Michigan State leads the all-time series 2-1. California bested the Spartans 46-22 the last time they met in 2002 and sport a 14-21 overall record vs. the Big Ten (head coach Jeff Tedford is 4-0.) The Spartans' overall record vs. the PAC-10 is 30-19-1 (Mark Dantonio has never faced a PAC-10 team as a head coach.)
Spartans: Brian Hoyer comes into the game an established starter, a captain and hungry to prove his subpar performance against Boston College in the Champs Sports Bowl was a fluke. Prone to streakiness.
Bears: Kevin Riley edged out senior veteran Nate Longshore for dibs as the starting QB (although it looks like the Bears will use a committee approach early on). The pair bring talent to the table — Riley was the Armed Services Bowl MVP last season — but the issue isn't settled and that could present chemistry and timing problems with youth at the other skill positions.
Advantage: It's a wash
Spartans: Javon Ringer is one of the best in the country. He's listed on some Heisman watch lists and brings a hefty 6.1-yard per carry career average into 2008. Lots of unproven depth behind Ringer.
Bears: Sophomore Jahvid Best is a flash on the field, and has tremendous upside, but did a hip injury last season slow his game? Plenty of potential for Cal at RB (they've had six straight 1,000-yard rushers), but a question mark nonetheless.
MSU WRs vs Cal secondary
Spartans: Mark Dell headlines a receiver by committee approach. B.J. Cunningham is a wildcard and young talent should provide good depth and match-up problems. Tight end Kellen Davis, now in the NFL, was an important option for Hoyer last season and his athleticism will be missed.
Bears: The Bears passing defense was second only to USC last season, but was it because teams could run at will against them? Two starters return but losing safety Thomas DeCoud hurts. Not a lot of depth.
Advantage: Cal by a hair
Cal WRs vs MSU secondary
Spartans: A big question mark hangs over safety Roderick Jenrette, who is expected to return to the team at some point. But depth at cornerback has helped shore up the secondary. Otis Wiley is a potential All-American and Kendell Davis-Clark should fill-in nicely for Jenrette.
Bears: Wide receiver is a potential major weak spot for Cal after a talented group (two receivers and a tight end) graduated in the form of the NFL draft. The Bears are basically throwing a bunch of rookies out there to learn on the run. Lots of upside, but very green.
MSU O-line vs Cal front seven
Bears: Cal hopes a switch to more 3-4 schemes and depth at linebacker will improve an anemic pass rush. The Bears allowed 152.2-yards per game on the ground last year, seventh in the PAC-10.
Cal O-line vs MSU front seven
Spartans: Losing a productive set of ends hurts, but Pat Narduzzi's aggressive system creates playmakers and juniors Trevor Anderson and Brandon Long, despite being dinged up, look to be more than adequate replacements. Plus, there's a five-man rotation at D-end. Linebacker Greg Jones is a game-changer and headlines a speedy corps.
Bears: Senior All-American and two-time All-Pac-10 center Alex Mack anchors a line with three returning starters. They have good depth, which might go 8-9 deep.
Spartans: MSU returns solid starters for punts, field goals and kickoffs. The return game depth chart has Davis-Clark and A.J. Jimmerson the first in line to return kicks, and Wiley looks to lift the punt return team from the Big Ten basement.
Bears: Place kicker Jordan Kay, who has walk-on freshman David Seawright looking over his shoulder, had a mediocre season kicking field goals last year (13-20). The return game features the explosive Jahvid Best on kickoffs and Syd'Quan Thompson looks to fill a hole returning punts, where he was spectacular at the prep level.
Kicking game advantage: MSU
Return game advantage: Cal