It's one of the biggest games in school history at Western Michigan on Friday night as Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo will host a rare sellout -- it probably will be the biggest crowd in school history; the stadium attendance record is 36,361 set in 2000 -- when No. 5 Michigan State comes down the road to visit the Mid-American Conference Broncos. Obviously, ranked Power 5 conference teams don't visit MAC schools very often. The game kicks at 7 p.m. ET and will be shown on ESPNU.
I don't expect Western to pull an upset, but if you read my Week 1 Opening Report story , I mentioned that Michigan State could be caught looking past WMU, even though it looks to be one of the best teams in the MAC, and toward next week's Top-10 showdown with Oregon in East Lansing.
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Michigan State is 12-2 all-time in this series, winning the most recent game 26-13 at Spartan Stadium in 2013. This WMU team is way better than that one, while the Spartans were Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions that year. WMU's two wins against Michigan State came in 1917 and 1919.
This is the first time WMU will host the Spartans. Kudos to perhaps the most creative athletic director in the NCAA, Michigan State's Mark Hollis. He has come up with some incredibly unique ideas (hockey game outdoors in a football stadium -- a first when it happened, basketball game on an aircraft carrier, etc.). And he also a introduced the "Celebrate the State" series in 2009, which sees the Spartans hosting Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan three times in East Lansing and playing one game at each Michigan MAC school. It's a way to boost the economy in those smaller MAC cities. Normally those MAC schools prefer to play at Power 5 schools because they cash a big check. WMU got $500,000 for the trip to East Lansing two years ago but nothing for this one.
Michigan State at Western Michigan Betting Story Lines
The Spartans return 13 starters from last year's team that finished 11-2, losing only to the two teams that played in the National Championship Game, Oregon and Ohio State. Sparty staged a huge rally to beat No. 5 Baylor 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl. That made MSU the only school to win a BCS bowl game in 2013 and then a New Year's Six bowl last year. The Spartans' 24 wins over the past two seasons are tied with Oregon for third-most in the nation.
MSU brings back likely 2016 first-round pick and Heisman candidate QB Connor Cook to lead the offense. There was some news out of East Lansing this week in that Cook said he was disappointed not to be elected a team captain, and that is pretty unusual for a senior QB who has been so successful. The Spartans selected fifth-year seniors Shilique Calhoun (defensive end), Darien Harris (linebacker) and Jack Allen (center) as their captains last week. Calhoun and Allen are All-American candidates, so no problem there. And it's rather fitting that MSU made those guys captains because it's such a meat-and-potatoes team if you get my drift.
The Michigan State offensive line might be the nation's best. But leading rusher Jeremy Langford and top receiver Tony Lippett are gone. So is All-American cornerback Trae Waynes, a 2015 first-round pick.
The best running back and receiver in this game will be on WMU's side. Jarvion Franklin rushed 306 times for 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2014. He became the first player in conference history to win MAC Freshmen of the Year and MAC Offensive Player of the Year. Junior receiver Corey Davis caught 78 passes for 1,408 yards and 15 scores last year. The yards and touchdowns both rank second in FBS among all returning players in 2015.
And QB Zach Terrell, a junior, completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 3,443 yards, 26 scores and 10 picks in 2014. There are nine starters back on what should be the MAC's top offense. Seven return on defense. Third-team All-MAC wide receiver Darius Phillips will make his debut at cornerback against MSU.
Western Michigan scored 15 touchdowns of 40 yards or more in 2014. Michigan State allowed 22 plays of 40 yards or more, worst in the Big Ten. Western finished 8-5 last year, losing to Air Force in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Broncos played two Power 5 teams in 2014, both on the road. They lost 43-34 at Purdue and 35-17 at Virginia Tech.
Michigan State at Western Michigan Betting Odds and Trends
At BetOnline , Michigan State is a 17.5-point favorite with a total of 57. MSU is -850 on the moneyline. WMU was 10-3 against the spread in 2014 and 8-5 "over/under." MSU was 9-4 ATS and 10-3 O/U. Michigan State is 9-1 SU in its past 10 vs. the MAC but 6-4 ATS. Western is 0-10 SU in its past 10 vs. the Big Ten but 3-7 ATS.
Free College Football Picks: Michigan State at Western Michigan Betting Predictions
The Spartans players all are saying the right things, that they are focused on WMU and not Oregon. I don't buy it. The team is too well-coached to suffer the huge upset, but I can see the Broncos hanging close until being worn down in the fourth by the much bigger Spartans. I'm taking the points and going over the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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