We're getting close to the Fourth of July, though you can't be blamed for daydreaming about Labor Day weekend and the start of college football. We're here to whet your appetite with an early look at each Big Ten team's opening opponent. Today we turn our focus to Michigan State and its very challenging test right out of the gate.
Week 1 Opponent: Boise State
Coach: Chris Petersen (seventh year, 73-6)
2011 record: 12-1 (6-1 Mountain West Conference; won Las Vegas Bowl)
Returning starters: 7 (five offense, two defense)
About the Broncos: For an informed take on Boise State's 2012 outlook, I turned to colleague Andrea Adelson, who has covered the team the past couple of years. Here is what she had to say:
So how will life go on without Kellen Moore at Boise State? This year will certainly be an interesting one to watch, particularly because there are plenty of skeptics who believe the Broncos will never be relevant again without Moore behind center. It is easy to forget Boise State actually became a national player way before Moore set foot on campus. As long as Chris Petersen is calling the shots, Boise State is going to be a good team every single season. Having said that, there is no question Boise State faces its most significant challenge in quite some time -- having to go on the road to play a ranked Big Ten team without a proven starter at quarterback. No decision has been made about who will replace Moore but none of the players vying for contention -- Joe Southwick, Grant Hedrick, Jimmy Laughrea and Nick Patti -- have ever started a college game.
That is going to be difficult enough. But Boise State took some serious losses from its illustrious senior class -- running back Doug Martin is gone; defensive linemen Shea McClellin and Tyrone Crawford are gone; safety George Iloka is gone; and so is left tackle Nate Potter. Only seven starters return to a team that came inches away from another BCS appearance. Boise State optimists will tell you that Kellen Moore won the first road start of his career, at No. 17 Oregon in 2008. But reality says opening the season on the road in ast Lansing without the man who won 50 career games is going to be incredibly difficult.
While all the attention has been place on losing Moore, the hits taken to the defense are enormous. Boise State loses nine of its 10 top leading tacklers from a year ago. Think about that for a second. Vastly underrated linebacker Byron Hout is also among the players who are gone.
Random factoid: Boise State has only played one Big Ten opponent in its history, losing to Wisconsin in 1997.
Series with Michigan State: First-ever meeting.
Totally unscientific percentage chance Michigan State wins: 59 percent. This looks like a major rebuilding year for Boise State, but the Broncos aren't accustomed to losing very much -- just look at that record for Petersen. Breaking in Moore's successor on the road in the opener will be very difficult, but Michigan State will also have a rookie starter at quarterback in Andrew Maxwell. This shapes up as potentially low-scoring, defensive struggle. The Spartans have an edge because of their talented and experienced defense. If this game were on the blue turf in Idaho, I'd really fear for Michigan State's chances. At home, against a Boise State team that may need a few games to find its footing, the Spartans should be slight favorites.