Thinking about a team other than the opponent at hand usually is dangerous, but it might not be wise when No. 8 Michigan State hosts FCS Jacksonville State on Friday. The Spartans need only recall what happened to arch-rival Michigan in its 2007 opener versus Appalachian State to be wary of the visiting Gamecocks. Michigan State never has had a scare against an FCS foe, though, outscoring its previous four opponents from that division 172-33 - including a 55-17 win over Youngstown State in 2013.
Michigan State hopes to pick up where it left off a year ago, when it closed the season with a 10-game winning streak that included a 24-20 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. It would be easy for the Spartans to look ahead to next week's top-10 showdown at Oregon - a critical test for their hopes of making the four-team national championship playoff - but the Gamecocks are a dangerous underdog. They've done it before, knocking off Mississippi in 2010, and are coming off a trip to the FCS quarterfinals.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: None.
ABOUT JACKSONVILLE STATE (2013: 11-4): First-time coach John Grass, the former offensive coordinator, takes over a team that returns 14 starters and has been installed as the favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference. The Gamecocks can show multiple looks on offense, as Grass has said four different quarterbacks will take snaps this season - including run-first starter Eli Jenkins and Georgia transfer Christian LeMay. The star on that side of the ball, though, is running back DaMarcus James, who racked up a school-record 1,477 yards and an OVC-record 29 touchdowns on the ground as a junior.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (2013: 13-1): Defense is a hallmark of Mark Dantonio's teams, but the Spartans have to replace six starters on that side of the ball - including star cornerback Darqueze Dennard and linebacker Max Bullough. Michigan State has enough offensive firepower to get by while the defense settles in, though. Junior quarterback Connor Cook is back after passing for 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions a year ago, and senior running back Jeremy Langford (1,422 yards, 18 TDs) gives the Spartans a potent, balanced attack.
1. Michigan State's 10-game winning streak is tied for the fourth-longest in school history. The Spartans haven't won 11 straight since 1956.
2. The Gamecocks set 49 school records, 13 conference marks and three NCAA records a year ago.
3. The Spartans are 78-36-3 in season openers, winning 13 of their last 15.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 37, Jacksonville State 20