. 1 again. The Horned Frogs lose their leader on defense in Tejay Johnson, but they bring back Tank Carder and Tanner Brock, a formidable combination at linebacker for a team that gave up only 12 points a game last year. The defensive line is so deep and talented, coach Gary Patterson believes it has a chance to be better than last season -- even without end Wayne Daniels.
4. Plenty of new faces. With 10 new head coaches among the non-AQ teams, there was plenty of fresh energy across the country. Most of the coaches spent the spring evaluating their players. Now the hard work of fitting talent to scheme begins, and fall practice will serve to separate those who will have the opportunity to succeed in a change environment.
5. Not much QB news. Of the 21 non-AQ schools that went into the spring with a competition for the starting quarterback job, only two have named a starter (Derek Thompson at North Texas, Casey Pachall at TCU). The rest are going to wait and see how fall competition plays out before making any decisions.
Best of spring
With spring practice in the books, let's hand out some virtual hardware.
Best newcomer: BYU linebacker Uona Kaveinga sat out last season after transferring from USC and is now eligible. Judging by the spring he had, he should have an immediate impact. Mendenhall cited him as a leader on his defense during the spring.
Best new quarterback: Derek Carr, younger brother of David Carr, takes over as Fresno State's starter, and already he has the complete trust and confidence of his coaches and teammates. He had a great spring, and coach Pat Hill says, "Derek is the kind of kid who can take us to this next level."
Best quarterback competition: It's hard to envy the position new Miami (Ohio) coach Don Treadwell will face this fall -- choosing between the quarterback who started the 2010 turnaround in Zac Dysert, or the quarterback who capped the turnaround in Austin Boucher. They are even. Treadwell says he would rather have two skilled choices than no choice at all.
Best transformation: TCU's Sam Carter came into school as a quarterback. But after redshirting last fall, he is now playing safety and had a good spring. Carter is just the latest to change positions at TCU. That is what Patterson does best.
Best brother tandem: The Moore brothers will once again be on the same field. Kellen the quarterback now has his brother to throw to again after Kirby redshirted in 2010. A natural chemistry exists between the two. Now we'll see how that pays off on the field.
Best spring news: Houston learning that Case Keenum would be eligible for a sixth season. Keenum got his medical hardship waiver granted and will get another chance to try to break the NCAA record for passing yards. He didn't practice this spring, but just the idea that Keenum would be back lifted the spirits of his coaches and teammates.
Non-AQ players to watch
Team-By-Team Spring Reports
Boise State: Kellen Moore is back, but the Broncos need to find him some receivers. For more on the Broncos, click here.
BYU: If it can manage the schedule, BYU could be off to a good start as an independent. For more on the Cougars, click here.
Hawaii: With QB Bryant Moniz back, Hawaii should compete in a wide-open WAC race. For more on the Warriors, click here.
Navy: Kriss Proctor has big shoes to fill replacing record-setting QB Ricky Dobbs. For more on the Midshipmen, click here.
Nevada: The Pistol will need to be reloaded for Nevada to put together another good season. For more on the Wolf Pack, click here.
Northern Illinois: Dave Doeren will have senior QB Chandler Harnish to rely on in 2011. For more on the Huskies, click here.
TCU: A loaded defense could help the transition to a new QB in Fort Worth. For more on the Horned Frogs, click here.
Troy: The offense lost some weapons, but the defense returns eight starters. For more on the Trojans, click here.
Tulsa: After a breakout season in 2010, will a coaching change affect QB G.J. Kinne? For more on the Golden Hurricane, click here.
UCF: Brynn Harvey leads a loaded backfield, but balance in the passing game could help. For more on the Knights, click here.
Non-AQ Games To Watch
Post-Spring Power Rankings
1. Boise State: The Broncos have Kellen Moore back, and that makes them a preseason top 10 team going into the season. Geraldo Hiwat, Tyler Shoemaker and Kirby Moore had good springs, helping ease some questions about the receiver situation.
2. TCU: The Horned Frogs are at the point where they don't rebuild. They reload. They move ahead of BYU based on their defense. I am still uncertain about how Casey Pachall will do at QB. Andy Dalton lost five games in his first year as a starter, though the TCU defense in 2007 was not as good as what is expected in 2011.
3. BYU: The Cougars might be overhyped, but I really do think they are back to being a top 25 team this year. They return 19 starters from a team that found itself at the end of last season. The independent schedule may appear tough, but every game is winnable.
4. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane return 16 starters off one of the best offenses in the country. Though there is a new coach and new offensive coordinator in place, there is opportunity to pick up where they left off last season because of the continuity in hiring Bill Blankenship as the head man.
5. Houston: With Case Keenum back, the Cougars jump back into the rankings. This team was lost without him last year. Now that he has returned, expect the offense to be high-powered again. If the defense improves, Houston could make some noise.
6. San Diego State: The Aztecs lost coach Brady Hoke and their top receivers in Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson. But Ronnie Hillman, Ryan Lindley and Miles Burris return in the highly competitive Mountain West.
7. Air Force: The Falcons could be a dark horse contender in the Mountain West with Tim Jefferson returning at quarterback.
8. UCF: Just because the Knights ended the season ranked in the top 25 doesn't mean they will start the season there. UCF has question marks, though the return of quarterback Jeff Godfrey makes the Knights the favorite to repeat as C-USA East champs.
9. Hawaii: The WAC is open, and though Hawaii loses a lot of starters, including Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares, it is the only team of the top three that returns a starting quarterback.
10. Northern Illinois: The Huskies replace Miami (Ohio) in my rankings thanks to the return of Chandler Harnish and the performance of the running backs in the spring game. Miami's continued quarterback derby gives me pause.