MSU vs. WMU pregame dish: 5 things I’ll be watching tonight

Michigan State’s football season kicks off in a few hours against Western Michigan. This isn’t a game I think will be close, as I wrote in today’s LSJ column. That doesn’t mean it’s not compelling theater from MSU’s perspective. Here are five elements of this game I’ll be watching:

1. MSU quarterbacks. This is obvious, but there’s a reason the QBs have been the storyline since the Spartans’ bowl game — the position is unsettled and, that the announcement dragged into game week, speaks further to a competition that’s just beginning. There’s no hiding from fans and media from here on out. Andrew Maxwell or Connor Cook will win this job in front of everyone. Can Maxwell move the offense, create a little when he needs to? Can Cook make the right reads, avoid negative yardage and earn the trust of coach Mark Dantonio? No matter the competition, we’ll begin to find out this evening.

2. Will MSU impose its will defensively on a lesser foe? The Spartan defense finished last season ranked No. 4 in college football. But it didn’t always dominate inferior competition. Games against Eastern Michigan and Iowa didn’t have to be close, no matter how much MSU’s offense struggled, if the defense squeezed until the other side said “Mercy.” I believe the Spartans have a chance to overwhelm the Broncos’ offense tonight, a group that’s young up front and at wideout, too much so to be made up by the strong, but marginally experienced arm of QB Tyler Van Tubbergen. If dominance doesn’t happen, that’s a sign there are imperfections among this heralded crew.

3. How many MSU running backs play? If both Delton Williams and Gerald Holmes see the field, it says they’re closer to the top of the depth chart than listed, because they’re the only two running backs with a redshirt year available. Is Jeremy Langford really the answer as a No. 1 tailback. What is Riley Bullough’s role? Again, we’ll start to learn these things shortly.

4. The offense. The Spartans have a new captain calling the plays, Dave Warner. I’m curious if the difference between Warner and Dan Roushar is noticeable. This is still Dantonio’s philosophy, steeped in the idea a team can go unbeaten by winning 10-6 every week, as his 2002 Ohio State squad did so often. The weapons are different this year, so the differences may have less to do with the coordinators than the situation. Still, like with the quarterbacks, it’s about moving the ball. It didn’t happen enough last year.

5. The weather. As I write, about five hours before kickoff, the chance of a severe-weather mess appears less likely than it did a day ago. Mother Nature still might have a hand in this. Not the outcome, but how much is accomplished and can be taken from the game. If this is slop or if there are lightening delays, it’ll difficult to get a real read on performance or the timing of personnel decisions.

I’ll have more here at halftime and afterward at Greenandwhite.com.

During the game, you can participate and/or follow our thoughts and analysis in our in-game forum, which, immediately after the game, will turn into a postgame live chat, hosted by colleague Brian Calloway. You can always follow our coverage team on Twitter at @Graham_Couch, @JoeRexrode, @ChrisSolari and @Brian_Calloway.

Stay dry.

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