Summer opponent preview: MSU

BRR's Kyle Phillippi breaks down future Nebraska opponents.

Michigan State - Saturday, November 16

2012 Record: 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten)

Best Returning Player – Offense: The Offensive Line

Michigan State's linemen are so talented that an assistant coach even suggested the team would potentially utilize a six-man front. With three fifth-year seniors returning in Dan France, Blake Treadwell and Fou Fonoti, the Spartans line will continue to be one of the best units in the conference and in the nation. With a first-year starter in the backfield – possibly a freshman – the front five will have to be even better this season at creating running lanes. With so much experience, though, there's no reason the Spartans offensive front won't be better than their 2012 version.

Best Returning Player – Defense: LB Max Bullough

They may be without their leading pass rusher in 2013, but the top defense in the Big Ten returns the majority of their starters, including their leader in the middle, Max Bullough. The middle linebacker racked up a team-high 111 tackles with 12.5 for a loss. The do-it all defender also added 2.5 sacks, four pass breakups, three quarterback hits, one interception and one fumble recovery. Bullough will enter his third season as a starter in what potentially could be the best defense East Lansing has seen in quite some time. A reigning first-team Big Ten selection by the coaches, Bullough could very well be the best player at his position in what is a very linebacker-loaded conference. Many expect him to find his name on an array of postseason award watches and even earn the storied All-American title.

Biggest Loss –RB Le'Veon Bell

Anytime a team loses its most talented player and the cornerstone of their team, there's bound to be a decline in production. Le'Veon Bell represented everything that was in Michigan State's offense. With a first-year starter under center, the eventual No. 48 overall NFL Draft pick went on to run for a conference-best 137.9 yards per game en route to 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. Nebraska will be happy to see Bell off in the professional ranks after he torched them for 188 yards and two scores.

Last Meeting vs. Nebraska: November 3, 2013

Michigan State fans will remember this as the game that slipped away or simply "The Interference." Cornerback Darqueze Dennard was called for a defensive pass interference while covering Kenny Bell down the sideline. At that time, the Spartans were leading by three points. The penalty, though, kept the drive going and ultimately led to a game-winning short touchdown pass by Taylor Martinez to Jamal Turner with six seconds left.

An even game throughout, Nebraska outgained Michigan State on offense, 473-361. Martinez's three interceptions gave the Spartans plenty of opportunities, but their sloppy play resulted in two fumbles lost.

How They Matchup with Michigan State

2012 Statistics: Scoring Offense: Michigan State (20.0), (Nebraska (34.8)
Scoring Defense: Michigan State (16.3), Nebraska (27.6)

Passing Offense: Michigan State (209.9), Nebraska (207.4)
Passing Defense: Michigan State (175.8), Nebraska (168.1)

Rushing Offense: Michigan State (149.4), Nebraska (253.4)
Rushing Defense: Michigan State (98.6), Nebraska (192.5)

Total Offense: Michigan State (359.3), Nebraska (460.8)
Total Defense: Michigan State (274.4), Nebraska (360.6)

Nebraska Player to Watch: The Secondary

Perhaps a bit general, the reason for listing the Cornhuskers' last line of defense as the impact players in this matchup is simply because the Spartans' passing attack is limited. There's not one player who will line up at wide receiver that creates a mismatch for any Nebraska cornerback. Only one player had four touchdown receptions and their starting tight end, Dion Sims, is in the NFL now after ranking third on the team in receptions and yards. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell could be in for a hard luck season if no one steps up this season.

Interesting Michigan State Fact

Last season, Bell comprised of 42% of the total offensive yards gained. The Spartans will have to find someone to replace nearly half of their yards gained. In fact, if Dion Sims' yards are added into the equation, it is almost a half of the yards gone between those two players. With only 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a junior, Andrew Maxwell will have to evolve into the field general Mark D'Antino needs if his team wants to improve in 2013.

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Kyle Phillippi covers the Big Ten Conference for BigRedReport.com. His work has also been featured in Big Red Report Magazine and FoxSports.com.
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