JACKSONVILLE STATE at No. 8 MICHIGAN STATE, 7:30 p.m. ET Friday (Big Ten Network)
Series Record: First meeting
WHAT’S AT STAKE
After winning the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl last season, Michigan State is a contender to reach the four-team playoff that will determine the national champion. The Spartans have a huge matchup at Oregon coming up next week, so they’ll be hoping to beat Jacksonville State of the Football Championship Subdivision with minimal anxiety.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi against Jacksonville State coach John Grass. The Spartans had one of the nation’s best defenses last year, but they lost linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, as well as defensive backs Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis. Grass took over as the Gamecocks’ coach in the offseason, but he was their offensive coordinator last year, when they went to the FCS quarterfinals. With Oregon’s up-tempo offense looming, Jacksonville State could provide an interesting test for the Spartans.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jacksonville State: RB DaMarcus James is one of the top players in the Ohio Valley Conference. He set a league record last year with 29 rushing touchdowns.
Michigan State: DE Shilique Calhoun is one holdover from the Spartans’ terrific defense. He had 7 1/2 sacks last season and is being counted on to be a leader in 2014.
FACTS & FIGURES
Jacksonville State has five victories over Bowl Subdivision teams, including a 49-48, double-overtime win at Mississippi in 2010. ... Michigan State has won 15 straight home openers. ... Friday will be the 15th night game in the 91-year history of Spartan Stadium. Michigan State is 9-5 in the others. ... The Spartans boast their highest preseason AP ranking since they began at No. 3 in 1967.