Leading up to this week’s season openers, Saturday Down South’s Brad Crawford breaks down scouting reports for the SEC’s out-of-conference opponents and what makes them click:

  • TODAY: Boise State vs. Ole Miss (Atlanta, Thursday), 8 p.m., ESPN; Temple at Vanderbilt (Thursday), 9:15 p.m., SEC Network
  • TUESDAY: UT Martin at Kentucky (Saturday), Noon, SEC Network; South Dakota State at Missouri (Saturday), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
  • WEDNESDAY: West Virginia vs. Alabama (Atlanta, Saturday), 3:30 p.m., ABC; Clemson at Georgia (Saturday), 5:30 p.m., ESPN
  • THURSDAY: Idaho at Florida (Saturday), 7 p.m., ESPNU; Southern Miss at Mississippi St. (Saturday), 7:30 p.m., SEC Network
  • FRIDAY: LSU vs. Wisconsin (Houston, Saturday), 9 p.m., ESPN; Utah State at Tennessee (Sunday), 7 p.m., SEC Network

Opens Thursday vs. Ole Miss (Atlanta, 8 p.m., ESPN)

THE SKINNY: Boise State opens a new era of Bronco football Thursday night, taking the field for the first time in eight years without Chris Petersen as the man in charge. Credited with carrying the non-AQ program to a pair of BCS bowl victories and four Top 10 finishes during his tenure as head coach, Petersen left the Smurf Turf for the PAC-12 during the offseason to take on a new challenge at Washington. Getting back to college football’s elite is the obvious long-term goal for first-year coach Bryan Harsin and the Broncos, one of many jockeying for position just outside the preseason AP Top 25, would garner much respect nationally with a season-opening win over one of the SEC’s supremely talented darkhorse candidates this season.

KEY PLAYER: Broncos tailback Jay Ajayi should get a heavy workload against the Rebels, but running room will be scarce against the likes of Robert Nkemdiche and C.J. Johnson up front. Ajayi rushed for the second-most yards in the Mountain West Conference as a sophomore, compiling 1,425 yards on 225 carries with 18 touchdowns and helped Boise State overcome a midseason quarterback switch to win eight games. The Broncos need production from Ajayi inside the Georgia Dome to stay within striking distance of the Rebels.

WHAT TO WATCH: Harsin, a former quarterback at Boise State, left his head coaching position at Arkansas State to rejoin the Broncos following Petersen’s departure. From 2006-10, Harsin called the plays for standout quarterback Kellen Moore during the Broncos’ wonder years and hopes he can channel some of that magic this fall with senior Grant Hedrick. Hedrick took over for the injured Joe Southwick in late October last season and threw for 1,561 yards and 15 touchdowns over the Broncos’ final six games. His Hawai’i Bowl performance against Oregon State was a personal-best after he completed 32-of-44 passes for 382 yards. Hedrick must play with precision against an Ole Miss secondary that promises to be one of the SEC’s best.

FINAL SAY: Last time Boise State played in the Atlanta kickoff game the Broncos upended Georgia, 35-21, in Sept. 2011. That team, loaded with veterans including Moore, was a preseason Top 5 coming off a 12-1 season with national championship aspirations. Times are different now, but Boise State remains a quality season-opening opponent for Ole Miss, nationally-ranked to begin the season at No. 18. Coach Hugh Freeze and the Rebels are playing with welcomed preseason pressure and get their chance in the spotlight to make noise. Ole Miss is more talented at nearly every starting position and the outcome will prove the discrepancy, notably on defense.