College football season is now upon us. For Michigan State fans, they will get a little Friday Night Lights as the Spartans open up at Northwestern this weekend.
After a small appetizer this past weekend, the three-month main entrée begins being served this week.
Here’s a breakdown of MSU’s opening Big Ten battle taking place.
How to watch: Michigan State Spartans at Northwestern Wildcats
- What: Michigan State (0-0) at Northwestern (0-0)
- When: 9 p.m. ET Friday
- Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
- TV: ESPN
- Online livestream: ESPN+
- Over-the-air Radio: Michigan State Football Radio Network
- Satellite Radio: Sirius Channel 195 (MSU); 83 (Northwestern)
Northwestern a slight home favorite
There are a lot of unknowns for both teams entering Friday’s opener. However, oddsmakers are going with the home team as a slight favorite.
Most Michigan sportsbooks listed Northwestern as a 3-point favorite at home against MSU at the start of game week.
On the moneyline, the Wildcats were listed around -155 to -160 on Monday. The Spartans were pegged at around +135 to +140.
The over/under total was ranging from 45 to 45.5 points, with the latter first available at BetMGM Sportsbook. You can track best live lines for the game through our widget below.
In 2020, Northwestern was 7-2 against the spread, and the under hit seven times as well. Michigan State was just 2-5 against the spread last season, with the over connecting in five games.
MSU has a 39-20 advantage over Northwestern in the all-time series. That includes a 29-20 victory for the Spartans last season in East Lansing.
Will roster overhaul help MSU?
After just a 2-5 record in the 2020 COVID-shortened season, coach Mel Tucker has made a lot of moves with the Spartan roster heading into 2021.
MSU has close to 20 additions to the team from the transfer portal this season, in hopes of making a drastic talent improvement in a short time.
One area where the Spartans need a lot of improved play is at quarterback. MSU brought in Temple transfer Anthony Russo to compete for the starting job with sophomore Payton Thorne.
Thorne saw action last year and threw for 582 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Russo had thrown for more than 6,000 yards and for 44 touchdowns over three years with the Owls.
Tucker has yet to name a starter for Friday, and the battle has been considered a toss-up.
Up front, MSU has a relatively new offensive line while adding in Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker in the backfield. Walker had 13 rushing touchdowns in 2020.
MSU has a lot of room to improve on both sides of the ball, as the Spartans averaged just 18 points offensively last season while allowing 35.1 per game.
Wildcats coming off strong 2020
Northwestern was a big surprise in 2020.
The Wildcats won the Big Ten West Division and went 7-2 on the year. They lost to Ohio State in the conference championship, and also were upset by the Spartans after a 5-0 start before slaying Auburn in the Camping World Bowl.
Despite the strong 2020, it’s not a guarantee that the Wildcats will be able to build off that performance in 2021.
The offense loses a lot in regards to skill positions. Peyton Ramsey graduated at QB, while leading rusher Cam Porter is out for the season because of an injury suffered during training camp.
Hunter Johnson has been named this fall’s starting quarterback. The senior has seen limited action, in 2017 with Clemson and in 2019 with the Wildcats. However, he didn’t see the field in 2020.
Johnson has to break in new receivers, as Northwestern lost all four options who had double-digit receptions and at least 200 receiving yards.
Defensively, the Wildcats were among the best in the nation last season. They allowed just 15.9 points per game, which ranked fifth in the country.
Sophomore safety Brandon Joseph is drawing a lot of preseason hype after his 2020 season saw him intercept six passes and make 52 tackles.
Chris Bergin is back to lead the front seven after 78 tackles in 2020. However, Northwestern lost its leading two tacklers from last year’s roster.