EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Over the last few years, perhaps no program has invested more in Week One of the college football season than Boise State.
This is when coach Chris Petersen's group travels across the country to play one of the nation's top teams on hostile turf, trying to make the most of a rare chance to prove itself against elite competition.
The names have changed – especially at quarterback – but the scenario remains the same. This time it's Michigan State the Broncos will take on first, in a Friday night showdown under the lights at Spartan Stadium.
"The one thing you notice about Boise right off the bat defensively is they play extremely hard and with a great amount of toughness," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "Their special teams, much the same, very cutting-edge in every phase – play extremely hard and will come and get you. So we're looking forward to a great football game."
The Broncos entered the last two seasons in the national championship discussion with Kellen Moore at quarterback. They beat Virginia Tech in Landover, Md., to open in 2010 and had little trouble with Georgia last year in Atlanta. It ended up not being enough when Boise State lost later in those seasons.
Moore is gone now, and so is standout running back Doug Martin. The Broncos enter this opener ranked 24th in the nation. No. 13 Michigan State is favored by around a touchdown.
Joe Southwick is taking over at quarterback for Boise State. He was Moore's backup a year ago, mostly playing in fourth-quarter mop-up duty.
"I don't think words can ever describe what Kellen did for this program," Southwick said. "But for me personally, I'm just going to control what I can control. That's preparing as much as I can before the game and controlling what I can and not worrying about other things."
Michigan State is in a similar situation. Kirk Cousins quarterbacked the Spartans to within an eyelash of the Rose Bowl the last two seasons, but he's in the NFL now. Andrew Maxwell replaces Cousins after backing him up, taking a handful of snaps each of the last couple seasons.
"It's kind of the stages of learning," Maxwell said. "You don't know what you don't know. There are so many things that as a high school player coming out you don't even recognize are part of the game that you need to know."
Michigan State also lost talented receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, meaning the Spartans may have to lean on the running game early on. They also return eight starters on defense, including lineman William Gholston and linebacker Denicos Allen.
"The problem is they are very good at rushing the passer," Petersen said. "They are not going to give you anything easy on defense. The ball is going to have to be there on time and it's going to have to be accurate. So as you're working your way into being this guy, you'd like a little more leeway. But that's just not going to happen this game."
The game will be only the 12th one played at night at Spartan Stadium, though Michigan State has played a memorable one each of the last two years. The Spartans beat Notre Dame in 2010 on a fake field goal in overtime, and they edged Wisconsin last season with a 44-yard touchdown pass on the final play.
Considering Boise State's own penchant for wacky plays and wild finishes, this could be another opening night to remember.
"It's something special. I think Spartan Stadium at night is one of the best atmospheres in college football that you're going to find. It's so special because it doesn't happen that often," Maxwell said. "We're not a team that's going to have a night game for no reason. When we have a night game, it's for a good reason, a big game, a big opponent."