Boise St.-Michigan St. Preview
Michigan State and Boise State turned in big seasons in 2011,
combining for 23 victories and winning their bowl games.
Replicating those performances could prove very difficult this
year with each team adjusting to numerous key departures – most
notably both star quarterbacks.
The No. 13 Spartans begin the post-Kirk Cousins era as they host
24th-ranked Boise State, which will also have an unfamiliar look
under center with Kellen Moore gone, in the programs’ first-ever
meeting Friday night.
Michigan State (11-3) capped its second straight 11-win season
by earning its first bowl victory since 2001 in thrilling fashion,
beating Georgia in triple overtime in the Outback Bowl. That game,
however, was also the final one for the steady signal-caller who
guided the Spartans for the last three years and left as the
winningest quarterback in school history.
Cousins threw for 45 touchdowns and 20 interceptions the past
two seasons while posting a 146.1 rating in his career. Replacing
him will be senior Andrew Maxwell, who’s played in nine games.
While Maxwell performed well in limited duty in four games last
year, going 18 for 26 for 171 yards and one TD, each appearance
came in relief of Cousins during blowouts. Only one was against a
Big Ten opponent.
“Our big goal is to get to the Rose Bowl, the BCS games and the
national championship,” Maxwell said. “We haven’t accomplished that
yet. But for me, the only pressure is to do my job the best that I
can. If I can do that, we can really be a special team.”
Making matters more difficult for Maxwell is the loss of top
receiver B.J. Cunningham, who had 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns,
along with receivers Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol.
Michigan State does get back leading rusher Le’Veon Bell, who
ran for 987 yards and 13 scores, and the Spartans’ defense should
continue to be solid. William Gholston had five sacks and 70
tackles in 2011, Denicos Allen had 11 sacks and Max Bullough topped
the team with 89 tackles along with 3 1/2 sacks.
“Ultimately, we don’t want to lose a game,” Gholston said. “It’s
really up to us how far we go, but I think people have started to
respect us a little more. I really appreciate that.”
The Spartans will have to knock off a marquee opponent to get
past the first week undefeated, but the team that shook up the BCS
with its success over the past several seasons has a very different
look. The biggest difference for Boise State is the absence of
Moore, who passed for nearly 15,000 yards with 142 touchdowns and
only 28 interceptions in his stellar career.
The Broncos (12-1) will also be missing star running back Doug
Martin and defensive lineman Shea McClellin. Both of them and Moore
are now in the NFL after helping Boise State to a 50-3 record in
their four seasons, and numerous other key contributors are
Boise State’s amazing recent success allowed it to earn a move
to the Big East starting next season, but coach Chris Petersen is
left with an inexperienced roster in the Broncos’ final year in the
“In the past, we’ve gone through fall camp, and guys you know
might not look great one day, but you’ve seen them play for
extended periods in the past and you don’t really worry about much
with them,” Petersen said. “Now there are so many new guys you
worry about how they are practicing every single day. And really,
you don’t know what anything is going to look like until you go for
Junior Joe Southwick, Moore’s backup the past two seasons, will
make his first career start Friday after winning a four-way battle
during the preseason. He’s gone 40 of 54 for 400 yards, two TDs and
an INT in 16 career games.
Southwick does have the benefit of a solid returning receiving
corps. Matt Miller tied for the team lead with 62 catches last year
and totaled 679 yards and nine touchdowns, while Kirby Moore and
Mitch Burroughs give Southwick other experienced targets.
Boise State’s defense, hit hard by key departures, could be
quickly exposed by Michigan State. The Broncos’ four starting
linemen from last season have departed, along with their top three
“I think we’ve got a pretty hard schedule, and it’s going to be
a tough test for this team all season long,” Petersen said.
“Michigan State, even at (No. 13), I think is totally underrated.
And we’ve got some tough places to play away from home.”
Boise State has won all six season openers under Petersen.