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: Western Michigan
Time and Date: 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 30
Venue: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV: Big Ten Network
Broncos at a glance
Coach: P.J. Fleck (first season)
Last season: 4-8, 2-6 Mid-American Conference
Returning starters: 11 (four offense, seven defense)
Preseason magazine predictions
Athlon: 6-6 overall; 5-3 MAC (4th, West Divison); ranked No. 102
Lindy’s: 4th, MAC West; ranked No. 104
Sporting News: 5th, MAC West
Why they’ll beat the Spartans
The Broncos have been able score through the air against good defenses in recent years. And when they’ve pulled upsets against decent BCS foes (UConn in 2011, Illinois in ’08, Iowa in ’07), or come close to it (Illinois in ’11, Florida State in ’06, Virginia in ’05), the formula has been the same — the opponent’s offense is limited.
If MSU’s offense is as inept as it was against Eastern Michigan or Iowa or in the first half against TCU last year, WMU will have its opening. It has a strong-armed senior at quarterback in Tyler Van Tubbergen. A Big Ten-caliber sophomore wideout in Jamie Wilson and experience at every skill position on offense. And if the Spartans’ offense struggles in the first half and this is close in the third quarter, the crowd will become restless, the pressure mounting.
Why they won’t
There’s a formula for this sort of upset. This isn’t it. Mid-major programs win games like this when the other team is either far weaker than people realize or overlooking the matchup. The latter doesn’t happen in openers. Especially not against a Big Ten team with a top-rated, physical defense and an entire roster hungry and humbled after a disappointing 2012 season. The Broncos would have been better to catch MSU last season, when the Spartans were fat and sassy.
WMU has many of its skill players back on both sides of the ball, but it’s hard to imagine a first-year full-time starting quarterback and a 32-year-old first-time head coach — his mantra, “Row the boat” — walking out of this setting with an upset. The Broncos bigger issue is up front, on both sides of the ball, where there are questions about experience and depth. This will be a physical mismatch in the trenches. Mid-majors never win that battle, but to come away with an upset, they need not only playmakers, but to hold their own up front. That isn’t likely to happen in this one. And, if it doesn’t, and MSU shows a pulse offensively, the opener could quickly snowball into a blowout.