There is a little different atmosphere surrounding the opening of Boise State’s football season.

The Broncos are beginning the season at Michigan State on Friday – continuing a four-season tradition of playing a high-caliber opponent in their first game – but that quarterback who went 50-3 over a four-year span is no longer part of the program.

Life after Kellen Moore begins with the nationally televised contest against the tough Spartans. Even though the schedule isn’t all that fierce, there is a chance Boise State could lose as many games this season – or even more – than it lost over the previous four seasons. And it isn’t just because Moore has handed off the quarterback reins to junior Joe Southwick.

The real issue is the departure of several defensive pillars that helped spearhead all that success. Guys like linebacker Shea McClellin, defensive linemen Tyrone Crawford and Billy Winn, and safety George Iloka. That quartet might prove tougher to replace than Moore or all-everything running back Doug Martin. (see stellar preview here — http://sltrib.sportsdirectinc.com/football/ncaaf-preview.aspx?page=/data/NCAAF/matchups/g8_preview_73.html)

Michigan State also is breaking in a new quarterback with Andrew Maxwell replacing Kirk Cousins, who completed his career as the school’s record holder in career touchdown passes and passing yardage. But I don’t see either Maxwell or Southwick being the deciding factor in this contest.

The defenses will dictate which team wins at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. The Spartans boasted the nation’s sixth-best defense last season and star players like defensive end William Gholston, outside linebacker Denicos Allen, middle linebacker Max Bullough, cornerback Johnny Adams and strong safety Isaiah Lewis are among the returnees.

If Boise State wins this contest, it rates as highly impressive victory when you consider all the key departures and the quality of the opponent. And if the Broncos lose, it shouldn’t rate as a huge surprise.

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