While the season opener against South Dakota presents Oregon with a completely overmatched cupcake, the second game of the season presents a different test for Oregon entirely. Michigan State has been one of the elite programs in the country the last few seasons. In three of the past four years, the Spartans have won at least 11 games, culminating in a 13-win campaign in 2013 that ended with a Big Ten Championship and a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.
Oregon is currently favored in this game -15 over Michigan State, which seems strange given that the style the Spartans palay is similar to Stanford, which has given the Ducks fits. However, MSU loses enough from their elite defense to believe that Oregon should given them trouble.
2013 Record: 13-1, 8-0 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Won Rose over Stanford, 24-20
Blog Representation: The Only Colors
Series With Michigan State: Tied, 2-2
Last Oregon win: September 5, 1998, 48-14 at Autzen Stadium
Last Michigan State win: September 2, 1999, 27-20, at Spartan Stadium
Michigan State Offense:
Any way you shake it, Michigan State was thoroughly unimpressive last year on offense. Granted, they didn't need to be impressive on offense, and their 29 ppg was easily enough as they opponents only 13.2. QB Connor Cook had his moments, and in games where the Spartans looked really dominant it was because Cook showed flashes of being really good. He should be a solid starter as a junior, though his 58% completion percentage absolutely needs to improve.
The Spartans want to ground a pound and control the tempo, especially against a team like Oregon, and they do return running back Jeremy Langford (1,422 yards, 18 TDs last year). However, they replace three starters on the offensive line, and averaged only 4.2 yards per carry a season ago. They'll face a rebuilding Oregon defensive line, so the opportunities should be there. MSU returns three experienced receivers, though none are gamebreakers.
Michigan State Defense:
This unit was downright scary last season. They gave up barely four yards per play last year, and 2.8 yards per rush. They ranked first in the nation in yards per play allowed (4.04) and first in total defense (252.2 ypg). The problem for MSU is that they lose six starters from that defense--including All-American cornerback Darqueze Dennard, leading tackler Denicos Allen, and both starting defensive tackles. That said, they return two standout defensive ends, including Big Ten Lineman of the Year Shilique Calhoun, who had 7.5 sacks as a sophomore last year. The Spartans have recruited very well, and bring back a ton of talented players who were backups a year ago. They won't be as good as last year's squad, but it will still be a top ten defense under DC Pat Narduzzi. The question is can they put it together early in a hostile environment against one of the nation's elite quarterbacks?
Michigan State Special Teams:
Solid in every respect. Their kicker and punter are both superior to what Oregon has coming in.
A lot of this game will come down to how Michigan State's replacements at defensive tackle play. If they can get a consistent push, they will allow the defensive ends into the backfield and the Ducks will have trouble. However, if the interior of Oregon's offensive line can handle them, the Ducks can zone read Calhoun out of the game and really start to pile on some yards. Even against a rebuilding Oregon defense, the Spartans aren't going to pile up the points. They have to control the Duck offense to win the game. This game won't be easy for the Ducks, but they have the advantage at home. The Ducks can win a defensive contest with this team, but it makes the game close to a 50/50 proposition. If the Duck offense gets rolling, MSU simply doesn't have the firepower to keep up. Will the Spartans be deep enough this early not to let the dam break?