Michigan State travels to Kalamazoo in order to fulfill its end of the "3 for 1" contract with Western Michigan. The stadium is already sold out. However, one might wonder how many of those in attendance will be wearing green and white, not brown and gold.
A significant portion of players for Western Michigan have already faced Michigan State. Two years ago, the Broncos' offense actually outscored the Spartans' offense in Spartan Stadium. An interception in the first quarter and a fumble in the fourth, both returned for touchdowns, gave the victory to Michigan State. Those Broncos who remain on the squad from that game could feel like they have a shot at redemption, this time on their home field.
Michigan State Spartans at Western Michigan Broncos
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Friday)
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Michigan State -19
Three Things to Watch
1. Plugging in New Parts into the Rushing Game
The Spartans lost their top two leading rushers, Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill, from last season. The replacements, Delton Williams and R.J. Shelton, combined for less than a third of Langford's total rushing attempts, yards gained and touchdowns and less than Hill's number in all three categories. Can one or both adapt to an increase in playing time and contribute numbers close to the leaders' from last season? Is L.J. Scott ready to see a significant number of snaps despite his freshman status? Connor Cook and the rest of the offense need to have a dependable running back to hammer away at defenses, as has been the case in each of the past two highly successful seasons.
2. Broncos' wide receivers versus Spartans' defensive backs
Michigan State's secondary is by far the weakest third of the defense, mostly due to inexperience. Darian Hicks will miss the game because of mononucleosis. Four other defensive backs each played in 13 games last season. However, none recorded more than 31 tackles, two interceptions or two passes defensed during the season. Only one member, R.J. Williamson, has more than three starts in his college career.
In contrast, Western Michigan has two junior receivers on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the top receiver in college football. One of the two, Corey Davis, had the most receiving yards (1,408 to be exact) in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) and seventh most in FBS last season. He also had 15 touchdowns, tied for third most nationally in 2014. The other receiver, Daniel Braverman, was recognized as third team All-MAC last year. Additionally, junior quarterback Zach Terrell made the 2015 watch list for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award after being chosen for the All-MAC second team last season.
3. Questions of Motivation
Forty-eight players on Western Michigan's roster are from the Great Lakes State. Were any of them offered scholarships to play in East Lansing? How many of them view this game as a way to prove that they were wrongfully snubbed? The Broncos are 0-8 all-time versus the Spartans. However, Michigan State has never ventured to Kalamazoo for a game versus its western neighbors from the MAC. Could the guys in green be looking ahead to a highly publicized re-match against the top-five-ranked Ducks? Can the Broncos ride the enthusiasm of their fans to upset their big brother from the Big Ten?
Western Michigan will feed off the excitement of the home crowd through the first half. Terrell will test the Spartans' secondary early and often with passes to Davis and Braverman. Viewers should not be surprised to see the game tied or the Broncos with a slight lead after the first quarter or at halftime. In the second half, Michigan State's front seven will ramp up the pressure on Terrell, limiting his completions and forcing the Broncos into turnovers or punts. Meanwhile, Cook and the offense will continue to move the ball and pile up points.
Prediction: Michigan State 34, Western Michigan 16
— 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.