Last week, the Spartans scored a victory in one of the most high-profile games in the history of Michigan State's football program. This week, the Spartans have an early kickoff versus a team outside of the Power 5. Could this serve as a stumbling block for a team still basking in the national adulation and enjoying a Top Four ranking in both major polls?
The Falcons will leave Colorado Springs for the first time this season. Air Force demolished Morgan State in the season opener. In Week 2, the Falcons outscored San Jose State 20-0 in the fourth quarter to run away with a Mountain West win. Can the Falcons garner some attention across the country by pulling an upset?
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These two programs will face each on the gridiron for the first time. Michigan State has only played any of the armed forces academies twice previously. Both were losses to Army, in 1931 and in 1984. Against opponents from the Mountain West Conference, the Spartans are 2-0 (Boise State in 2012, Wyoming in 2014).
Air Force has squared off against eight different members of the Big Ten. The Falcons' all-time record in those contests is 5-7-2.
Air Force at Michigan State
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -26.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Air Force's offense vulnerable and exposed?
The Falcons employ a radically different offensive scheme from the spread offenses of the Spartans' first opponents. Air Force's attack could be weakened by the loss of its starting quarterback, Nate Romine, last week. The impact will be lessened due to his replacement, Karson Roberts, having some experience in the option-based system. For his career, this senior has over 200 yards in passing and in rushing as well as three touchdowns in both categories.
In the Spartans' favor, their defensive line coach, Ron Burton, filled the same role at the Air Force Academy from 2003 through 2012. His viewing of the Falcons' option plays run at practice for ten years will prove very valuable.
2. Not so special teams of Michigan State
The Spartans are still struggling in the kicking game. In the season opener at Western Michigan, they allowed an average of 41.8 yards on kickoff returns and a touchdown. Against Oregon, they permitted 23.5 yards per kickoff return along with 24.5 yards per punt return and a touchdown allowed. Michigan State must crack down on sloppy coverage before it makes the difference between a win and a loss.
The Falcons have yet to return a kickoff this season. However, they have averaged 33.3 yards per punt return. One punt was brought back for a touchdown. Can Air Force exploit the Spartans' liability in order to give their offense starting field position on Michigan State's side of the 50-yard line, if not actually score a touchdown?
3. Same old Spartans?
From 1990 through 2006, Michigan State defeated nine opponents who were ranked in the Top Ten. In the regular season games following those wins, the Spartans lost seven of those; five of the defeats occurred against unranked foes. Those stumbles gave rise to the term "same old Spartans", playing above their talent level versus highly rated teams only to choke in winnable games afterwards.
During the Dantonio era, the Spartans have beaten seven teams in the Top 25 during the regular season. They followed up those victories with another win in next game six times. Twice, Michigan State defeated a ranked opponent in the next game. Dantonio has instilled a strong focus on the next week to avoid letting a high-profile victory being soured by an inexplicable loss.
Michigan State cannot let accolades distract them from preparing for a rarely seen type of offensive scheme. Undoubtedly, the atmosphere in Spartan Stadium will come nowhere close to the electricity in the air last Saturday evening. Air Force will remain competitive through most of the first half. The forecasted rain will likely slow down the speedy Air Force running backs on a sloppy turf. Gradually, the Spartans' advantage in size on the offensive line will wear down the Falcons front seven on defense.
Prediction: Michigan State 30, Air Force 13
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.