Furman ventures north to open its season in East Lansing. It will be a rare night game in Spartan Stadium. The game will be an even rarer game on a Friday.
These two programs have never met in football. In fact, Michigan State has never faced any team from the state of South Carolina. The Spartans have never even played a member of the FCS' Southern Conference.
Furman is equally unfamiliar with Michigan State's neighbors, both in-state and intra-conference. The Paladins have never played an opponent from the Big Ten. (The Paladins did face Penn State during the Lions' independent era.) Also, Furman has never faced anyone from the state of Michigan.
Furman at Michigan State
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Three Things to Watch
1. Ease Tyler O'Connor into full-time status
O'Connor will take the reins of the Spartans' offense. The senior has gained some experience over the course of his three previous seasons. He recorded a stat in at least one category in 11 games. He registered on the statistics sheet in four games in each of the two previous seasons.
However, his experience is meager considering his handful of appearances per season since his freshman year. He has never thrown for more than 151 yards or two touchdowns in any season. Last year, he had the most passing attempts (24) and most completions (13) in a season during his career. Surprisingly, he threw the ball as much as he ran with it (14 times each) during his freshman year. In the past two years, he had at least half as many rushing attempts as passing attempts. Head coach Mark Dantonio cannot afford to having his designated starting quarterback making so many carries.
2. Replace departed receivers
One reason O'Connor may be tempted to run with the ball would be due to inexperience among his potential receivers. The two leading receivers in terms of yards in 2015, Aaron Burbridge and Macgarett Kings, are gone. Those two also caught the most and third-most touchdown passes among the Spartans. Only three returning players had 10 or more catches last year; including running back Gerald Holmes (10 rec.). The other two, wide receiver R.J. Shelton and tight end Josiah Price, need to become dependable targets for a quarterback with limited experience as a starter.
3. Avoid overconfidence
Michigan State and its fans are enjoying the most successful era in the program's history. The Spartans have won the Big Ten title three times in the past six seasons. They had won only six titles in the previous 57 seasons in the Big Ten. They have accomplished six consecutive winning seasons, longest streak for MSU since 1985-90. They have won four of their last five bowl games, including two major bowls on New Year's Day.
With all of this in mind, MSU cannot simply show up and expect Furman to concede the game. The Paladins have faced other Big Five conference teams — Virginia Tech in 2015, South Carolina in '14, LSU in '13, Clemson in '12 and Florida in '11. Additionally, Spartan Stadium has never been highly rated on the list of particularly hostile places to play as a visitor.
In short, the Spartans must focus on the opponent on the field. The renewal of the rivalry with Notre Dame has to wait for two more weeks. Otherwise, "Furman" could, no matter how seemingly improbable, become the retort to "Appalachian State" from Michigan State's archrivals.
Michigan State will be able to hit and compete against other players for the first time since January. Furman will collect a hefty paycheck. The Spartans might not look impressive in the first quarter after replacing so key members among the receivers and defensive leaders. However, superior size, strength and speed will let the Spartans put the Paladins in the rearview mirror before the end of the third quarter.
Prediction: Michigan State 41, Furman 10
— 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.