Michigan St.-W. Michigan Preview
(AP) - Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio insisted his team isn't even thinking about playing Oregon.
Dantonio said the fifth-ranked Spartans have been focused ''entirely'' on Western Michigan since last week. Michigan State opens the season Friday night on the road about 65 miles from campus against the Broncos.
''We're looking forward to the moment,'' Dantonio said Tuesday.
The matchup is expected to be a tuneup for the Spartans ahead of a prime-time game Sept. 12 at home against the seventh-ranked Ducks.
''Honestly, we don't talk about Oregon that much,'' linebacker Riley Bullough said. ''Obviously, we keep them in our minds. That's a lot different than looking past Western. It's not bad at all. I think you do have to focus on your big games throughout the offseason.''
Dantonio sounded confident his team is mature enough to shut out thoughts and conversations about its second game, one of the most highly anticipated non-conference matchups this season.
Western Michigan's last win over the Spartans was nearly a century ago, but the Big Ten school lost to another Mid-American Conference school, Central Michigan, as recently as 2009. Back then, Dantonio was still trying to develop an inconsistent program and finished 6-7 - his only losing record as head coach in East Lansing.
Since then, Michigan State has won a Big Ten title, shared another conference championship and finished first in its division twice.
The Spartans opened the 2013 season with a 26-13 win over the Broncos for one of 24 victories over the past two seasons, a total that trails just Florida State (27) and Ohio State (26).
''We kind of understand what kind platform we're on,'' Bullough said. ''That comes with a lot of pressure, but we have a lot of guys who have played in big games.''
Michigan State has 17 starters, including 11 seniors, back from last season's team that rallied from a 20-point deficit to beat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl for its 11th victory.
Senior quarterback Connor Cook and senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, both entering their third year as starters, are key players for a program with its highest preseason slot since 1967.
Whether chatter is related to rankings, games later on the schedule or even the hype coach Jim Harbaugh is generating at Michigan, Dantonio wants his players to avoid distractions.
''Outside noise? Can't listen to it. Have to shut it out,'' Dantonio said. ''I think it's tough these days because we're a socially media-driven world. There's so much out there. You have to be able to shut it out.''
It's the first time Western Michigan is hosting a ranked opponent since losing 30-0 to then-No. 5 Virginia Tech in 2002, and third-year coach P.J. Fleck is looking to sustain the momentum created from last season. After a one-win campaign in 2013, the Broncos went 8-5 last season and lost to Air Force in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
"We are a process-driven program," Fleck said. "The process of winning is everything. The type of people, the type of talent we have in the organization, working daily to change for the best. That's the character of our football team. One year ago we had the worst team in college football and I was the worst coach in America. It's being built for sustainability, this is not just a one-hit wonder type deal."
Western Michigan's offense definitely has the potential to be more than a one-hit wonder as key components Zach Terrell, Jarvion Franklin, Corey Davis and Daniel Braverman all return. Terrell was a key contributor to the Broncos' rapid rise, throwing for 3,443 yards and 26 touchdowns while completing a school-record 67.9 percent of his passes last season.
Franklin had 24 rushing touchdowns, the most among freshman running backs, and was second with 1,551 yards. Juniors Davis and Braverman combined for 164 catches, 2,405 yards and 21 TDs as the Broncos averaged 33.8 points and 438.2 yards.
"To this day, (Michigan State) will be the best defense I will have ever seen," Terrell told the school's official Twitter account. "The build-up to this game is definitely something that has been different than years past."