Friday, Sept. 4, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
No. 5/6 MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (BIG 10)
► The Spartans had just two losses last year, falling to No. 3-ranked Oregon in Week 2 and then dropping a 49-37 decision at home to eventual FBS national champion Ohio State. They rebounded from the latter with four straight wins, including a thrilling 42-41 shootout with No. 5 Baylor Jan. 1 in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The Spartans came from 20-points down to win that contest.
► MSU which finished fifth in the nation last year, starts 2015 with the same AP ranking. It is the Spartans highest ranking in a preseason poll since 1967.
► Michigan State leads the series 11-2 and is on a nine-game winning streak in the matchup. The last meeting was in 2013, with MSU prevailing, 26-13. This is the first Bronco vs Spartans meeting in Kalamazoo. However, MSU did play against Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo four times between 1896 and 1905.
► Seven starters return from last season’s record-breaking offense. New school records were established for single season points (569), scoring average (43.0 ppg), offensive TDs (70), total offense (6,510 yards), rushing touchdowns (44), rushing yards (3.057) and first downs (321).
► Fifth year senior Connor Cook returns. He was a Second Team All-Big Ten selection in 2014, throwing for 3,214 yards (247.2 ypg) with 24 TD passes and eight INTs. He completed 58.1 percent of his 365 attempts.
► Jeremy Langford led MSU rushing last year, carrying 276 times for 1,522 yards and 22 touchdowns. The top returning back is Delton Williams. He gained 316 yards (9 TDs) on 54 carries. However, redshirt freshman Madre London (6-1, 216) was listed atop the tailback spot on this week’s two-deep.
► Big Ten Receiver of the Year Tony Lippet (65 catches, 1,198 yards, 11 TDs) is gone. Aaron Burbridge returns after 29 receptions in 2014 and TE Josh Price, a good “go-to” option in the red zone, is also back after recording six scores last year.
► The Spartans defense, which has seven returning starters, ranked eighth nationally in total defense (315.8 ypg). It was fourth consecutive year for an MSU defense to finish in the top 10.
► Since the Big Ten began awarding stat champions in all games in 1985, Michigan State is only the second team in conference history to lead the league in rushing defense four years in a row. It was, in fact, No. 1 in all of FBS defending the run last year (88.5 ypg).
► MSU lost Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year Kurtis Drummond and standout DB Trae Waynes to graduation. R.J. Williamson is veteran safety, but some of the backfield spots must prove themselves quickly. Oregon comes to East Lansing in Week 2.
► Junior placekicker Micel Geiger got a workout last year, converting all 72 PATs.
WESTERN MICHIGAN BRONCOS
► Head coach P.J. Fleck has turned a floundering program into a legitimate MAC championship contender after just two seasons at the helm.
► Four of five members of the WMU line entering Friday’s tilt played together in all but one game last season. Three have made their last 25 starts together. Experience could be significant as the Broncos face a Spartans team particularly well known for defending the run.
► The matchup also pits the Spartans defense against what could be one of the nation’s top running backs in Jarvion Franklin (6.0, 220, So).. As a freshman in 2014, Franklin was named MAC Offensive Player of the Year. That came on the strength of 306 carries for 1,551 yards (5.1 ypc) with 24 rushing TDs.
► Redshirt junior quarterback Zach Terrell made his own mark last year. His 164.4 efficiency mark from 2014 is the second best among all Division I FBS returning quarterbacks. The 6-1, 204-pound Second Team All-MAC selection completed 250-of-368 passes (67.9%) with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
► Junior Corey Davis, who earned All-MAC First Team honors after registering 78 receptions for 1,408 yards and 15 TDs is back, along with Daniel Braverman (All-MAC Third Team) and senior Kendrick Roberts.
► The Broncos bring back nine players who earned All-MAC honors – tops in the conference.
► Three productive defensive players who departed are All-MAC defensive backs Justin Currie and Donald Celiscar, along with nose tackle Richard Ash. Still, the Broncos expect their secondary to be strong once again. Corner Ronald Zamort and safety Rontavious Atkins will provide quality experience. Sophomore Darius Phillips could show up on a corner and/or as a wideout. Last year, he led the MAC in kickoff return average (26.4 ypr).
► Senior linebacker Grand DePalma’s 102 tackles in 2014 was second best on the squad. He also had 8.0 TFL and 2.5 sacks.
► Talk about a difficult schedule! In addition to playing the Spartans, Western also tangles with Ohio State (Sept. 26). The Broncos’ schedule is ranked toughest in the MAC and 33rd toughest in the nation.