Across the country, the beginning of the season is that one opportunity that teams have to introduce themselves to a nation of college football watchers. Because Boise State does its business in Idaho, it's that much more difficult to know its talent more so than other more "well-known" schools. But over the past seven to eight seasons, the Broncos have been a national power; as such, we were well aware of guys like Kellen Moore, Doug Martin and Titus Young and what they could all produce on the field.
Fast forward to 2012 and there couldn't be anything further from the truth. There is no known star power in Boise and that could be scary for the Broncos because Chris Petersen, the coaching staff and their fans have no idea what to expect from this year's squad, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
But, this is Boise State at its best - unknown, unloved, under appreciated, under the radar…and right where it wants to be. Point being, we may not know the personnel, but Boise State has relished playing the underdog role for a while and I think they're actually more comfortable in that role.
Do we have any idea what Joe Southwick will do replacing Kellen Moore at quarterback? Do we know how the Boise State offense will adjust to a new offensive coordinator Robert Prince after Brent Pease left for Florida (one year after Bryan Harsin left for Texas)?
Now, Boise's not bringing a knife to a gun fight. Under Prince, the team's former passing game coordinator now as OC, I would expect Southwick to control the ball through the air, complementing the passing game with speedy D.J Harper in the running game and out in space. Other than that, who knows? But, we'll all find out how it goes down on Friday night.
...is another way of saying, he's kicking your...
College football has a cyclical "way of life". Schemes and innovations come and go and we're in a period in which it's more important for ball carriers to be quick and explosive. The era of the "big back" running behind a fullback in the I formation or from one back sets is long gone.
However, Michigan State and Mark Dantonio isn't scared to play college football the way we remember it, the old fashioned way. He isn't scared to unleash his stud RB Le'Veon Bell, all 6'2" and 241 pounds, on the Boise State Broncos and the rest of Michigan State's opponents. Bell is a sort of anomaly in today's college football world. Think about it, what running backs are considered Heisman contenders? Montee Ball is one. Kenjon Barner, perhaps, or maybe his teammate De'Anthony Thomas. All three backs are explosive and dynamic, but none of the 3 is any bigger than 5'10" and 205 pounds.
Bell is a load and pounds on defenses in a way that backs like Eddie George and Ricky Williams used to do back in the day. He has great vision, balance and power that make him a complete threat in the Spartans running game.
Now, when I think of power backs running against Boise State, I think of former Oregon RB Legarrette Blount who struggled getting away from Boise State's speed in the 2009 opener. But, different backs, different Boise defenses and different offensive approaches. MSU wants Bell running downhill, not east and west, and Boise State's going to have to tackle that hoss 18 to 20 times for a full 60 minutes. That's not how I'd want to spend my Friday night, honestly.
Expect Boise State to bring a variety of run blitz packages and be on the move most of the night to disrupt the Spartans blocking schemes to get to Bell in the backfield, before he can get up a head of steam. That's a start, but when the Bell rings, get ready.
Most everyone around the nation understands that Michigan State has one of the best defensive units in the country. A ton of returning experience on that side of the ball gives them a chance to be one of the top four units anywhere. Stars abound, and the linebacking corps is one of the best you'll find.
But, the one guy in that trio that, in my opinion, changes the game for the Spartans is #28 Denicos Allen. He's not prototype linebacker size (5'11" and 225 lb), but he's a demon off the edge. Michigan State's defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is no wallflower and he doesn't like to sit back and let the game come to him. He attacks offenses and he has the perfect chess piece in Allen. The junior from Ohio had 11 sacks last season and 18.5 tackles for a loss. He can get caught in the wash at his 225 pounds, but out in space, he's the perfect fit in Michigan State's defense at the sam linebacker spot.
With Boise State QB Joe Southwick taking snaps as the starter for the first time, you'll see #28 blitzing the edge all night long. Boise State's plan must be to find him, early and often, accounting for him wherever he'll be in the defensive set.
I'm on record as saying that I think Michigan State will win the Big 10 and could be on to big things this season if QB Andrew Maxwell seamlessly steps into the massive shoes Kirk Cousins left behind after graduation. But, even if Maxwell doesn't put together an All-Big 10 season, the Spartans can still win 10 games if the defense plays at its expected level.
Boise State is a huge question mark, but I get the feeling that BSU head coach Chris Petersen relishes coaching this type of "unknown" team. With a team ranked near the bottom of the top 25, if ranked at all, Petersen's Boise State squad is in perfect position with no pressure on it whatsoever. Regardless, Michigan State is too tough of a nut to crack in the opening game of the season. Bell will register a couple of TDs in a 60 minute slugfest.
Michigan State - 23 vs. Boise State - 15