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Michigan State football vs. Central Michigan game preview, prediction

Everything you need to know.



Michigan State football
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State football opens the 2023 season on Friday against Central Michigan. Let’s preview the matchup.

It’s here. Game week for Michigan State football. The day we’ve been waiting for all summer is finally just hours away.

Michigan State’s 2023 season opens up with a home game against Central Michigan in Spartan Stadium. We don’t know anything about either of these teams yet. So, naturally, I’ll try to outline the three most important things to watch on Friday. That should give us a better idea of who starts the season 1-0.

1. Michigan State’s trenches

Everyone and their brother will be dialed into Michigan State’s quarterback play on Friday night. While I’m not discounting the importance, that’s not where your eyes should be. If Michigan State is going to do anything interesting this year, it will start on the offensive and defensive lines.

I’m not sure the game plan for MSU on offense is dependent on a specific quarterback. Regardless of who plays, the Spartans should try to establish the run early and often. CMU knows that as well. So, what does Michigan State’s push look like up front? Are they getting into 2nd-and-5, 3rd-and-1 scenarios? Are they calling run plays in short-yardage situations? It’s not necessarily about being able to do it against Central Michigan. But alarms should be sounded if they can’t. We’ve seen it in openers before where MSU struggles to run the ball. Almost every time, it’s been an indication of what is to come later in the year.

On the other side of the ball, this is a chance for Michigan State’s best unit to shine. They should have the physical advantage and they’ll be playing against a team with a quarterback that was very one-dimensional last season. The Spartans feel like this group up front is close to becoming special. A dominant performance could be the difference between this being a comfortable or uncomfortable evening. Again, dominating Central Michigan shouldn’t be celebrated. But if this group looks just average against the Chips, then there could be a much bigger problem.

2. Bert Emanuel Jr.

Unless you were dialed into weekday #MACtion late last year, you’ve probably never heard of Bert Emanuel Jr. If that’s the case, consider this your education. He might be a problem. I say “might” because he only played in four games. In those four games though, he ran wild. Emanuel Jr. carried the ball 67 times across four games, averaging almost 7.5 yards per carry. This stretch was highlighted by a 24-carry, 293-yard, three-touchdown performance against Buffalo.

The other two quarterbacks on the roster carried a combined 86 times for 257 yards.

Now, as mentioned earlier, Emanuel Jr. is not a good passer. He only completed four passes all season. The offense was a bit “gimmicky”. Emanuel Jr. was not the full-time quarterback when he played. It’s possible CMU continues some type of rotation at the position. It’s also possible that CMU overhauled their offense to maximize his skill set. If Emanuel Jr. used the offseason to improve as a passer, he could be a dynamic weapon.

This is not a player MSU should take lightly. He has the potential to be a true difference-maker and the best player on the field. If the Spartans can limit his rushing ability and turn him into a passer, they have to feel great about their chances.

3. Michigan State’s quarterback and passing game

I’m double-dipping with the Michigan State football offense here because it’s impossible to talk about the Spartans without touching on the passing game.

After a few months of speculation, we’ll finally get to see who the preferred starter is at quarterback for Michigan State. It feels like it will be Noah Kim. Even if that is the case, I fully expect a designed series or two for Katin Houser.

Mel Tucker has to see how each quarterback handles the pressure of game day. Kim is more mobile than Houser. But Houser might be the better passer. Does Jim McElwain take that into consideration at all in his preparation? The unknown will play to MSU’s advantage on Friday because CMU (like the rest of the world) hasn’t seen either of these guys play.

Whoever ends up playing has their work cut out for them.

This is an inexperienced and unproven group of receivers for Michigan State. On top of that, Central Michigan’s pass defense was strong in 2022. While they only generated four interceptions, the Chips allowed just 220 yards per game. They allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete only 59 percent of their passes on over 32 attempts per game.

We know Tre Mosley and Montorie Foster will be featured for MSU. But who is behind them? Tyrell Henry, Christian Fitzpatrick, Alante Brown, Jaron Glover, and Antonio Gates Jr. are all names to watch. Receivers coach Courtney Hawkins has spoken highly of the talent and competition within this group. The Spartans might need to see their best right away.


Michigan State is a 14.5-point favorite at home with a total set at 45.5. The first game of the season is always tricky from a gambling perspective because you don’t know what to expect. Michigan State’s volatility under Mel Tucker makes that even more difficult to predict. But this wouldn’t be a preview without a prediction.

Honestly, I think this is going to be a tough game to watch. MSU is breaking in a new quarterback with young receivers. Central Michigan is no pushover on defense. I expect a conservative, cautious game plan from Jay Johnson.

On the other side of the ball, the strength of this Michigan State football roster is on defense. They’ll be well prepared for Emanuel’s rushing. Central Michigan is going to have to prove they can throw it. They’ll have to improve on a passing game that completed only 56 percent of its passes for 208 yards per game in 2022.

Central Michigan won’t be intimidated as it took road trips to Oklahoma State and Penn State last fall. This is the only MAC program from Michigan to beat Michigan State. They believe they can win.

In the end, I don’t think they’ll have enough offense against a Spartan defense that I expect to be vastly improved. But Michigan State’s inexperience on offense and special teams will make this an uncomfortable night. A late Nathan Carter touchdown puts this one out of reach to make it feel better than it looked.

Final: Michigan State 24, Central Michigan 13