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Boise State is poised to remain at top of the Group of Five leagues

Boise State is poised to remain at top of the Group of Five leagues
Boise State will get its first opportunity to face former coach Chris Petersen, seen here during a 2011 game against Tulsa, when the Broncos play Washington in the season opener. (Matt Cilley / Associated Press)

The Times' annual college football countdown continues its march toward No. 1 with our pick for No. 19.

The scheduling gods sent down a gift in sending Washington to open the season at Boise State.

Chris Petersen, who went 92-13 at Boise in a remarkable run that ended in 2013 before he left for Washington, returns to the blue field for a Sept. 4 game that should be highly charged and competitive.

Few could fault Petersen for leaving. Boise State's place in the new world order diminished after the Broncos failed to join a Power Five conference.

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Boise missed the last ship out and has been permanently relegated to the second division. With the five major conferences concentrating even more power, the chances of the Broncos making a four-team playoff run appear remote.

The interesting part of Petersen's return is that he is probably closer to more Boise players than Washington players.

He left a lot of talent in Idaho and will now, probably, feel the brunt of it.

Boise State should again be the class of the Group of Five leagues this year and will be the prohibitive favorite to earn the automatic bid to a major bowl game.

The Broncos earned that honor last year, under first-year Coach Bryan Harsin, promptly taking out Pac-12 South champion Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl.

Harsin was a longtime assistant under Petersen and is determined to keep the program at the top end of the also-ran leagues.

This opener is Petersen's worst nightmare, but give him credit for not trying to get it tossed off the schedule. "I thought that would be kind of ridiculous and selfish," Petersen said at Pac-12 media days.

Defeating Washington offers Boise State one of the few chances it will get to make a national statement.

Broncos players, of course, look forward to showing Petersen he made the right choice in recruiting them.

Boise State should be locked and loaded, returning nine players on offense and eight on defense.

The two losses on offense are huge, quarterback Grant Hedrick and tailback Jay Ajayi, who accounted for 89% of the yards last season.

Yet, it's not a stretch to think the team can improve on last year's 12-2 record.

The defense returns all but one lineman and is led by linebacker Tanner Vallejo, who recorded 100 tackles last year and was named defensive MVP of the Mountain West and the Fiesta Bowl.

To sniff a playoff spot, Boise State needs to win nonconference games against Washington, Brigham Young, Idaho State and Virginia and then dominate play in the Mountain West.

Even an undefeated season probably would leave Boise short of the top four, however, unless there are multiple losses among the major conference leaders.

This is why Petersen left Boise for Washington, of course, paving the course for his reluctant, one-off return in early September.

The resources at Washington should someday allow him to improve on last year's 8-6 record and compete for the big prizes. For now, though, he probably runs the weaker of two teams that will play.

The game is on Friday the fourth but, for Petersen, it will feel like the 13th.

The top 25 so far: 25. Michigan; 24. Nebraska; 23. Utah; 22. Missouri; 21. Arkansas; 20. Tennessee.

Twitter: @DufresneLATimes

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