College Football Picks: #5 Michigan State Spartans at Western Michigan Broncos

#5 Michigan State Spartans at Western Michigan Broncos
Waldo Stadium – Kalamazoo, Michigan
Friday, September 4, 2015, 7:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPNU
Opening Line: Michigan State -18 1/2
Current Line: Michigan State -17 1/2 (-105)
Opening Total: 60
Current Total: 57 1/2
Opening Money Line: MSU -1275 / WMU +750
Current Money Line: MSU -950 / WMU +625

Michigan State opens the season at Western Michigan Friday.
Michigan State opens the season at Western Michigan Friday.

Michigan State made a commitment a few years ago to travel to each of the directional schools in Michigan (Eastern, Central and Western) for a road game. The Spartans knew it would help the beleaguered local economies in Ypsilanti, Mt. Pleasant and Kalamazoo respectively.

The Spartans open the season at Western Michigan Thursday. It is the first ever trip to Kalamazoo for Michigan State. The two schools are roughly 80 miles from each other.  The Spartans lead the series 11-2, but all previous games have been in East Lansing. Western Michigan hasn’t beaten Michigan State since 1919. The Spartans won the last meeting 26-13 in the season opener in 2013.

Michigan State is coached by Mark Dantonio. The Spartans went 11-2 last year including 7-1 in the Big Ten East Division. The only losses were to the two finalists in the inaugural college football playoff, Oregon and Ohio State. The Spartans were in the same division as Ohio State, who went 8-0 in conference play. Still, Michigan State was selected to play in the Cotton Bowl against Baylor. The Spartans trailed by 20 points going into the fourth quarter but would rally for the 42-41 win.

Western Michigan is coached by P.J. Fleck, who at 34 is the youngest coach in FBS. Last year, the Broncos went 8-5 including 6-2 in the MAC West. The Broncos entered the regular season finale against Northern Illinois on a six game winning streak, with the division title on the line for both teams. However, they would lose to the Huskies 31-21. Western Michigan would have to settle for a berth in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, where they lost to Air Force 38-24. Western Michigan is 0-6 in bowl games all time with four appearances since 2006.

Michigan State went 9-4 ATS and the total was 10-3 last year. Western Michigan was 10-3 ATS and the total was 8-5.

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Michigan State averaged 501 yards per game on offense last year, including 266 passing and 235 rushing yards. The Spartans were #11 in total offense nationally, and were in the top 35 in both passing and rushing. MSU was #7 in scoring nationally at 43 points per game. The Spartans were +19 in turnover margin, and were #2 nationally. The defense allowed 316 yards per game and was #8 nationally. The Spartans led the nation in rush defense at 88.5 yards per game, but were #60 in pass defense at 227 yards per game. MSU was #22 in points allowed at 22 points per game.

Quarterback Connor Cook could be a dark horse Heisman contender. Last year, he threw for 3,214 yards with 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, and added two rushing touchdowns.

The Spartans must replace running back Jeremy Langford who is now with the Chicago Bears. langford rushed for over 1,500 yards with 22 touchdowns, and had 11 catches last year. Running back Delton Williams was suspended in the spring after being arrested for carrying a gun on campus after a road rage incident. He will be eligible for the season opener though. Williams had 54 carries for 316 yards and 5 touchdowns. Madre London, Gerald Holmes and true freshman L.J. Scott will also get carries.

Receiver Tony Lippett is now with the Miami Dolphins as  a cornerback. He had 65 catches for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns, and also added a rushing touchdown. Tight end Josiah Price had 26 catches for 374 yards and 6 touchdowns. Receiver Aaron Burbridge had 29 catches for 358 yards and a touchdown. R.J. Shelton had 16 catches for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns.

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Last year, WMU averaged 438 yards per game on offense, including 267 passing and 171 rushing yards. The Broncos averaged 34 points a game. Western Michigan was in the top 40 nationally in total and passing offense, as well as scoring. The Broncos were +3 in turnovers. Last year, Western Michigan allowed 371 yards per game on defense, including 154 rushing and 218 passing yards. The Broncos allowed 25 points per game. WMU was in the top 50 nationally in all four categories.

Junior quarterback Zach Terrell completed 67.9% of his passes for 3,443 yards with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also rushed for 264 yards on 78 carries with 3 touchdowns. Tom Flacco, younger brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe, is the back-up.

Sophomore running back Jarvion Franklin had a very impressive freshman campaign. He rushed for 1,551 yards on 306 carries with 24 touchdowns, and also made 15 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown. He was the MAC offensive player of the year. Back-up Dareyon Chance has graduated after rushing for 321 yards and a touchdown last season. A pair of talented freshmen Jamauri Bogan and Davon Tucker will compete for the back-up carries. Terrell will continue to get a lot of carries as well.

Junior receiver Corey Davis is back after making 78 catches for 1,408 yards and 15 touchdowns. Daniel Braverman is also a junior after making 86 catches for 997 yards and 6 touchdowns, and also rushing for 58 yards with a touchdown. Sophomore Darius Phillips will play both receiver and cornerback in 2015. He had 32 catches for 479 yards and 2 touchdowns. Kendrick Roberts and tight end Eric Boyden will also get some targets after combining for 25 catches.

Michigan State is 6-1-1 ATS in non-conference games, 17-5-1 on fieldturf, 3-1-1 in September, 20-7-1 in road games, 18-7-1 overall and 5-2 against MAC schools.

Western Michigan is 10-2 ATS overall and on fieldturf, 4-1 at home and 3-10 against Big Ten teams.

Michigan State is #5 in the country and has a showdown with #7 Oregon next week in East Lansing. The Spartans should not overlook Western Michigan, as the Broncos are one of the favorites to win the MAC in 2015. The Waldo Stadium crowd will be fired up, although a sizable portion will be wearing green rather than brown and gold. Michigan State wins but Western Michigan stays inside the number.

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