EAST LANSING — Campus is packed, and classes have started. That can only mean one thing, right? It’s football season.
The Michigan State Spartans quest for a Big Ten and BCS championship will begin this Friday when Western Michigan visits Spartan Stadium.
The Broncos are a career 2-11 against the Spartans, and the last time these two teams met was in 2010 when MSU defeated WMU 38-14.
This time around, however, the Broncos are coming with some new faces. The main one being new head coach P.J. Fleck. Fleck is the 15th head coach in WMU history, and has came up under the likes of Jim Tressel, Jerry Kill and Greg Schiano throughout his career.
The mystique surrounding Fleck and the newly revamped Western program is something that Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has pointed out and prepared accordingly for.
“The history of what he (Fleck) has done is all based on his resume as an assistant where he has been,” Dantonio said during a press conference on Tuesday. “We’ve looked very deep into those areas. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. But obviously there are some things about Western we don’t know as they come into this game.”
The irony in that statement is that Dantonio has some uncertainties of his own that need answers on Friday.
As camp came to a close, Dantonio said that there is a four-way race for the starting quarterback job after true freshman Damion Terry put together a stellar performance in the Spartans second closed-scrimmage. On Tuesday, however, Dantonio said that returning starter senior Andrew Maxwell will get the start and redshirt sophomore Connor Cook will also see some time.
Maxwell’s experience and senior leadership, as well as the other quarterback’s inability to separate themselves from the pack, was the reason for the senior to start the season as the signal caller.
“Andrew Maxwell will be our starter,” Dantonio said. “I think what he does is he brings consistency in terms of knowledge of our offense. He’s going to make good decisions. He’s got experience with 13 games last year. He’s been very impressive these last number of practices.”
Cook also has game experience, as he helped lead the Spartans to a 17-16 comeback victory over TCU in last year’s Buffalo Wild Wings bowl. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound quarterback has been impressive throughout camp and has earned the opportunity to grab the reins of the offense week one. Dantonio has described Cook as “another guy that has extreme athletic ability, arm strength and size,” qualities that he’s used to describe Terry and redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor as well.
Experience, a key quality that Dantonio has deemed vital to success, seems to be the driving factor behind Dantonio’s decision to publicly announce that Maxwell and Cook will certainly play against Western, an option he doesn’t have with the running back group this year.
Dantonio announced earlier this week that junior tailback Jeremy Langford will start on Friday for the Spartans. This decision comes after redshirt freshman Riley Bullough was named the starter heading into camp, but an injury sidelined him for a few days allowing for Langford to take advantage of his opportunity.
“One thing I’m confident of is that Jeremy Langford had an excellent, excellent camp.” said Dantonio. “I think he’s ready for a great season.”
While Langford was named the starter, Dantonio said that Bullough will also get time but wasn’t specific of how the carries would be divided. He also said that junior Nick Hill would play and hinted that true freshman Delton Williams may possibly see the field. Regardless of the distribution of carries, Dantonio feels good about his running back situation.
“I have a great deal of faith in our running backs,” Dantonio said. “Bullough has been solid. He missed a couple of days (of camp) with an injury. He’s back full tilt. It will be interesting to watch him play.”
The five tailbacks listed on the Spartans depth chart have a career 60 rushes, 186 yards and one touchdown among them (all by Hill and Langford).
It’s safe to say, in general, watching this offense on Friday will be interesting. With a quarterback situation that is still up in the air, a group of running backs that have yet to prove themselves in a game setting, and the questions that still surround the receiving corps, Dantonio and staff will use Friday’s game to not only get a result, but as an audition as well.
The Spartans and Broncos will kick off at 8 p.m. on Friday.