Western Michigan (0-0) at Michigan State (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, August 30, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Spartan Stadium (75,005) -- East Lansing, Michigan. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: WMU 0-0, MSU 0-0. Away Record: WMU 0-0, MSU 0-0. Neutral Record: WMU 0-0, MSU 0-0. Conference Record: WMU 0-0, MSU 0-0. Series Record: MSU leads, 10-2.
GAME NOTES: The Michigan State Spartans and Western Michigan Broncos are set to kick off their respective 2013 campaigns against one another in a non- conference tilt at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State followed up a Legends Division crown by earning a school-record sixth straight bowl invite in 2012. The Spartans went on to beat TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and finish 7-6, although the team felt it could have accomplished more. Five of its losses came by four points or less, including two in the final seconds and one in double-overtime.
The Broncos are entering their first season under new head coach P.J. Fleck, who was hired in December to replace Bill Cubit, who was fired after last year's 4-8 finish. Fleck previously served as the wide receivers coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and filled the same role at Rutgers before Greg Schiano moved on to the NFL.
This marks the first meeting between these two programs since 2010. Michigan State leads the all-time series, 10-2.
Coming off a breakout season in 2011, Broncos quarterback Alex Carder was poised for big things as a senior in 2012. Instead, he got benched mid-season and was replaced by Tyler Van Tubbergen, who completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,825 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Now a senior, Van Tubbergen is the unquestioned starter and he'll return his top two targets, Jamie Wilson (67 catches, 792 yards, six TDs) and Josh Schaffer (43 rec), at wideout.
Also returning is senior tailback Brian Fields, who won the starting job with a solid showing in the spring. However, only one starter returns along the offensive line, and that lack of proven talent is cause for some concern heading into the 2013 season.
Likewise, the WMU defense has a few key members to replace from last year's unit that finished fifth in the MAC in total defense (395.9 ypg) and seventh in scoring defense (29.7 ppg). Replacing Deauntay Legrier (4.5 sacks) won't be easy, but senior tackle Trevonte Boles (9.5 TFL) is disruptive at the point of attack.
The strength of the defense is at linebacker, where seniors Johnnie Simon (team-high 103 tackles, INT) and Desmond Bozeman (90 tackles, 5.5 TFL, four sacks and a fumble return for a score) lead the way. The secondary has a couple of capable players in junior cornerback Donald Celiscar and junior safety Justin Currie. Celiscar is the only player coming off a season with multiple interceptions and made 79 tackles as a sophomore. Currie recorded 98 total stops, forced one fumble and broke up three passes.
Michigan State's offense returns virtually every key member except for All-Big Ten running back Le'Veon Bell, who was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second round of April's draft.
Considering just how heavily the Spartans leaned on Bell, the offense is likely to undergo somewhat of a shift in style and open things up under second-year starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell will need to improve upon his 52.5-percent completion rate, and with top returning wideouts Keith Mumphery (42 receptions, 515 yards, TD) and Bennie Fowler (41 rec, 524 yds, 4 TDs) back in tow, that increased familiarity should breed more success. There is plenty of experience along the offensive line to pave the way for redshirt freshman Riley Bullough and junior Nick Hill in the backfield.
Defensively, the Spartans return seven starters after ranking fourth in the nation in total defense (274.4 ypg) and ninth in scoring (16.3 ppg allowed) a year ago.
Senior Max Bullough is the headliner, as he enters his third season as the team's starting middle linebacker after racking up a team-high 111 tackles (12.5 TFL) last year. Denicos Allen (79 tackles, 10.0 TFL) returns to the outside, while starting safeties Isaiah Lewis (80 tackles, 2 INT, 6 PBU) and Kurtis Drummond (53 tackles, 2 INT, 4 INT) are also back in the fold. The biggest challenge facing the MSU defense will be trying to replace all- conference defensive end William Gholston. However, junior Marcus Rush has started every game of his college career and is coming off a promising season (7.5 TFL).
The Spartans are heavily favored in this one, and for good reason. While they'll have a new identity on offense without Bell, they shouldn't have too much trouble building a comfortable lead against a Broncos team that has undergone quite a bit of turnover, both on the roster and the coaching staff.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan State 47, Western Michigan 13
08/28 10:45:01 ET