FACTS & STATS: Site: Spartan Stadium (72,027) -- East Lansing, Michigan. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: WMU 0-0, MSU 0-0. Away Record: WMU 0-0, MSU 0-0. Neutral Record: WMU 0-0, MSU 0-0. Conference Record: WMU 0-0, MSU 0-0. Series Record: Michigan State leads, 9-2.
GAME NOTES: The Michigan State Spartans welcome intrastate rival Western Michigan to East Lansing to kick off the 2010 season.
The Broncos are coming off a disappointing 5-7 season in which they missed out on a bowl game and finished toward the bottom of the pack in the Mid-American Conference. This year, WMU breaks in a new quarterback to replace Tim Hiller, while adjusting to a different defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Dave Cohen. Opening the season on the road at Michigan State won't provide the new-look Broncos much of a chance to dip their toes in the water.
The Spartans really faded down the stretch last season, then spent a chunk of the offseason dealing with the fallout from a brawl with a campus fraternity, in which 15 players were involved. MSU must also avoid the same early-season stumbling blocks that have marred the last two seasons -- a year ago it was a home loss to Central Michigan in the season's second week. Still, 15 starters return, including quarterback Kirk Cousins and All-America linebacker Greg Jones.
In terms of the head-to-head series between these two schools, MSU owns a 9-2 edge over the Broncos.
Broncos' sixth-year coach Bill Cubit has a new quarterback under center, redshirt sophomore Alex Carder. Carder was infused into the offense from time to time last season, mostly as a change of pace for the incumbent Hiller, who rewrote the record books at WMU. Carder made significant strides in the spring and summer camps, though he will be operating behind some new faces along the offensive line. At wideout, Carder will look early and often to Robert Arnheim, who hauled in 59 receptions in '09. In the backfield, replacing star tailback Brandon West won't be easy. For now, the first crack at that gig will go to Aaron Winchester, who had just 46 carries last season, while freshman Brian Fields also figures to get some looks.
Defensively, the top priority for the Broncos is shoring up a pass defense that ranked 92nd in the nation a year ago. New coordinator Dave Cohen, the former head coach at Hofstra, will implement a 4-2-5 look this year to try and tighten up in that area. Cohen has the luxury of returning safety Jamail Berry, who logged five interceptions last year, although the Broncos are rail- thin on experience at both cornerback spots. Deauntay Legrier had a tremendous freshman campaign at middle linebacker and will be back at that spot this year. He will be joined by fellow sophomores Chris Prom and Dex Jones. Both Prom and Jones showed flashes of greatness last season, and along with Legrier, could form a tenacious group for the next few seasons. Top recruit John Rice, a junior college transfer, will be asked to anchor the defensive line from his tackle position.
Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins will try to improve upon a fine sophomore campaign in which he amassed 2,680 passing yards and 19 touchdowns in his first year as the starter. He ranked third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency (142.6), and most importantly, now has a full year of experience under his belt. Keith Nichol lost out on the quarterback battle with Cousins last year, though he has now made the switch to receiver where he can take advantage of his athleticism. Replacing First Team All-Big Ten wideout Blair White won't be easy, but junior Keshawn Martin is a threat to take it to the house at any time, as he ranked third in the Big Ten with 1,451 all-purpose yards (111.6 ypg) last year. Top rushers Larry Caper and Edwin Baker are back, and both are only sophomores. Caper earned Freshman All-Big Ten honors after rushing for a team-high 468 yards and six touchdowns, including the game- winner in overtime against rival Michigan. Baker led the team in rushing in the second half and racked up 97 yards in the Alamo Bowl. They will operate behind an offensive line that has seen some shuffling, with the exception of Joel Foreman, a three-year starter at left guard.
Yards up the middle should be tough to come by against the Michigan State defense, at least on paper. All-American Greg Jones is a wrecking ball at linebacker, as evidenced by his 154 tackles (14 TFL), which ranked third in the nation last season. Jones also accumulated nine sacks and eight quarterback hurries, and Big Ten QBs can expect more of the same in 2010. Defensive end is a question mark entering the season, but sophomore Jerel Worthy (4.5 sacks, 9.0 TFL) is also a force at defensive tackle after earning Freshman All-America honors. Eric Gordon, who will be a four-year starter at linebacker, ranked second on the team with 92 tackles (7.5 TFL) and also notched 3.5 sacks. In the secondary, four players with starting experience return, including Chris L. Rucker who is entering his fourth year as a starter.
WMU is undergoing a lot of change on both sides of the ball, meaning a potential upset over a Big Ten foe right out of the gate is not likely. Michigan State did manage to go to a post-New Year's Day bowl, although few fans around East Lansing would consider the 2009 campaign a success. Expect Cousins to spread the ball around, and Jones to wreak havoc on the defensive side of the ball.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan State 37, Western Michigan 10
Saturday, September 4th, 12:00 p.m. (et).