* Date, Time: Sat., Oct. 15, time, TV TBA.
* Location: Ohio Stadium.
* Last Year: 5-7. Big Ten: 4-4/fifth (tie).
* Coach: John L. Smith (third year at MSU, 13-12; 17th year overall, 123-72).
* Returning Starters: 14. Offense (8): LT Stefon Wheeler, LG Kyle Cook, C Chris Morris, WR Matt Trannon, WR Kyle Brown, WR Jerramy Scott, RB Jason Teague, QB Drew Stanton. Defense (5): DE Clifton Ryan, NG Brandon McKinney, LB David Herron Jr., SS Eric Smith, CB Jaren Hayes. Specialists (1): P Brandon Fields.
* Big Ten Championships: 6, last shared title in 1990.
* Rose Bowls: 4, last appearance in 1987.
* BCS Bids: None.
* National Championships: 1 (1952).
* Series Vs. Ohio State: OSU leads the all-time series 23-12, including 12-7 in Columbus. Last year, Ted Ginn Jr. scored three touchdowns (one punt return, one rushing and one receiving) as the Buckeyes rallied from a late deficit to take a 32-19 win. The win was OSU's third in a row over MSU and the Buckeyes have won eight of the last 10 in the series dating to 1991.
* Schedule: Sept. 3, Kent State; Sept. 10, Hawaii; Sept. 17, at Notre Dame; Sept. 24, at Illinois; Oct. 1, Michigan; Oct. 15, at Ohio State; Oct. 22, Northwestern; Oct. 29, Indiana; Nov. 5, at Purdue; Nov. 12, at Minnesota; Nov. 19, Penn State.
* Outlook: Smith discovered how tough the Big Ten can be last year as the Spartans dropped four of their last five games, capped with a loss at Hawaii, and missed out on the postseason.
"We are going to be a little bit like we were last year," Smith said. "If we can stay healthy, we are going to have some young guys who are going to end up happy to play this year, which is no different than it has been. In the middle of the year, I expect us to be a great-looking football team."
Stanton (1,601 yards passing, 8 TDs; 687 yards rushing, 5 TDs) showed he can be a dual-threat quarterback, although he missed some time due to injury.
"You don't want to think about limiting the kid, because that is what he does to make plays- use his natural attributes," Smith said. "At the same time, we would like to be a little more diligent from a coaching standpoint in what we call and when we place him in harm's way. We are going to be a little more cautious of when we are going to have him run the ball than maybe we were a year ago. At the same point, he has to know you may have to put yourself in harm's way to win football games, but there are also times when you don't have to."
Scott (39 catches) and Trannon (36 catches) will be the key targets. Teague (688 yards, 8 TDs) excelled in the one-back set.
"I expect us to be pretty darn good," Smith said of his offense. "If we keep our quarterback healthy, we'll have a chance to win some football games because we'll be able to put some points on the board."
MSU will look for improvement defensively. Eric Smith (86 tackles) and Herron (79) emerged as leaders last year. Fields averaged a robust 47.9 yards per punt.
"If we want to be a championship-quality team we are going to have to grow defensively," Smith said. "There are going to be some young guys playing. We will be better than we were a year ago, but if we stay healthy, we could be a threat on the defensive side of the ball. That also takes time. The question will be, as it was a year ago, how many (points) can we limit people to? If we can limit people from scoring too much, of course we'll be in the game."
* Jerry Rudzinski Says: It comes down to who shows up with Michigan State. It's the same old story that they have had over the last 15 or 20 years – they are either real hot or real cold. Last year, they beat up on Minnesota 51-17. Then, they're up on Michigan 27-10 with less than 10 minutes to play and went on to lose in triple overtime. And, finally, they beat Wisconsin 49-14 when they were No. 4 in the country.
If we catch them on one of those days, it could be a long day. When they're on, they're very much on. This offense averaged 29 points and 460 yards per game in 2004. What's scary is that eight of those starters are back. It's up to Michigan State and whether they want to do it game in and game out.
Stanton completes the high percentage passes. He had a 64 percent completion ratio. He is a play maker and he gives teams fits when he also runs the ball. He averaged over 7 yards a carry. He moves the chains. He can get you out of that third-and-11 hole with his feet. He just has so many dimensions. If a linebacker or a strong safety only has to worry about a quarterback throwing the football, you can adjust your game. If you only have to worry about a quarterback running the football, you can adjust your game. But if he can do both, like Stanton can, that presents a lot of problems – like he did with Michigan before he got hurt.
They have a lot of guys from Ohio – Brandon McKinney, Nick Smith, Ashton Watson and a few others -- and I know for them it will be an emotional game and we'll get their best shot.
* Steve Helwagen Says: As you may or may not remember, OSU needed two touchdowns in the final 1:37 – including a 58-yard catch-and-run from Troy Smith to Ted Ginn Jr. – to pull out last year's 32-19 win in East Lansing.
And, as you may or may not also remember, MSU played that game without Stanton, who was injured the week before in the three-overtime loss to Michigan. And, in fact, John L. Smith was so galled with this loss he answered one question in his postgame press conference and stormed out.
That game was just one of many missed opportunities MSU had in 2004. The Spartans lost heartbreaking nonconference games to Rutgers and Notre Dame. They also had a three-point loss at Hawaii and the three OT loss to the hated Wolverines. Those were the four games – had two of them just turned around – that cost MSU its bowl bid.
Moreover, Smith's pedigree is that he is a winner. You can look it up, wherever he's been his teams are usually in the hunt for league championships and bowl bids. His futuristic offense – when at full strength – always seems to be one step ahead of the defense.
Then, I also throw in there the thought of the 1998 MSU upset at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes were No. 1 in the country and 8-0, looking for a bid in the first BCS title game at the Fiesta Bowl. This time around, OSU could be 5-0 – coming off huge wins over Texas, Iowa and Penn State in the previous five weeks – and could be ripe for the taking.