An early spin through MSU’s football season: Rose Bowl encore begins with Friday night lights vs. Jacksonville State on Aug. 29

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

Week 1: Jacksonville State
Time and Date: 7:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 29
Venue: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV: Big Ten Network

Gamecocks at a glance
Location: Jacksonville, Ala.
Coach: John Grass (first season)
Last season: 11-4, 5-3 Ohio Valley Conference
Returning starters: 15 (nine offense, six defense)

Preseason magazine predictions
Athlon: 1st, Ohio Valley; ranked No. 6 in FCS
Lindy’s: 3rd, OVC; ranked No. 19
Sporting News: 1st, OVC; ranked No. 4

Why they’ll beat the Spartans
If MSU treats its opener as a party, a last celebration and first get-together with its fans since the Rose Bowl, it could be in for an awakening. Jacksonville State isn’t the ideal opening opponent. Its brand comes with zero cachet, an FCS logo across its chest. But the Gamecocks are the equivalent of the most dangerous kind of FBS mid-major — experienced and offensive minded.

Jacksonville State, which won two games last season’s FCS playoffs, returns its star running back, DaMarcus James — who tallied school-records 1,477 yards rushing and 29 touchdowns last year — its dual-threat quarterback, Eli Jenkins, and its leading receiver, Josh Barge, among the nine starters back on offense. And the first-year head coach was last year’s offensive coordinator, so this isn’t a scheme change. This is a group that expects to score and will know how to execute its offense. If MSU isn’t dialed in, it just might.

Why they won’t
Beyond the obvious step up in division and talent, MSU is no longer the offensively inept football team that opened each of the last two seasons. Beating the Spartans now also means keeping pace with their offense — an experienced an emerging group of skill position players — and punching through a defense no one expects to be any worse than very good.

Jacksonville State’s other issue is its own style — it’s most efficient on the ground. That works against other FCS teams. But future foes won’t have better speed outside or strength up front than MSU’s defense. If Jacksonville State featured an air-it-out offense, moving the ball consistently would be more realistic. The wow-factor could be in play, as well. FCS teams rarely see big-time atmospheres and venues. And while the Gamecocks played at Arkansas and Florida two years ago — and didn’t embarrass themselves — they didn’t step outside of their own division in 2014. If this group of players are taking pictures with their phones when they arrive at Spartan Stadium for their first walk-through, the game is over.

Final analysis
This game will be a party for MSU fans, a first gathering since their pilgrimage to Pasadena. The Spartans shouldn’t shun the festive atmosphere. They earned it. But what ought to keep them focused is what’s waiting for them eight days later in Eugene, Ore. There is work to be done on this first Friday. The Gamecocks present some real challenges. That’ll be good for the Spartans. There will be plenty other games in which to build a resume.

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5 Responses to An early spin through MSU’s football season: Rose Bowl encore begins with Friday night lights vs. Jacksonville State on Aug. 29

  1. avatar *** says:

    The game should be an easy win for the Spartans unless they do something really stupid.

  2. avatar Mozan says:

    Hey Graham, where you been all summer? Missed seeing your by-line on anything since you finished counting down MSU’s top 50 basketball players.
    Got any suggestions for MSU’s coaching staff on how they prevent Jacksonville State from becoming a giant trap?

    • avatar Graham Couch says:

      Hey Mozan. Appreciate the kind words. July is recharge and vacation month for me. Back at it now. … As far as Jacksonville State, I think last year’s sluggish opener against WMU should serve as a warning. Then maybe show the CMU game from 1991, followed by App. State at U-M in 2007.

  3. avatar MSU Owns Hoke says:

    Coach D will not allow MSU to take any game for granted

  4. avatar No Stadium Pictures says:

    Jacksonville State has played at Florida, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Florida State in the past 6 years. Also, in the Georgia Dome. And competitively I might add. A near win at FSU, and a 2OT win at Ole Miss. The rest of the games were fairly competitive.
    I hardly think that Spartan Stadium will cause them to ‘take pictures with their phones when they arrive at Spartan Stadium for their first walk-through’. All of the above stadiums have much more of a ‘wow’ factor. Trust me. I’ve seen them all.
    Keep focusing on Oregon. That’d be great.

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