Know your nonconference opponent: BYU

Throughout the week we’ll be checking in with some of the nonconference opponents facing off against Big Ten teams in 2016 to provide a better idea of what to expect out of the less familiar opponents on this year’s league slate. Today we'll look at BYU.

Opponent: BYU (at Michigan State, Oct. 8)

Names to know: QB Tanner Mangum, QB Taysom Hill, RB Jamaal Williams, WR Nick Kurtz, LB Fred Warner, S Kai Nacua

Offseason storyline: Former BYU fullback Kalani Sitake is coming home for his first stint as a head coach and he’s bringing a familiar name with him -- Heisman winner turned offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. They take over a program that has won at least eight games in each of the last five years and returns enough talent to keep that streak alive in 2016. The question is if Sitake can push the program any higher than predecessor Bronco Mendenhall against a perennially front-loaded schedule.

Detmer has said he expects to slow things down a little bit on offense and huddle more often than the recent incarnations of BYU’s offense, especially those with playmaker Taysom Hill under center. Hill missed most of the last two seasons with injuries but is back for a final go-round this fall. He’ll have to fight to get his starting spot back from Tanner Mangum, who looks to be a better fit for the type of offense Detmer is likely to install. Hill, though, is enough of a game-changing athlete that it’s hard to imagine him holding a clipboard during his last college season if he can remain healthy.

What’s at stake for Michigan State? The BYU game could end up being a pivotal one for the outside perception of the Spartans program in 2016. The Cougars will be underdogs in East Lansing, but they have enough talent on both sides of the ball to challenge Michigan State. A loss to BYU, if it’s mixed in with a few other setbacks against the top-tier Big Ten teams, would be seen as a step backward toward average for Mark Dantonio's team. A win against a quality nonconference opponent like BYU would help paint Michigan State as a team that is still consistently a step ahead of most FBS programs.

What’s at stake for BYU? The Michigan State trip is one of several early opportunities for Sitake to gather momentum at his new job. The Cougars face UCLA, Michigan State, Mississippi State and rival Utah in the first seven weeks of the season. That’s not exactly a friendly welcome for a first-time head coach. If BYU can win any two of those matchups, the coaching staff will have given its fan base reason to believe it is capable of doing good things in Provo.