The 2012 college football season begins on Thursday night, but it’s a weak slate of games. In my mind the season really kicks off Friday night at 8 p.m. EST on ESPN when No. 24 Boise State visits No. 13 Michigan State in the first Top-25 matchup of the season. It’s the first-ever meeting between the schools that combined for a 23-4 mark a year ago.
Boise State, entering its final season in the Mountain West Conference, was a missed 39-yard field goal at the end of regulation vs. TCU from possibly playing for the BCS National Championship Game. Losing close games have been keeping the Broncos from playing for it all as their past four losses, dating to 2007, have come by four points or less. BSU is no stranger to playing ranked teams in their season opener. In 2009, the Broncos beat No. 16 Oregon (the LeGarrette Blount punch game), in ’10 Boise State beat No. 10 Virginia Tech and last year in Atlanta BSU beat No. 19 Georgia – that was the Broncos’ only game vs. a ranked foe in 2011.
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Michigan State won the Big Ten’s Legends Division a season ago and played in the conference’s inaugural title game, losing an epic to Wisconsin. Sparty was bypassed for a BCS at-large bid as the Sugar Bowl chose Michigan instead even though the Spartans beat the Wolverines during the season and were Big Ten runners-up. MSU has opened almost exclusively with cupcakes the past decade so this will be an unusual challenge. The Spartans were 3-2 vs. Top-25 teams a year ago.
Boise State at Michigan State Betting Storylines
No team brings back fewer starters in the FBS than Boise State with six. The biggest loss is obviously four-year starting QB Kellen Moore, a perennial Heisman Trophy candidate and the winningest signal-caller in NCAA history (50-3). Since 2002, 22 schools have replaced a QB who finished in the Top 5 of the Heisman voting (Moore did in 2010). Only eight were able to win 10 games in the first season without their star.
The guy filling Moore’s shoes will be junior Joe Southwick. In his career, Southwick is 40-of-54 for 400 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. He shined in this year’s Spring Game and beat out three other competitors. The Broncos also must replace running back Doug Martin, a first-round pick of the Bucs in the 2012 draft. Martin rushed for at least 1,260 yards and 12 scores in each of the past two seasons. D.J. Harper was granted a rare sixth year of eligibility and will be the No. 1 guy. He rushed for 553 yards and eight scores last year. Tyler Shoemaker led the team with 994 yards receiving and 16 scores and he’s also gone. Other than Shoemaker, however, BSU brings pretty much everyone back at receiver.
Defensively, the entire front seven was lost – five of the Broncos’ defensive linemen from last season are on NFL rosters, with end Shea McClellin a first-round pick of the Bears. Overall, Boise State lost nine of its Top 10 tacklers from the 2011 defense. The Broncos do have two good senior cornerbacks in Jamar Taylor and Jerrell Gavins.
Boise State is 23-2 under coach Chris Petersen when they have at least 10 days between games, including season openers (6-0). BSU has played just one game vs. a current Big Ten member, and that was back in 1997.
Michigan State has its highest preseason ranking since 1979 and enters the 2012 campaign on a 14-game home winning streak. The Spartans took some major hits on offense and have to replace the school’s winningest quarterback in Kirk Cousins. That job falls to Andrew Maxwell, a big-armed fourth-year junior who was 18-for-26 for 171 yards and a TD in mop-up duty a season ago. The Spartans are set at running back with bulldozer Le’Veon Bell, who led the team with 948 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing as a sophomore. But all of the top receivers are gone. The new starters are Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett. Fowler has been ravaged by injuries in his career but showed signs of big things in 2010. Lippett played mostly at cornerback last season. The line should be a strength with four starters back.
MSU had an SEC-like dominating defense in 2011 and should again with eight starters returning. Last year, the Spartans allowed just 277.4 yards per game and their 18 interceptions were best in the Big Ten. Defensive end William Gholston is an early Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year favorite and all-American candidate. Denicos Allen, Max Bullough and Chris Norman are one of the nation's top linebacker corps, and cornerback Johnny Adams, a two-time all-Big Ten selection, is also one of the best at his position. He and Gholston are probably lock first-round picks in 2013.
MSU is just 2-5-1 all-time in season openers against ranked opponents -- this is Sparty’s first opener vs. a Top-25 team since 1998. Overall, MSU is 11-2 in its past 13 openers and 4-1 under Coach Mark Dantonio. It has won 13 straight home openers. Michigan State is 14-1 at home vs. non-conference opponents under Dantonio.
Boise State at Michigan State Betting Odds and Trends
MSU opened as a seven-point favorite at BetOnline (or 6.5-point favorite depending on where you look) with the total at 46, according to college football odds. Boise State was 5-8-0 against the spread last season and 4-2 ATS on road, while Michigan State was 10-4-0 ATS and 5-2 at home. “Over/under” records: BSU 8-5, MSU 7-7.
Boise State is 5-0 in its past five games as an underdog of at least 3.5 points. MSU is 6-1 ATS in its past seven games as a favorite. The under has hit in seven of BSU’s past 10 nonconference games. The over is 9-3 in Michigan State’s past 12 nonconference games.
College Football Picks: Boise State at Michigan State Betting Predictions
It’s never wise to underestimate Boise State as Petersen is clearly one of the nation’s top coaches. But all those losses simply can’t be overlooked. MSU’s mammoth offensive line should be able to dominate the smaller, inexperienced Broncos’ front seven. And I’m not sure Boise State will be able to move the ball on what should again be the Big Ten’s top defense. Take Michigan State (certainly go with the -6.5 number if possible) and the under.
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