Boise State and Troy are two of just 13 Football Bowl Subdivision programs coming off back-to-back 10-win (or more) seasons.
But only one of them seems prepared to play like a 10-win team on the first Saturday of the college football season.
Boise State, with nine returning starters on defense, four returning starters on the offensive line, a 1,000-yard running back in Alexander Mattison and a four-year starting quarterback in Brett Rypien, should be able to handle the hostile environment, sticky weather and uber-motivated Trojans in Troy, Alabama.
Troy, which lost its four-year starter at QB, all-time leading touchdown scorer and six defensive starters, likely will need a few weeks to work out the kinks.
But expect Saturday’s season opener (4 p.m. MT, ESPNEWS) to be a battle, with the Trojans capable of pulling the upset if turnovers or special teams go their way like they did for the Broncos in last year’s season opener. Boise State won that game 24-13 in Boise.
Troy coach Neal Brown has told his Trojans they might need time to reload — potentially as a motivational ploy.
“Like Coach Brown said, we’re going to be a great team,” backup quarterback Sawyer Smith said, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. “I thoroughly believe that. He says he doesn’t know if it’s going to be here by Boise, but I hope it is, and I think it will be.”
The Trojans went 11-2 last season, winning their final seven games and upsetting LSU. The Broncos posted an 11-3 record, winning nine of their final 10 games and beating Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl.
The Broncos enter the season ranked No. 22 — making them just the second ranked team to visit Troy, which is expecting a large crowd as it debuts its north end zone football facility complete with video board and club seating.
“It’s a game that is a measuring stick for us as a program,” Brown said.
It’s a tell-tale game for the Broncos, too. If they’re talented and focused enough to thrive under adverse conditions in the season opener, it’s safe to expect big things this year. If not, the five-game gauntlet to open the season will look even more daunting.
The Broncos play two more of those programs with back-to-back 10-win seasons: Oklahoma State on Sept. 15 and San Diego State on Oct. 6.
My pick: The Broncos (-10, 48.5 over/under) build a lead behind big plays from Rypien and a stingy defense, then pull away late with gritty running from Mattison. Boise State 31, Troy 17
Troy perspective, from Scott Watkins of forgotten5.com: “Last year’s contest was expected by many to be an electric score fest but instead was dominated by the defensive units. I’m expecting much of the same this go around. I think Troy learns from its special teams mistakes and that keeps the Trojans around. However, Boise State has proven firepower while (starting QB) Kaleb Barker has proven nothing. The Broncos win a slugfest in Troy.” Boise State 20, Troy 13
Betting expert Lee Sterling of Paramount Sports, who appears Thursdays on KTIK: He was hoping for a smaller line. “I think the oddsmaker is pretty smart here. ... I just think that Boise State will hang in this game and pull away late.” Boise State 27, Troy 13
College football spotlight
National game of the week — No. 14 Michigan at No. 12 Notre Dame (-1), 5:30 p.m. Saturday, NBC: The Fighting Irish faded from the national title conversation last season, beginning with a meltdown in Miami. They’ll start strong again this year. Notre Dame 20, Michigan 17
Mountain West game of the week — San Diego State at No. 13 Stanford (-14.5), 7 p.m. Friday, FS1: The Aztecs pulled the upset last year. That’s unlikely this year, with Bryce Love beginning his Heisman campaign. Stanford 24, San Diego State 13
Pac-12 game of the week — No. 6 Washington vs. No. 9 Auburn (-2), 1:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC: Chris Petersen’s Huskies finally have a resume-building non-conference game. But will they survive? They finished last season looking vulnerable. Expect QB Jake Browning to bounce back. Washington 26, Auburn 24