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BYU Cougars vs. Michigan State Spartans Preview and Prediction

Mark Dantonio

Mark Dantonio

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Life comes at you fast. The same can be said about any college football season. One week the nation is buzzing about you being a College Football Playoff contender and then a few weeks later, the buzz is now saying your season is a lost cause.

Welcome to Michigan State football in 2016.

After a disappointing loss to Indiana in Bloomington, the Spartans find themselves at 0-2 (2-2 overall) to open up Big Ten play. Outside of the win over Notre Dame, there hasn’t been much to write home about in regards to Spartan football this season. With games against Maryland, Michigan and Ohio State still looming on the conference slate, the optimism isn’t very high on the banks of the red cedar right now.

The Spartans take a break from Big Ten play this week to welcome independent BYU (2-3), a team that is feeling confident offensively after a 55-point explosion against Toledo last Friday night.

For BYU, this will be the Cougars' fifth Power Five opponent in their first six weeks, and only the fifth time in program history that they’ve played a Big Ten team in the regular season.

This is the first of a home-and-home series between the two schools. Michigan State will travel to Provo, Utah, in 2020.

BYU at Michigan State

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 8 at 3:30 pm ET

TV Channel: ABC

Spread: Michigan State -6

Three Things to Watch

1. Does Michigan State make a change at quarterback?

Senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor waited his time behind former Spartan QB Connor Cook last three years. This year was O’Connor’s year to finally take over the reigns as the top signal-caller for Sparty, but that reign could be coming to an end this week against BYU.

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The Spartans have two former four-star quarterbacks behind O’Connor in redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke and junior Damion Terry. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has been known in the past to insert young quarterbacks into games to gain valuable experience. What better week than now?

2. Which BYU offense will we see?

In the first three weeks of the season, BYU’s new pro-style offense under first-year coordinator Ty Detmer struggled to find the end zone, scoring less than 20 points in those three games.

BYU is now coming off back-to-back weeks of offensive success. But the real measuring stick for BYU’s growth in this new offense will be this week against the Spartans. The Spartans boast one of the best defensive fronts in the country and are closer aligned scheme-wise with Utah and UCLA – two teams that BYU had its struggles against.

3. Spartans shuffling the offensive line

To inject life into a struggling offense, the Spartans are starting up front by shaking up their offensive line. Four of the five spots along the line will see a player in a different position. The most notable change is senior Kodi Kieler switching from his starting center role to starting left tackle.

The Spartans will also use six-man offensive line schemes at times in their “Hog package” to try and impose their dominance early and often against a BYU defensive line that has struggled to find a pass rush in the first month of the season.

Final Analysis

Michigan State is on the ropes in this game. If the Spartans don’t win this one, they could be staring down a season where they don’t make it to a bowl game. That is a dynamic that BYU likely wasn’t expecting when the Cougars scheduled this game against a Spartan program that was coming off a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance a year ago.

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The Spartans are your classic physical Big Ten program that isn’t exotic with their defensive schemes, but they overpower their opponent throughout the course of a game.

Not having superstar nose tackle Malik McDowell (due to a targeting penalty from last week’s game) in the first half will be a challenge for the Spartans, but they should be able to win the battle in the trenches against BYU’s offensive line that is without three starters they were counting on entering the season.

If BYU, can find success offensively, it could pull off the upset. But Michigan State is the type of team that the Cougars historically have struggled with. If they pull off this upset, they could potentially win out the rest of the way.

BYU will hang around and make it competitive, but Michigan State knows it can’t lose this game the defending Big Ten champions want to go bowling. Sparty comes away with a bounce-back win.

Prediction: Michigan State 28, BYU 20

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site,, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.