Michigan State kept their fans uneasy last year, with nine of their 13 games decided by four points or less. Two of their three non-nail-biting victories were against directional Michigan teams, but P.J. Fleck's reinvigorated Western Michigan squad will try to give the Spartans a run for their money.
This should be a simple victory for the Spartans, a tune-up for a squad on the verge of being ranked against a sub-par MAC team. But the 32-year-old Fleck has had a knack for seizing the spotlight in his short tenure thus far in Kalamazoo, and nothing would do that more than a shocking win over Mark Dantonio's established squad.
A win is probably out of the question against a team that allowed just 16.3 points per game last year. But Michigan State has serious questions offensively -- for example, is there anybody capable of throwing footballs? -- and perhaps they don't have them answered yet. They should trounce this squad, but Fleck's already surprised in Kalamazoo, and there's sure to be more ahead.
Rankings and records: MSU's juuuust out of the polls: 26th in the AP Poll, 28th in the USA Today poll. A win here might not get them in on its own merit, but other squads could drop out.
The all-time matchup between WMU and MSU is, understandably, pretty one-sided: eight games, eight Michigan State wins at Spartan Stadium. The Broncos made it close in 2003, a 26-21 Spartans win, but the last two games in the series came by a combined score of 77-28.
Vegas: The Spartans are four-touchdown favorites. They only scored 28 points twice last year, so, assuming they can win a game by that much is quite the statement. The over/under is set at 44.5 points.
Weather: Mid-80s, partly cloud with a small chance of rain.
Three names to know
Max Bullough: You don't have the ninth-best defense in the nation without a stud linebacker, and that's Bullough. A three-season starter at middle linebacker, the 6'3, 245-pounder really fits the mold for Big Ten football players. He's on virtually every defensive watch list and is a shoo-in to the all-Big Ten first team. Nobody's doing much up the middle against these guys.
Why? We don't know. We can't see into the mind of a 32-year-old who accepted a job in Kalamazoo and thought he could reinvigorate a program with new life. What we do know is that his boat-rowing is making waves, as the Broncos have skyrocketed up recruiting rankings, with a 27-commit class. Now we'll get to see what he can do from the sidelines.
Riley Bullough: Yes, it's Max's brother. Last year the Spartan's offense was based almost entirely around Le'Veon Bell, the 6'1, 230-pound running back who carried the ball THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY TWO TIMES last season while the Spartans had no semblance of a passing game. But Bell left, seeing as he wants to make money for getting tackled by grown men 25-plus times a week, and the Spartans lost 1,793 yards of production with him. They still likely won't have a semblance of a passing game unless Andrew Maxwell or Connor Cook is vastly improved, and Bullough, a converted linebacker, will be one of those the Spartans are looking for to provide slightly more than three yards and a cloud of dust.
Two things at stake
1. So is MSU like actually good and stuff: Michigan State is one of the toughest teams to read in college football, just because of the complete divergence of the success of their defense and utter failure of their offense. More than almost any team in college football, they played up to their strong competition and down to their weak opponents. If they're actually going to contend for a Big Ten title, they have to not do that. Michigan State's offense should be able to flow against a team that went 4-8 in the MAC last year, and if not, it's worrisome.
2. Flecktones: Bringing in an excitable youngster like Fleck was a program-changer. Him beating the big brother in-state school would be a PROGRAM CHANGER. Even keeping the game close would at least cause optimism around Western in Game 1 of a new era.
How to witness
TV: The game is the only Big Ten matchup on the first Friday of the college football season, and as such, it'll be broadcast in primetime by the Big Ten Network at 8 p.m.
Radio: Here's how to find Michigan State radio coverage across the Mitten. If you're a Western Michigan person, you might want to listen on 96.5 WKZO in Kalamazoo.
Online streaming: The game will be available via BTN2Go, both on the Big Ten Network's website and as an app.
Meanwhile, MAC blog Hustle Belt covers the Broncos.