Breaking it down: MSU, Oregon set to battle in high-powered shootout
Who: No. 7 Oregon vs. No. 5 Michigan State
When: 8 p.m. ET
Where: Spartan Stadium, Michigan State
Spread: Michigan State -4
Matchup to watch: DeForest Buckner vs. Jack Conklin
While everyone is focused on the impact the skill players will have in this one, the battle on Connor Cook’s blindside is huge. Buckner could easily be playing on Sundays. Instead, he’ll look to take control against one of the best offensive tackles in the country. Besides keeping Cook protected, Conklin will be responsible for making sure Buckner doesn’t use his length to get key pass deflections at the line of scrimmage. He isn’t a high-volume guy, but it doesn’t take much for jim to leave his imprint on a game.
Thing I’m excited to see: Points on points on points
In some ways, these teams have similar general makeups. They both have well-protected, high-powered offenses with playmakers on the defensive line, too. But both teams have serious concerns at the second level. Michigan State’s inexperienced secondary struggled to stop Western Michigan in the second half while Oregon surrendered 42 points to Eastern Washington at home. Neither of those things should happen to top-10 teams. Everyone — me included — expects this one to turn into a shootout. The team who can force that key turnover — like the Ducks did in the second half last year — could come out on top of this one.
Number to remember: 1
That’s how many games Eastern Washington transfer quarterback Vernon Adams has started against a top-25 team. That was two years ago vs. No. 25 Oregon State, which won only seven games that year. It’s easy to just plug him into the role of “elite Oregon quarterback,” but he’s not Marcus Mariota. While Mariota was leading the Ducks to a national title game by beating teams like Michigan State and Florida State, Adams was battling Big Sky opponents like Northern Colorado and Southern Utah. It was a short nine months ago that Adams struggled to run the ball against Illinois State. People forget that he wasn’t practicing with the Ducks until 10 days before the start of the season. It takes time to master Scott Frost’s offense. Adams is a special athletic talent and the ideal fit to run that system. But let’s wait until he handles an elite pass-rusher like Shilique Calhoun before we crown him college football’s next great quarterback.
Prediction: Michigan State 48, Oregon 45
I went back and forth on this one. On one hand, I think Michigan State’s secondary is going to be exposed again and it’ll be another week of 350-plus passing yards allowed. On the other hand, I think the Spartans are significantly better up front than they were a year ago and they’re better suited to handle a mobile quarterback like Adams. Cook is also better suited to pick apart the Ducks’ secondary, which had its own issues in Week 1. I’ll say Montae Nicholson gets a key fourth-quarter interception, Sparty gets over its non-conference hurdle and solidifies its place in the top five.