CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

College football top 25 countdown: No. 12 Boise State

The Broncos leaned on their defense last season, but quarterback Joe Southwick again will lead an offense that should be much improved.

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Joe Southwick pleads guilty (with an explanation) to the crime of not being Kellen Moore.

The explanation: No one was Moore, who went a remarkable 50-3 in his four seasons as Boise State's quarterback. The three losses were by a total of five points.

Moore left Idaho as one of the most successful quarterbacks in the history of college football.

Southwick had only two years to make up ground and his first one didn't go so well — at least initially.

Boise State did finish 11-2, with the two defeats by a total of six points, but this wasn't the same gadget-crazy offense that had spoiled fans for years.

Boise State had to lean on its defense, finishing No. 12 nationally, as fans leaned on Southwick.

The Broncos scored 13 points in their opening loss at Michigan State, seven against Brigham Young, 20 against Fresno State and only 19 in a rare home loss to San Diego State.

The team's 30.2 points-per-game average was its lowest since 1998, while the defense was holding opponents to almost half of that (15.8).

Southwick took the brunt of the criticism. He heard the whispers on campus and around town.

"Fans are going to be fans," Southwick said at Mountain West media day this summer. "Sometimes they talk like they know what they're talking about. Sometimes they act like they're in our team meetings."

What was the biggest complaint against Southwick?

"That I just wasn't that good," he said.

Southwick actually got better as the season went on, and he finished with more than 2,700 yards passing, 19 touchdowns and seven passes intercepted.

"He wasn't playing terrible," Coach Chris Petersen said of his quarterback's early-season play. "He was just struggling."

Petersen had to pull back the reins and rely on stopping opponents.

The script for 2013 is somewhat flipped. The offense should be much improved while the defense must regroup after losing three defensive tackles, three linebackers and both starting cornerbacks.

Boise State has reached a point, though, where the most important returning player is the head coach.

As long as Petersen stays, Boise State is going to be good — very good. The Broncos were picked to win the Mountain West this year and enter the season as a dark-horse national title contender.

"In some ways it's a tribute to the program," Petersen said, "but in other ways it's like 'you [the pollsters] are not taking this thing seriously.'"

Trust us, Boise State will be fine despite a schedule Petersen says is his toughest.

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