With their first Rose Bowl victory in decades, the Michigan State Spartans took a giant step forward in 2013 and they have become the cream of the crop in the Big Ten. Head coach Mark Dantonio has led them to three 11-plus win seasons in the past four years and the Spartans are not a team you want to mess with anymore.
As one of the best teams in all of the FCS, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks will give the Spartans a pretty tough test to begin the season. Jacksonville State finished the 2013 season with an 11-4 record and begin the 2014 season ranked No. 8 in all of the FCS — watch out, Michigan State, this isn’t an easy victory.
Returning on offense are six starters, including quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford. Cook has been known for his calm under pressure demeanor and his ability to rise to the occasion in big games. Cook passed for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions after taking over as the team’s starter following the third game of the 2013 season. Langford rushed for 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2013 and will be one of the nation’s best returning tailbacks. The Spartans are deep at receiver as well as they return players who accounted for 212 of 248 receptions in 2013.
Jacksonville State had a relatively potent offense in 2013, averaging just over 35 points and 442.5 yards per contest. The Gamecocks return senior quarterback Max Shortell as well as talented backup and dual-threat redshirt sophomore Eli Jenkins. Shortell passed for 1,608 yards and six touchdowns last season while Jenkins passed for 887 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 953 yards and eight scores. Talented running back and senior DeMarcus James also returns as he put up 1,477 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2013. Leading receiver Josh Barge will also be back for a sophomore season.
Defensively, Jacksonville State will have a lot of work to do if it feels like it will be able to corral Michigan State’s attack. Allowing 23.6 points and 385.1 yards per game isn’t too shabby, but that is against other FCS squads — not FBS. The Spartans had one of the best defenses in the country in 2013. Michigan State ranked third in scoring defense, second in rushing yards allowed, third in passing yards allowed and second in total yards allowed per game in the nation.
Jacksonville State will travel to Michigan State to take on the Spartans at 7:30 p.m. EST on Friday, Aug. 29. The game will be broadcasted on Big Ten Network.
PREDICTION: Jacksonville State 9, Michigan State 37
Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.