Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio recruited this team with a vision.
The Spartans werent Big Ten contenders when many of this years starters committed to the program.
They werent regulars in the January bowl lineup, either.
They were a struggling football program one in need of a fresh start in a league full of heavyweights like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. The Spartans havent reached the Rose Bowl since the 1987 season.
When coach Dantonio came here, when he recruited everyone on this team, he painted a vision of ending the season with roses, junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell said. We havent accomplished that. Our goal is to be champions, and thats what were working for every day.
That quest begins anew for the No. 13 Spartans at 6 p.m. MDT Friday (ESPN) at Spartan Stadium, where theyll meet the No. 24 Boise State Broncos.
The prime-time game is part of an attractive home schedule for a loaded team that hopes to finish what it couldnt the past two years winning the Big Ten and advancing to the Rose Bowl.
The Spartans have won 11 games overall and lost one conference game each of the past two years. They tied for the title but lost a tiebreaker in 2010 and lost a regular-season rematch with Wisconsin in the conference championship game in 2011.
Weve just got to finish games, Maxwell said. If you look at the Big Ten championship game, were three points away and we played a great 58 minutes, but we didnt quite finish.
Said right tackle Fou Fonoti: We set the bar for ourselves. Coach D always talks about taking a step forward. Were going to continue to do that.
That march will be led by what should be one of the nations best defenses.
The Spartans return eight defensive starters and boast four players on the watch list for the Bednarik Award (best defensive player) cornerback Johnny Adams, linebacker Denicos Allen, defensive end William Gholston and linebacker Max Bullough.
The unit generated 45 sacks and 18 interceptions last season.
Thats the biggest opportunity that our offense had in this training camp, Maxwell said. To go against a defense like ours every day in practice with their speed, intensity and tenacity it gives us a great look every day and prepares us well for the season.
Maxwell, like Boise States Joe Southwick, has waited three-plus years for his opportunity and must replace one of the schools most successful quarterbacks Kirk Cousins.
Unlike Southwick, Maxwell was told in January that he would be the starter.
Maxwell said the early decision increased his comfort level, but he made a concerted effort to avoid complacency.
Ive put in the time waiting and Ive learned a lot, Maxwell said, and I feel like Im ready to go now.
He doesnt have much longer to wait.
Neither do Southwick and all of the other first-time, full-time starters in the Broncos locker room.
Were getting challenged, and I think thats a good thing, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. I dont know if wake-up call is the right word, because these kids know theyre not dumb. They watch tape and they see good players and they know good players.
But it will be a good chance to say, OK, this is where we are right now. This is where we go from here.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat