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Who will be Boise State's starting running back? [Season Preview]

Boise State's running back position is one of the deepest in all of college football and probably a good one-third of the pros. How will Bronco coaches pick among Jeremy Avery, Doug Martin, D.J. Harper, and others for the starting job on Labor Day night? Maybe they'll start by reading this post. (They won't.)

OBNUG's season previews kick off with a rollicking reflection on all things running back. Join Drew and I as we discuss, debate, and disagree on who will be Boise State's starting running back this season, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Here we go.

In case you haven't heard, Boise State is going to win a national championship this year. OBNUG's season previews are here to explain why. First up: Running backs.

Boise State's running back roster

Starter Time

Garbage Time

Some Other Time

Roundtable: Who will be Boise State's starting running back on Labor Day night?

Seems like an easy enough question, right? Wrong-o. Drew and I wrestle with the topic, things get said, feelings get hurt, and we wind up no closer to a conclusion than when we started. Kind of like an episode of College Football Live with Mark May and Lou Holtz.

Kevan starts things off:

The Boise State football team returns 20 of 22 starters off a Fiesta Bowl champion team, so how hard can it be to predict the starting lineup come September? Apparently very hard.

Nate Potter is a guard, Byron Hout is a linebacker, D.J. Harper is healthy, Brad Elkin has everyone's expectations exactly where he wants them. This is a team in transition just because. Boise State's infatuation with getting better every day is what sets it apart from the rest of the country. What other school would be gutsy enough to unguarantee everyone's starting spots off a BCS champion? That would be like telling the Apollo astronauts, "Well, good job up there on the moon, but we've got some other guys we're pretty high on. This is kind of awkward!"


So where does that leave us starter-wise? Only my favorite place: somewhere between reading between the lines and complete guessing. Who is going to start on opening night in Washington D.C.? I have as little idea as anyone, although probably a little more than Troy Oppie. I am almost halfway sure it will not be the same 20 guys who saw the field against TCU. I am at least 25 percent positive Derrell Acrey will be involved. I have no clue what to make of the third wide receiver position.

I'm glad we're starting off with something I do have a clue about: Running backs. Mark my words, OBNUG friends, Jeremy Avery will be running back No. 1 from the start of Fall Camp, through the middle part where Michael Atkinson injures an ankle somehow, and all the way up to opening night. Don't want to believe me? I don't want to believe myself either. I love Doug Martin so much it hurts, but I have come to grips with the fact that Martin is like an unattainable high school crush and Avery is the steady girlfriend I have come to tolerate. Would I like to see Martin starting? Yes. Do I live in a dream world where genies grant my every wish and peas taste like Skittles? Not yet.

Besides, I have convinced myself that Boise State is better off with the Avery-Martin RB dynamic. Start Jeremy Avery for the first couple quarters and save Doug Martin for later in the game to destroy tired defenses. I have no idea where D.J. Harper fits in here. Last year, I thought he was better than both Avery and Martin. This year, thinking about his knee cartilage keeps me up at night.

But allow me to fire the first salvo for the 2011 roster roundtable: D.J. Harper will be the starter. Oh wait, Doug Martin will still be here. And Malcolm Johnson will be a sophomore. Argh, this is hard!

Oh, and I almost forgot. Matt Kaiserman still exists. Nuts.

Drew's response:

I can't tell you how much I want you to be wrong on this one, Kevan. Don't get me wrong...Jeremy Avery is a fine running back and we're lucky to have him, and D.J. Harper, if healthy, could be an All-WAC performer.

The fact is, Doug Martin should be, and dare I say, will be the starter against Virginia Tech and here's why: Doug Martin can be a dominant running back. Avery is a home-run threat, no doubt, and D.J. Harper shows impressive speed around the edge. Both Avery and Harper could win games for the Broncos (especially games against Fresno State). Only one running back on the team can take over a game, however, and that running back, in my humble opinion, is Doug Martin.

Martin has speed, quickness, physicality, and most importantly—he runs downhill. You need only revisit the 2006 season to see what a downhill runner can do for a team. Heck, go back and look at Brock Forsey's entire career if you must...and Doug Martin probably has 30 pounds on Forsey. Martin attacks defenders, carries defenders, and simply refuses to go down on first contact. That is the type of running back we need against Virginia Tech on Labor Day...and it's the type of running back we need all season long if we want to achieve the unthinkable.

Sure we can use a dash of lightning with Jeremy Avery...a sprinkling of Thunder with D.J. Harper...but the starter needs to be the one who possesses the most terrible combination of the two: Thrightning. Doug Martin's got it. He also has a pet snake.

To recap: Jeremy Avery = slippery, D.J. Harper = balance, Doug Martin = demoralizing

Kevan's response:

Thrightning. I think that's what happened to my bowels during TCU's last drive in the Fiesta Bowl.

Drew, you are everything I hope to become because you are fearless in predicting the good for the Broncos. Coach Pete has made it very clear this offseason that no one's starting job is safe, yet I simply cannot fathom a Labor Day opener without Jeremy Avery starting off the game with a two-yard carry up the middle. It is predestined, and yet Coach Pete says predestination doesn't exist?

I refuse to believe that anyone other than Avery will be starting on September 6, but I cannot debate that point on the basis of "He's always been the starter even when he wasn't that good." Doing so would be lazy and, knowing what we know about Boise State's roster shuffling, just plain false.

Therefore, I believe that Avery will be in the starting lineup because he is legitimately the better starting running back than Doug Martin. Haters gonna hate, but that is the only way that Avery sees starting backfield time against VT. And as I said above, he will see starting backfield time against VT. I'm not going to go back on my word only 10 paragraphs from when I first said it, at least not until the defensive line roundtable.

So let's think about this. How and why and where and in what universe is Jeremy Avery the best option as a starter? Here's my theory: The Boise State running game is designed to increase in efficiency over the course of a game. It starts out sluggish while the line gets comfortable and while Bryan Harsin figures out which formations and shifts get the best matchups for the plays. By the third and fourth quarter, holes are bigger, gaps are wider, and runs are longer.

Think about it: Ian Johnson was the starter in 2008 and was not that great. Jeremy Avery was the backup and was amazing. One year later, Avery takes over at No. 1 and suddenly Doug Martin is the business as the backup (same with D.J. Harper). It's a product of the system.

Boise State likes having Avery start because he provides that home run threat where he can break one off even when the play isn't there. If you're resigned to getting two or three yards per pop in the first half, why not go with a back who can make something out of nothing on occasion? Of course, Martin can break big plays with the best of them, but like you mentioned above, home run hitting is Jeremy Avery's specialty. That, and having his lower legs mistaken for Go-Gurt.


I've said too much about this and probably lost my Doug Martin Fan Club frequent gusher card. Rebut?

Drew's response:

So you're saying that the coaches shouldn't and won't put the best back in early in the game for strategery? What makes Avery the better starter? Is it that he runs a 4.44 40 instead of Martin's pathetic 4.46? Martin can bench 385, squat 530, and eats Grape Nuts for breakfast. The dude is a freak athlete who can throw off hapless DBs and run over linebackers, and he doesn't need the line's best play to do it. Why wouldn't you start him?

Say your theory about the Boise State run game holds water. If the goal is to increase in efficiency as the game unfolds (which I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be)...why not start off with the bruiser and then toss in the juker when the linebackers' legs are burning? I can't see a reason why starting with Mike Tyson is a worse strategy than starting with Sugar Ray, unless we're talking about the band Sugar Ray...they fit every occasion.


Where to begin? (via

So...while I don't believe your prediction is far-fetched...I think your logic behind it is fundamentally flawed. Doug Martin is a more complete back than Avery, thus he should and will be the starter. Oh...I forgot about DJ Harper. Guess knee injuries are directly related to blogger amnesia.

Kevan's response:

I don't like being wrong, so I'm going to be stubborn and drag this RB debate on unnecessarily. Then I will probably resort to namecalling. I won a debate in fourth grade doing exactly this.

If Boise State starts with Martin by plowing him into the backs of offensive linemen and gutting out four-yard gains that really should only be two-yard gains except that he is an Adonis, Martin will be looking like Jarvis Hodge come the fourth quarter. Avery, while less of a complete back (although I would debate that point too ... and probably lose), makes sense to start the game because you want to save your best (Martin) for last. Would you rather have the inferior back get the majority of his carries in the first quarter or the fourth quarter? I believe that Boise State prefers the first.

Also, if Doug Martin were the starter and history repeats itself (a la Johnson and Avery), we will be clamoring for Matt Kaiserman by midseason. And unlike Tom Scott, I am not ready for that.

Drew's response:

O ye of little faith. You have been fleeced by the notion that Doug Martin is human. This is like people calling for Mike Coughlin to start in 2009. Sure, it was fine to make that judgment call before the '08 season began...things were different then. But then we saw what Kellsy was capable of and there was no turning back. I'm not advocating for Martin for any strategic or sentimental's that I've seen what he can do. It is terrifying.

Doug doesn't need to hit the holes quickly...he'll just create holes. He's the Kool-Aid Man of the Boise State team.


Doug Martin's flavor: Angerberry. (via

Avery was our 1,000 yard rusher in 2009, but I guar-an-tee that Martin could have achieved the 1,000-yard mark easily if he'd been given the carries. Besides, I'd rather have wanton destruction from my running back (speaking of which, it's time for some wonton destruction at Quik Wok). Martin should be the starter, Avery should be the change-of-pace back, and Doug Harper should really talk to Max Corbet because his name still isn't on my roster.

Kevan's response:

Agree to disagree? When in Rome. I cannot argue with the obvious - Doug Martin was a better running back than Jeremy Avery last year. I know it, you know it, Mark Johnson has no idea what we're talking about. Yet as sure as I am that Doug Martin was sent to earth to deliver us from the impending robot singularity, I am just as sure that Avery will be starting against Virginia Tech. If it's not because of my possibly flawed theory above, then it will be for some other reason. Pass protection? Playbook knowledge? Receiving skills? I don't know, which is why I'm writing about the team from the comfort of my Bronco boxer-briefs and Coach Pete is on the field making decisions that will shape my life.

Now watch D.J. Harper win the starting job and make us all look like doofuses.

Other questions plaguing the Boise State running back position

  • What will Matt Kaiserman's role be?
  • What does Jarvis Hodge do with all that free time?
  • Is Malcolm Johnson really the future of the Boise State running back position?
  • Will the Wild Avery formation return?
  • Can Boise State get three running backs on the field all at once?

The state of Boise State's running back position, on a scale of Paul J. Schneiders

With five Paul J. Schneiders being good and one Paul J. Schneider being San Jose State.


Your turn

Who do you think will be Boise State's starter at running back? Think my theory about saving the best for last is inane? Share your thoughts in the comments, and vote in the poll.