Four points. It's an insignificant number when compared to the total that a team puts up over the course of as season, especially in today's video game-style offenses. Barely more than a field goal and less than a single touchdown, it seems almost trite to quibble over the importance of four points. What difference could such a small sum really mean?
For starters, it's the difference between two trips to the BCS National Championship Game, and two trips to the Las Vegas Bowl.
If there's any team in America that's learned its share of hard lessons about the importance of special teams, it's undoubtedly Boise State. (Oregon and the 2011 Stanford squad earn honorable mentions.) But for a cumulative three missed field goals against Nevada in 2010 (final score: 31-34) and TCU in 2011 (final score: 35-36), the Broncos could have positioned themselves to play for national titles; instead, they settled for a pair of one-loss seasons, and their first two of three consecutive trips to Sin City. Clearly, this is a program that knows the value of putting the ball between the uprights.
The man that Boise State has assigned to complete that task, Dan Goodale, started the 2011 season as Boise State's place kicker, but lost his job to junior college walk-on Michael Frisina midway through the season following the loss to TCU. With Frisina's graduation at the end of last season, Goodale has again seized the place kicking role and will hope to improve upon his 3-5 performance in 2011. His longest successful attempt is a mere 32 yards, though, and his performance as the team's kickoff specialist in 2012 was unimpressive (only four touchbacks out of 21 attempts), so the jury is largely still out on whether or not he has the chops to be an effective college kicker. That being said, he apparently had a very strong fall camp, so the Washington and Boise State fan bases alike will learn much about him once the lights come on Saturday evening.
Trevor Harman returns as Boise State's No. 1 punter, though redshirt freshman Sean Wale is apparently nipping right at his heels. Harman's 2012 campaign fell short of expectations, as the Broncos averaged just 34.1 net yards per punt, and Harman managed to pin just eight of 42 punts behind the opponent's 20-yard line. Considering the hype surrounding Wale (an alumnus of the Chris Sailer Kicking camp who averaged 47.5 yards per punt in high school), there's no telling how long of a leash Petersen will afford Harman before he lets Wale see the field.
The man headlining Boise State's kickoff return game, Shane Williams-Rhodes, proves that good things come in small packages: At just 5-6, 157 lbs., he's almost certain to be the smallest player on the field Saturday. Williams-Rhodes was the Broncos' primary kickoff returner in 2012, averaging a solid but uninspiring 24.9 yards per return in the last five contests of the year. More than that, though, Washington fans will remember him as the man who returned the Dawgs' fourth-quarter kickoff for 47 yards, eventually setting up Boise State for a field goal and a lead that they wouldn't relinquish. He uses his size and athleticism to his advantage in wriggling from the grasp of pursuing defenders, and if Washington doesn't uses proper form in bringing Williams-Rhodes down in the open field, he has the skill to make them pay for such mistakes. Williams-Rhodes doesn't have any experience returning punts in the college game, but considering the number of kickoff returns he handled in just his first season playing college football, it seems safe to assume that he'll pick up the task without breaking a sweat. Again, UW's coverage team will need to stay honest and maintain the integrity of their lanes in order to keep the shifty returner from making the special teams game a decisive victory for the Broncos.
Author's note: You may have noticed that I've changed the format of these previews from that of last year to focus less on individual position groups, and make it more of a free-flowing conversation about the team's strengths and weaknesses. Love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments and on Twitter!
As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.