As the Spartans prepare to win their second Big Ten title in three years, and maybe more, I will breakdown Michigan State’s schedule into four parts, and cover what you need to know for each game. This first segment will cover the non-conference schedule, which features two night games and two other contests against in-state foes.
1. Boise State @ Michigan State, Aug. 31, 8:00 p.m.
There is more build-up for this game than any other home opener that I can remember for the Spartans; it’s on a Friday night, it’s the first game with the new scoreboards, and it’s against a team that has finished in the top 10 the past three years. The Broncos opened up each of those seasons with a victory over a ranked major-conference opponent (#16 Oregon, #10 Virginia Tech, #19 Georgia). All of those victories, however, were with the all-time winningest quarterback in NCAA Division I FBS history, Kellen Moore. With Moore gone, and pretty much everyone else from last year’s 12-win team, the Broncos return only seven starters (5 offense, 2 defense). Four different quarterbacks are expected to compete for the starting job at Boise State this fall. Two of them, Joe Southwick (Jr.) and Grant Hedrick (So.), have more game experience than Michigan State’s first-year junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell. It will be interesting to watch these new quarterbacks on Aug. 31, but the Spartans definitely have the upper-hand in terms of overall team experience.
2. Michigan State @ Central Michigan, Sept. 8, 3:30 p.m.
The Spartans travel to Mount Pleasant in week 2, somewhere they haven’t been in over 100 years, looking to stomp on the Chippewas for the second straight season. Central Michigan returns 16 starters (8 offense, 8 defense) from last year’s 3-win team that led at some point in their games against Kentucky and North Carolina State. The Chippewas are led by senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff, who has thrown for over 3,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. The Spartans gained 197 yards on the ground in last year’s match-up and should be able to put up more with the experience at running back and on the offensive line. Michigan State’s defense intercepted four passes on that day (Radcliff 2), forced a fumble, recorded five tackles for loss, and held the Chippewas to 112 total yards. Eight starters are back on Michigan State’s defense and they are only going to create more havoc this year.
3. Notre Dame @ Michigan State, Sept. 15, 8:00 p.m.
Here’s another game in the 2012 college football season that is surrounded by so much anticipation. The home team has won the last four contests in this annual rivalry for the Megaphone trophy. Michigan State’s terrible performance last year in South Bend left Spartan fans worrying about where that 2011 season was headed. The Irish held the Spartans to 29 rushing yards, Michigan State’s defense was not nearly as good as they were later in the year, and Kirk Cousins threw an interception late in the game to end any sort of comeback. This year, Notre Dame returns 14 starters (8 offense, 6 defense) and will play the toughest schedule in the country. With three starters returning on a top 15 offensive line, and perhaps the best players in the country at the linebacker position, senior Manti Te’o, and tight end, junior Tyler Eifert, the Irish will put up a fight at Spartan Stadium. Again, on paper, the Spartans have the better team. It just comes down to making plays in this rivalry game that seems to go to the wire more than often.
4. Eastern Michigan @ Michigan State, Sept. 22, TBA
The last time these two teams met was in 2008, with the Spartans coming out on top 42-10. Last year, the Eagles led Michigan 3-0 in the second quarter, they beat Western Michigan, and they only lost by six in the season finale to eventual MAC champion Northern Illinois. The Eagles return 14 starters (9 offense, 5 defense) from last year’s 6-6 team, and is a program that hasn’t made a bowl game since 1987. Dual-threat senior quarterback Alex Gillett leads the way behind five returning starters on the offensive line. Still, it’s likely that we will see a repeat of the last outcome between the two, especially when the Spartans know that former Michigan Wolverine Mike Hart is on the Eagles’ sideline. Hart, Eastern Michigan’s running backs coach, is not forgotten by the Spartans for making his “little brother” comment after the Wolverines beat Michigan State in 2007.
It’s fair to say that the Spartans are expected to start the season off with a perfect record; and not having to leave the state of michigan makes it a bit easier. Stay tuned for Part II of this preseason segment, which will contain previews for Ohio State, Indiana, and Iowa.
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