Preview: CMU opens season at Michigan State

The time has come. Central Michigan football is back and it's starting the season off with an iconic match up. The Chippewas and the Michigan State Spartans will meet Friday for the 12th time in history. 

After having his first losing season with CMU last year, head coach Jim McElwain and his team have their eyes set on a new direction. Last season, fifth-year coach McElwain finished with an overall record of 4-8 and 3-5 in conference. 

The Chippewas will travel an hour south to East Lansing on Friday at 7 p.m. to play the Spartans for the first time since 2018. The last time these two teams met, the Spartans walked away with a 31-20 victory over the Chippewas. MSU leads the series 8-3.

Meet the opponent

The Spartans are coming off a 5-7 season and have lost some key starters as they head into 2023. However, MSU has dominated the series, defeating CMU in their last four meetings. 

The Spartans are led by Mel Tucker, who is entering his fourth season as the head coach. 

The team has 42 returning letterwinners from last season’s team, including 23 on defense, 18 on offense and one on special teams. MSU has 28 position players returning with starting experience, including 10 on offense and 18 on defense.

Fifth-year senior left guard J.D. Duplain has the most starting experience of any player on the Spartan roster. Duplain leads an offensive line that returns five players with starting experience. 

The Spartans are also returning their leading tackler from 2022. Redshirt junior linebacker Cal Haladay recorded 120 tackles, the most by a Spartan since Greg Jones in 2009. A second-team All-Big Ten selection, Haladay led the Big Ten with 10 tackles per game. 

The big question: Who will be the starting quarterback?

The Spartans and the Chippewas are rocking in the same boat as the 2023 season kicks off on Friday. Who will be the starting man on the field as the fluorescent lights shine overhead?

The Spartans starting quarterback from last year, Payton Thorne, started the last two seasons at MSU but transferred to Auburn last spring. That leaves the quarterback spot to either junior Noah Kim or redshirt freshman Katin Houser. Additionally, there's mention of true freshman Sam Leavitt, who is expected to be the third quarterback option for the Spartans. 

In terms of their experience, Kim took 38 snaps last season, while Houser had six. 

Kim completed a high percentage of his passes and threw for several touchdowns last season. His ability to efficiently move the ball through the air and also contribute with his legs adds versatility to the Spartan offense. 

Against Minnesota last season, he completed 6-of-7 passes for 70 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown. Against Ohio State, he went 6-of-10 for 82 yards and threw a 25-yards touchdown pass.

Furthermore, his ability to extend plays and gain yardage with his legs provides an additional dimension to create opportunities for the offense by extending plays and forcing the defense to adjust. 

Houser, on the other hand, caught the attention of the coaching staff with his strong-arm skills over the course of the past year. He only saw one appearance last year in week 2 against Akron. 

The Chippewas will also have a few decisions at the quarterback position for the upcoming season, after a three-man rotation was put in place halfway through last season. The Chippewas third man in the rotation, Daniel Richardson transferred to Florida Atlantic after last season. 

Jase Bauer, a sophomore, demonstrated his versatility by throwing for 435 yards and running for 312 yards in six appearances last season. His ability to contribute both through the air and on the ground makes him a potential candidate for leading the team's offense.

Bert Emmanuel Jr., on the other hand, took a different approach last season. While primarily known as a rushing threat, Emmanuel managed to rack up seven touchdowns and 496 yards on the ground, showcasing his effectiveness in the red zone and in short-yardage situations. 

Emmanuel also preserved his redshirt status by only throwing eight passes in his four games. The Texas native was named to the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award Watch List last week.  

Key to victory: Use defense to its advantage 

The Chippewas return to the 2023 season with a stacked defense, with 9 out of 11 returning starters from last year. 

The Chippewas' defense had a strong performance in various defensive categories last season, contributing to their high national ranking and success within the Mid-American Conference. Their ability to generate tackles for loss, prevent third-down conversions, excel in red zone situations and apply pressure through sacks played a significant role in their defensive success.

MSU was hit hard last season by the transfer portal, as they not only lost Thorne but also top pass catcher Keon Coleman to Florida State, and four-star talent Germie Bernard, who is now a Washington Husky.

The Spartans are in a rebuild of their offense; if the returning Chippewas defense comes back even stronger than it did last year, it can put a stop to an MSU offense that is trying to find its footing. 

Central Michigan (0-0) at Michigan State (0-0)

All-time series: Michigan State 8-3

Time: 7:00 p.m. ET

Date: Friday, Sept. 1, 2023

Stadium: Spartan Stadium

Location: East Lansing