Already tasked with overcoming the loss of an impossibly-good senior class, Boise State faces an equally tough challenge in their Week 1 opponent.
The Broncos head into East Lansing on Friday night to face a top-15 program, doing so without the likes of Kellen Moore, Doug Martin, Shea McClellin, George Iloka and the rest of their departed superstars.
The Spartans, meanwhile, return eight starters from an overachieving defense and enter the season with delusions of rose-petal-infused grandeur. There's a chip on the shoulder of this blue-collar bunch, many of whom believe it was them, and not the Wisconsin Badgers, who reigned supreme in the Big Ten last season.
One of the premier events on the Week 1 docket, this battle between two current powerhouses should make for must-see television. Here are three things to look for on Friday night.
How Will the Two New QBs Handle the Spotlight?
On Friday night, Joe Southwick and Andrew Maxwell will find themselves in eerily similar positions. Both are juniors. Both are replacing campus legends. Both have thrown a smidgen over 50 passes in their college career. And on Friday, both will have the weight of an entire school on their shoulders.
It's hard to say whose position is more precarious. For Southwick, it's hard to imagine a worse environment to start your career in. East Lansing is traditionally known as a much more obstreperous basketball environment, but their recent success on the gridiron – along with the national exposure of this game – is sure to help some of that strident intensity diffuse the football crowd.
Maxwell, however, is tasked with being front and center in front of those irrepressible fans. And if he struggles, Sparty nation's hostile disappointment will be palpable.
Chris Peterson and Mark D'Antonio have both tailored quarterback friendly systems, so the guy who handles the pressure with the most aplomb is likely to be the one who comes out on top.
How Will Michigan State's Experience Tip the Scales?
Yes, Andrew Maxwell is a change under center, but elsewhere the Spartans are loaded with experience––particularly at the hard-nosed positions.
The Spartans' O-line was a mix-and-match bunch last season, struggling to find their footing before eventually coalescing into a functional unit. Now, expectations are even higher for the Spartans' running game, spearheaded by the wildly underrated Le'Veon Bell.
On defense, the Spartans return eight starters from one of the nation's top units, including potential first-day draft picks William Gholston and Johnny Adams.
Boise State returns seven starters on offense and defense combined.
If the residual starters aren't quickly inured to the rigors of starting in hostile territory, Boise could easily spot MSU a big, insurmountable lead.
What Does Chris Peterson Have in Store?
Afforded with superior talent the past few seasons, Chris Peterson has been able to rely on a more traditional attack and still managed to be equally successful. Now, faced with an opening opponent who ostensibly has more talent, will Peterson resort to his more imaginative machinations?
Mark D'Antonio is a spectacular coach in his own right, but he comes from the Jim Tressel school of austere predictability. He tells you what you're gonna get and dares you to beat it.
That should give Peterson plenty of slack to play with, and it wouldn't be a shock to see him whip out some of his old tricks. Especially if, as I predict, Michigan State rumbles out to a 7-10 point lead in the early going.