Eastern Kentucky at Eastern Michigan (7 p.m.)
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Spartan Stadium -- East Lansing, MI
Coming off an 8-5 record that included a decisive bowl win over Nevada, the Western Michigan Broncos start 2022 facing another in-state Big 10 team. Last year it was the Michigan Wolverines; this time it is Michigan State.
The Spartans reeled off one of their better seasons in recent years, earning a No. 9 ranking and finishing 11-2 in 2021. The setbacks were to Purdue (40-29) and No. 4 Ohio State (56-7). Sparty knocked off No. 12 Pittsburgh 31-21 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.
>> QB Payton Thorne is back after throwing a school record 27 touchdowns (with 10 picks) last year. He's also capable of running if necessary, recording 82 carries for 181 yards and four rushing scores.
>> Receiving leader Jayden Reed returns after catching 59 balls for a total of 1,026 yards and 10 TDs. Tre Mosley, meanwhile, recorded 35 receptions for 530 total yards with three TDs. A new target will be tight end Daniel Barker, who transferred in from Illinois, where he owned 11 career touchdowns.
>> Kenneth Walker III, who gained over 1,600 yards and scored 18 TDs for MSU in 2021, is now with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks. Jarek Brousssard, a former PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year, could be Walker's successor as Michigan State looks for help via the transfer portal.
>> Two starters are among four seniors along the front line. The group allowed 21 sacks while paving the way for MSU to average 4.8 yards per rush.
>> Michigan State led the conference in sacks. However, the Spartans faced seveal of the nation's better passing teams and yielded 337.7 ypg through the air last year. There is plenty of experience returning to the secondary, so improving MSU's pass defense is a realistic goal.
>> Michigan State ranked fourth among Big Ten teams in rushing defense (117.9 ypg).
>> Western Michigan lost Kaleb Eleby, who completed 63.5 percent of his passes, totaling 3,277 passing yards with 23 TDs and six interceptions. Jack Salopek should move into the position and, despite limited game experience, knows the Broncos offense.
>> The Broncos offense will be able to lean on a strong running game. Rushing leaders Sean Tyler and La'Darius Jefferson are back after combining for 1,986 yards and 19 touchdowns.
>> Wideout Skyy Moore (NFL - Kansas City Chiefs) is gone, so Corey Crooms will anchor a receiving group that will be young.
>> For a complete preseason preview on Western Michigan, CLICK HERE.
Rynearson Stadium - Ypsilanti, MI
After going 7-6 while earning a bowl appearance last year, the Eastern Michigan Eagles begin their 2022 campaign with a home tilt against Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels are coming off a 7-4 record in 2021. Five of those victories came during a midseason run. However, Eastern Kentucky then dropped two straight AQ7/conference games -- knocking EKU out of a possible FCS playoff berth -- before finishing with a 39-31 2OT win over Jacksonville State.
>> Head coach Walt Wells suffered a cardiac episode Sunday morning at the team's facility. As of Monday, he was listed in stable condition. Garry McPeek, chief of staff for the program, will serve as head coach for this week's game.
>> The Colonels, currently an ASUN conference member, tied for second in the preseason coaches poll. Head coach Walt Wells leads a team that hopes to add to its 21 previous appearances in FCS Playoff action. The last such appearance was in 2014.
>> Six EKU players were selected for this year's preseason All-ASUN team.
>> Dual-threat QB Parker McKinney is entering his fourth season as a starter. Last year, he completed 60 percent of his passes, totaling 2,429 yards and 18 TDs. He also rushed for 596 yards and another six scores.
>> The Colonels will need to replace rushing leader Da'Joun Hewitt and receiving standout Matt Wilcox Jr. Tight end Dakota Allen, however, returns and will be a valued target.
>> Linebacker Matthew Jackson topped the conference with 102 tackles (11 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) in 2021. He also recorded a pair of interceptions and forced two fumbles on the way to All-ASUN honors. He is the conference preseason pick for Defensive Player of the Year.
>> EKU's secondary will be challenged to improve this year, but the Colonels will have to do it with some new faces in the secondary. DBs Davion Ross and Jaden Woods transferred to FBS programs -- the latter to Akron.
>> Kicker Patrick Nations was ASUN Special Steams Player of the Year in 2021. Nations hit 12-of-16 field goal attempts, including a 51-yard effort. He connected on all 34 PATs on the way to 70 points on the campaign.
>> Eastern Michigan lost 2021 QB Ben Bryant, who transferred back to Cincinnati. However, the Eagles have an experienced receiving corps for senior QB Taylor Powell. He transferred in from Missouri. Running back Darius Boon Jr. and Samson Evans are both back at running back.
>> For a complete preseason preview on Eastern Michigan, CLICK HERE.