Hustle Belt: There are obviously a lot of expectations this year for the Spartans, particularly with Oregon right around the corner in week 2. Any chance that Dantonio's squad is overlooking the Broncos a bit and take a quarter or two to wake up in Friday's game?
The Only Colors: WMU is a very good football team whose strengths lie where MSU has its biggest question marks -- namely at wideout, where Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman could do damage against inexperienced MSU CB's -- but there are a few "intangible" things that should calm the nerves of Spartan Nation. One is that, as of late, Mark Dantonio teams don't get caught off guard against supposedly "inferior" opponents, even before or after big games. Look at the box scores from the three games after last years Ohio State loss if you want proof of the programs focus in preparation.
Also, the senior leadership on this team is extremely strong. Connor Cook isn't even a team captain -- that honor belongs to three other seniors: Jack Allen, Shilique Calhoun and Darien Harris. That a 3rd-year-starting quarterback and possible first round NFL draft pick won't even wear a "C" speaks to the depth of leadership currently in this program. Add in the fact this core group of players has played (and won) in Lincoln, Pasadena and Happy Valley -- and played well at Autzen, for what it's worth -- and it's hard to picture the Spartans getting caught off guard come Friday.
Western's offense was pretty potent last year and is returning all of its key players. Is there a part of the Spartan defense you're worried will get exploited by the Broncos? How do you adjust for any problems with the defense?
As I alluded to, the Bronco wideouts could cause problems for MSU. Both starting cornerbacks lack experience at the position -- Demetrious Cox has played mostly safety but did play some CB in the Cotton Bowl; Vayante Copeland is a redshirt freshman -- and WMU's Davis and Braverman are one of the better tandems the Spartans will face in 2015. If the MSU defensive line wasn't poised to be one of the best in the country, this would really concern me but, luckily for MSU, this group should be exactly that. If WMU can't stop Calhoun and Co. those outside matchups won't matter a whole lot. I think Zach Terrell will hit a couple chunk plays downfield -- which MSU can be prone to surrendering -- but overall MSU's line play will be too overwhelming.
Right now there's some early Heisman buzz around your starting QB, Connor Cook. Is there any reason he wouldn't be able to put up impressive numbers again this year?
MSU currently has three starting quarterbacks in the NFL -- Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and Nick Foles (yes, we're counting Foles even though he transferred to Arizona, and, yes, its OK to laugh at that list) -- which is impressive for any school. But with another season like the one he had a year ago, Connor Cook will end up as the best quarterback (possibly player) in MSU football history.
It's not unreasonable to expect a 3,500 yard, 30 TD, sub-10 INT season from the Spartan signal caller (which, by the way, MSU faithful will take happily) but in a day and age where offenses like Ohio State, Oregon and TCU routinely throw up between 50 and 60 points, there will probably be someone (Trevone Boykin, Vernon Adams, whoever starts at QB for Ohio State) who will make Cook's numbers look semi-pedestrian.
There is a scenario in which he could win, however. If MSU can get into the playoffs undefeated -- beating Oregon in Week 2, taking down Ohio State in a possible 1-vs-2 showdown late in the year in Columbus and winning the Big Ten Championship Game -- he could find himself in the catbird seat when it counts. He would obviously need to play very well in each game and come up with a signature moment or three, but the quarterback of the best team in the nation tends to get a lot of Heisman love.
Ultimately, I expect him to have his best season yet and possibly get invited to New York but I would be surprised if he brought home the hardware. It's certainly not impossible, but I wouldn't be betting on it.
What type of offense should Bronco fans expect from the Spartans? Are you guys more quick-strike, or a long, sustained driving team?
MSU has always been a run-first outfit. This is a more than capable offense -- the Spartans averaged over 40 ppg last year -- but Mark Dantonio teams will always run the ball and attack off play-action. With the offensive line MSU will be rolling out this year and the (overblown) pass-catching question marks, I wouldn't expect much to change. There will be more sustained drives than quick strikes, but this offense is equally capable of both.
One point that has been touched on a lot this summer has been Cook taking what the defense gives him more often, namely by tucking the ball and checking down to his running backs. I doubt he takes off running too often in this game, but he is a big capable runner who can make plays with his legs. MSU has also had success throwing the ball to running backs in the past and Cook has repeatedly talked about how he should have dropped the ball off to Jeremy Langford a lot more last season. Both are points of emphasis and things to watch for as the season progresses.
To brass tacks. What's the final?
WMU gets on the board early but MSU's line play -- both offensive and defensive -- will be the difference in this one.
MSU 49, WMU 20