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Game Preview: Western Michigan Broncos vs. Michigan State Spartans

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

It feels as if the offseason flew by, but it’s time for the first full week of the 2022 college football season!

The No. 15-ranked Michigan State Spartans (Associated Press Poll) open the campaign against the intrastate foe Western Michigan Broncos on Friday, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time inside Spartan Stadium (ESPN2).

Just a reminder for Michigan State fans who are attending the game to “Stripe The Stadium” — even sections wear green, while odd sections and students wear white.

MSU is coming off a surprising 11-2 campaign in 2021, complete with a 31-21 New Year’s Six Peach Bowl victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers. Meanwhile, WMU had a solid 8-5 season last year, including a 52-24 blow-out win over the Nevada Wolf Pack in the Quick Lane Bowl. Interestingly enough, the Broncos also defeated the Panthers last year.

However, what happened last season isn’t necessarily indicative of what will transpire this fall. It’s hard to predict what will happen in a season-opening contest, but let’s preview the matchup between Western Michigan and Michigan State.

Tale of the Tape (2021 season)

Michigan State:
2021 Record — 11-2 (7-2 in Big Ten)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 428.75 total yards, 253.15 passing yards, 175.6 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 441.97 total yards allowed, 324.77 passing yards allowed, 117.2 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 414 (31.85 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 329 (25.31 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 15th (preseason)

Western Michigan:
2021 Record — 8-5 (4-4 in MAC)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 467.12 total yards, 253.62 passing yards, 213.5 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 331.48 yards allowed, 186.38 passing yards allowed, 145.1 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 422 (32.46 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 367 (28.23 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 97th (preseason)

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan State leads 14-2
Current streak: Michigan State has won 12 in a row
Last Michigan State win: Sept. 7, 2019 (51-17)
Last Western Michigan win: Oct. 11, 1919 (21-18)
Michigan State all-time record: 721-472-44 (.601)
Western Michigan all-time record: 588-466-24 (.557)

Uniform Watch:

Michigan State will go with green tops with white letting and numbering, white pants, and white helmets with a green stripe down the middle and a green Spartan head logo on each side.

A closer look:

Western Michigan:

Western Michigan will rock white tops with brown numbering and accents, brown pants with white stripes, dark helmets with the Bronco head logo and some...interesting-looking cleats.

Key Matchups

Jack Salopek/Western Michigan wide receivers vs. Michigan State secondary: Michigan State has heard the questions about the pass defense all offseason long. After ranking dead-last in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game (about 325) in 2021, the Spartans look to improve tremendously in this facet in 2022. That starts on Friday. While Western Michigan will likely be a run-heavy team, the Broncos can’t afford to be one-dimensional. Salopek, the redshirt freshman, takes over at quarterback and Corey Crooms will operate as the top receiver for WMU. Salopek is unproven, but offensive coordinator Jeff Thorne (yes, Payton’s dad) will look to get him comfortable early against Scottie Hazelton’s defense, and put him in position to succeed. Defensively, the Spartans need to set the tone early.

WMU’s Sean Tyler/La’Darius Jefferson/offensive line vs. MSU’s defensive front: What the Broncos really want to do is the run football. WMU has a dynamic duo of running backs in Tyler (a Doak Walker preseason watch list member) and Jefferson (a former Spartan). Those two combined for nearly 2,000 rushing yards and scored 19 rushing touchdowns last season. However, while Michigan State had its issues defending the pass last season, it was stout against the run (117.2 yards allowed per game, 17th in FBS). Expect that to be the case again in 2022 with Jacob Slade, Simeon Barrow, Maverick Hansen, Dashaun Mallory and several others returning in the interior of the defensive line, while the linebackers group has been revamped. As usual, the game will be won and lost in the trenches, so it will be interesting to watch how WMU’s offensive line holds up.

MSU’s Jarek Broussard/Jalen Berger/offensive line vs. WMU’s front seven: While we talked about Western Michigan’s dynamic set of tailbacks, Michigan State brought in a pair of transfers in Broussard and Berger who should both see plenty of touches on Friday night. There have been many concerns about the Spartans’ offensive line depth this offseason, but the top-six-man group of Jarrett Horst, J.D. Duplain, Nick Samac, Matt Carrick, Spencer Brown and Brian Greene should be solid. WMU returns its three starting linebackers from last season — Corvin Moment, Zaire Barnes and Ryan Selig — and Andre Carter returns on the Broncos’ defensive line. This team gave up 145.1 rushing yards per game last year, and about 4.5 yards per carry, so unless the Broncos have significantly improved since then, Broussard, Berger, Elijah Collins and the others should be able to find holes and run the ball on their terms.

Game Info

Time: Friday, Sept. 2, 7 p.m. Eastern Time
TV Channel: ESPN2
Location: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan
Weather expectations: Party cloudy with temperatures around 82 degrees at kickoff, winds blowing south/southwest at seven miles per hour
DraftKings Line: Michigan State -21


Michigan State enters the game as a 21-point favorite, according to DraftKings’ sportsbook, which is not surprising given where each team stands entering the 2022 season. The Broncos have not beaten the Spartans in more than 100 years (1919 was the last time), and it doesn’t appear likely to change in 2022.

Western Michigan will be motivated. The storylines are obvious here — father and son are up against each other (quarterback Payton Thorne for Michigan State and offensive coordinator Jeff Thorne for Western Michigan), Thorne was committed to the Broncos at one time, wide receiver Jayden Reed played for WMU as a freshman, La’Darius Jefferson is a former Spartan, it’s an intrastate battle, etc. These points have been hammered home leading up to the game, but now it is finally time to settle things on the field.

However, being motivated won’t be enough for the Broncos to overcome the talent gap here. Season openers can always start a little bit sloppy — it wouldn’t be surprising to see Michigan State start slow or to see Western Michigan keep things close in the early going — but eventually MSU should break away and win this game handily.

For additional thoughts and analysis on Western Michigan, please read our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece.


Which school wins the season opener?

This poll is closed

  • 95%
    Michigan State
    (114 votes)
  • 5%
    Western Michigan
    (6 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.

Please note this article was updated to reflect the networks change in coverage from ESPN to ESPN2.