Oregon-Michigan St. Preview
The Spartans are hoping for a role reversal when the powerhouse programs meet again Saturday night in the season's first matchup of top 10 teams.
Oregon greatly bolstered its credentials for a spot in the inaugural CFP when the then-No. 3 Ducks rallied for a thrilling 46-27 home win over the seventh-ranked Spartans in Week 2. Saturday's rematch shapes up as a mirror image, with No. 5 Michigan State (1-0) slightly ahead of seventh-ranked Oregon in the polls and playing at home.
The prime-time showdown also provides an opportunity for the often-overlooked Spartans, who've remained in the shadow of Ohio State and rival Michigan despite four 11-win seasons in the last five years, to enhance their national profile.
''We've lost three games out of the last 30, and we know the teams we've lost to,'' coach Mark Dantonio said in reference to Oregon, Ohio State and Notre Dame. ''Our M.O. was to try to reach higher, and to do that, right now, it runs through Oregon. I also think that if you look at last year's football team, if we win that football game, you're talking beyond, and you just keep trying to move your program forward.''
Last year's meeting also had a profound impact on the Heisman Trophy race, with eventual winner Marcus Mariota strengthening his candidacy by leading Oregon (1-0) to 28 unanswered points over the final 20 minutes and delivering a 318-yard, three-touchdown passing day against the Spartans' notoriously stingy defense.
Mariota is now gone, preparing for his NFL debut with Tennessee, and it appeared his successor might be unavailable as well after Vernon Adams was forced out of last Saturday's 61-42 win over Eastern Washington in the fourth quarter after receiving a hard blow to the head as he slid to the turf.
Adams told reporters Monday he's feeling fine and will play.
"I've just got to take care of myself and know how to get down quicker," he said.
Adams was 19 of 25 for 246 yards and two touchdowns and added 94 rushing yards prior to departing. Royce Freeman ran for a career-high 180 yards and three touchdowns, helping offset a leaky Ducks defense that surrendered 438 yards and five touchdowns through the air to the Eagles of the FCS.
Oregon started three underclassmen in a secondary that's replacing three starters, including All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
"A lot of guys made mistakes. They weren't all defensive backs," coach Mark Helfrich told the school's official website. "Everyone on offense made mistakes; everyone on defense made mistakes. The beauty of it was, most of it was guys playing their first time ever in that stadium, and they were correctable."
Michigan State has a few kinks to work out on that side of the ball as well after allowing 365 passing yards in a 37-24 win at Western Michigan on Friday. The Spartans also gave up kickoff returns of 100 and 70 yards to Darius Phillips.
"We need to correct those things. They will be corrected," Dantonio said. "We had younger players running down as well, so we need to change up some things. We can't have it, though. It's not acceptable."
Michigan State also is counting on a more efficient performance from Connor Cook after the third-year starter completed just 15 of 31 throws against the Broncos.
Cook had a career-high 29 completions on 47 attempts in a 343-yard, two-touchdown performance in last year's meeting, but threw two interceptions that led to Oregon touchdowns.
The senior was picked off once in seven 2014 starts at Spartan Stadium, where Oregon has lost in previous visits in 1979 and '99.