It has been no secret that Boise State has just graduated the best senior class in Bronco history. Instead of focusing on what we have lost, this post is going to be directed at sizing up our competition in the season opener against Michigan State.
The Good News:
Questionable passing game- Michigan State loses their stud gun slinger in 5th year senior, Kirk Cousins. Anybody who watched him play realizes he was the back bone of the offense. Time and time again he could methodically move his team down field in clutch situations. Nobody knows much about his back up/replacement (likely Andrew Maxwell) because Big Ten coaches hate pulling their starters regardless of the score. I'm looking at you, Bret Bielema. In addition, Sparty loses 5 WR's, including Cousins favorite targets B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. They also lose starting tight end Brian Linthicum, who was a dangerous target for the departing Cousins. In other words, the Spartan passing attack is taking a serious hit, and anyone relevant in the aerial assault has been cleaned out.
With Gavins, Taylor and Hightower in the mix, I'm going to give the passing nod to Boise State. Look for Boise State to have the air on lockdown. This will likely lead MSU to be one dimensional, however, that may not be a good thing. That brings us to the bad news.
The Bad News:
Rushing Attack: MSU has a nasty two headed running attack in senior Edwin Baker and junior Le'Veon Bell. Baker is a speed demon at 5'9", and 210 lbs. Bell hammers down the opposition play after play and is a big boy at 6'2", 237 lbs. He will likely bulk up even more this off season. I watched him against Michigan among other games, and the Wolverines made him look unstoppable.
via bigtennetworks.files.wordpress.com (Le'Veon Bell siff arms an opponent while #59 practices his aerobics in the background.)
Put together these two backs and you get one Doug Martin, which does not bode well for a new D-Line. Even though they lose their lead blocking full back, the O-line that only allowed 10 sacks last season remains largely intact. Advantage- Michigan State.
Defense: The Spartan defense also suffers relatively few casualties. The only one worth noting is Saftey Trenton Robinson. Other than that, their defense shouldn't skip a beat. Now what remains to be seen, is whether that matters an incredible amount. Their defense ranked 9th nationally allowing only 17.5 points per game. However, they ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed (269 yards per game) and ranked a modest 6th in the B1G in rushing yards alllowed, giving up 3.4 yards per carry. However, I can't think of many notable Big Ten running backs not named Montee Ball. Unleash Doug Harper! Er... D.J. Harper.
via www1.pictures.zimbio.com (Harper sheds a tackle/facemask penalty.)
Look for Harper to have a clutch performance. That should take a lot of pressure off of Joe Hedreahatti in the passing game.
I'm going to give the slightest of advantages to Boise State in the offense vs defense match-up, but it wont always look pretty.
Intangibles: The game will be held in East Lansing Michigan, at Spartan Stadium. However, Boise State knows how to win on the road in unfamiliar stadiums. I expect even an inexperienced Bronco squad to rise to the occasion in front of a loud and frenzied crowd.
via news.msu.edu (Gameday in Spartan Stadium.)
Michigan State was the most penalized team in the Big 10 giving opponents 58.5 yards of penalties per game. Boise State was penalized an average of 46.5 yards per game, but with a younger squad, that number is likely to increase.
MSU was 82% in the red zone, but only 62% were TD's. They were allowed their opponents to score 70% of the time in the Red Zone with 60% of those being touchdowns.
They only converted 40 percent of 3rd down conversions. As a reference, Boise State converted 51.5% of third downs.
MSU was 16-22 in the kicking game with a long of 50, and 47-47 on PAT's. Boise State missed 8 PAT's this year and made 6-9 FG's. I feel... I feel jealousy.
Predictions: 28-20 Boise State. I look for the Boise State secondary to lock down the air and make Michigan State one dimensional on the ground. This means the closer the Spartans get to the end zone, the tougher it will be to run. Though MSU will get it's yards, and may bang us around on the ground, I think Boise State's defense will rise to the occasion, and the Bronco offense will do just enough to secure the victory.
As for preseason rankings, I imagine the reputation Boise State has built up for reloading will land them just inside the top 15. Michigan State will likely drop a lot. A win in the outback bowl against Georgia (or a strong showing from their defense) will help preserve their preseason rank by a couple of spots. If they lose, they could start next season just inside the top 25 or, very possibly, unranked. My prediction is we will see a match-up between #23 Michigan State, and #14 Boise State.
What are your thoughts? What are your concerns/predictions?