An early spin through MSU’s football season: No easing into Big Ten play – Huskers visit Oct. 4

This is the fifth in a 12-day series looking at Michigan State’s opponents this football season and their chances against the Spartans.

Week 5: Nebraska
Time and Date: 8 p.m., Oct. 4
Venue: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

Huskers at a glance
Coach: Bo Pelini (seventh season, 58-24)
Last season: 9-4 overall; 5-3 Big Ten (tied-2nd Legends Division)
Returning starters: 12 (five offense, seven defense)

Preseason magazine predictions
Athlon: 9-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten (3rd, West Division); ranked No. 29 nationally
Lindy’s: 2nd Big Ten West; ranked No. 21
Sporting News: 1st Big Ten West; ranked No. 17

Why they’ll beat the Spartans
The Huskers’ offense could be dynamic, if sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong doesn’t hold it back. Senior running back Ameer Abdullah returns for his 14th season (or seemingly so). He’s an incredible talent and a proven big-time back, leading the Big Ten with nearly 1,700 yards rushing last season. Wideout Kenny Bell also returns for his senior year. If Nebraska’s young-ish offensive line gels in September, this is an offense that could again give MSU fits, as it did each of the last two seasons — more so over that span than anyone else.

If not for four fumbles (mostly unforced), the Huskers might have consecutive wins against the Spartans, the most recent with Armstrong under center. Nebraska was the first team to have success running against MSU last season, rushing for 182 yards — against a defense the Spartans probably won’t be able to replicate this season.

Why they won’t
If Armstrong doesn’t become something more than he was last year, or Pelini’s defense remains the bugaboo of his tenure, Nebraska won’t come out of the West, and likely loses in East Lansing. The Huskers are no longer a nemeses for the Spartans. Last season’s win in Lincoln proved to MSU it could indeed defeat Big Red. Belief is important. So is having almost every significant offensive skill position player back from that game.

The 8 p.m. start, coupled with a crowd thirsty for a competitive home game, ought to create a difficult road atmosphere. And with home games against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming leading into MSU’s Big Ten opener, there’s no reason the Spartans won’t be a confident group.

Final analysis
This will be Nebraska’s fourth straight challenging game and second in Big Ten play, following contests at Fresno State and then at home against Miami (Fla.) and Illinois. We’ll know a ton about the Huskers at this point, for better or worse. Armstrong is the key.

Previously …
Impressive new coach adds intrigue to Wyoming’s Sept. 27 visit
New coach, same EMU Eagles visit on Sept. 20
A telling test at Oregon on Sept. 6
Rose Bowl encore begins with Friday night lights vs. Jacksonville State on Aug. 29

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