Michigan State vs Utah State enters this season with hopes of contending for a Big Ten title and possibly a national championship, but will have to prove it on the field starting with a home game versus Utah State on Friday night.
Coach Mark Dantonio returns 19 of 22 starters from last season’s 10-3 campaign including junior quarterback Brian Lewerke, who threw for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2017.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Michigan State -23.5
The Spartans’ offense features a number of playmakers, led by senior running back LJ Scott (898 yards, eight touchdowns on the ground in 2017) and senior receiver Felton Davis III (55 catches, 776 yards, nine touchdowns last season).
Defensively, Michigan State may be even better, having allowed only 20 points per game in 2017 and returning nearly every starter. Junior linebacker Joe Bachie is the leader for Dantonio’s defense, having paced the Spartans in tackles (100) and forced fumbles (two), and earning team MVP honors a season ago.
The Aggies return 18 starters and could provide some troubles if the Michigan State offense isn’t sharp, having ranked tied for sixth in the nation in 2017 with 29 forced turnovers.
ABOUT UTAH STATE (2017: 6-7)
The Aggies’ quarterback duties are sophomore Jordan Love’s this season, after he displaced then-senior Kent Myers partway through the 2017 campaign, finishing with 1,631 yards and eight touchdowns through the air.
Love has had an offseason to better learn coach Matt Wells’ system, and he’ll have plenty of experienced targets to look for in the passing game.
The biggest question is how well the Aggies can protect the passer – something the team has struggled with over the past few years – though Love is nimble on his feet and has shown the ability to pick up yards on the ground when he needs.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (2017: 10-3)
Despite his team-high rushing yards in 2017, Scott – and many around the team – viewed his junior season as a disappointment, considering he rushed for 96 more yards on 17 fewer carries as a sophomore.
The Spartans juggled three running backs in 2017 but this season, Scott should get the bulk of the carries and is hoping to avoid the fumble troubles that plagued him as a junior. Having a more experienced Lewerke under center will make defenses have to respect the Spartans’ passing game more, so Scott may be able to find more holes and finally get his first collegiate 1,000-yard rushing campaign.
1. Lewerke became the first quarterback in school history to throw for more than 2,500 yards and rush for more than 500 (559) in 2017.
2. The Spartans have won 19 straight home openers and are 10-1 under Dantonio in season-opening contests.
3. Michigan State’s defense ranked No. 2 in FBS in rushing defense in 2017, allowing 95.3 yards per contest.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 42, Utah State 17