After a long and busy Spring and Summer, filled with the opening of a newly-renovated end zone project for Spartan Stadium and player locker rooms, Michigan State is finally ready to open their season with a bang.
On Friday night, underneath the shining stadium lights in East Lansing, Jacksonville State will put the top-ranked Spartans to their first test. And though this may not be a battle on the likes of facing a No. 3 Oregon or No. 5 Ohio State team, the Gamecocks have proven more than once that they are capable of some big surprises.
First off, there was their overtime victory against Georgia State last season that stunned much of the country, and not long before that, back in 2010, Jacksonville State knocked off Ole Miss in overtime, as well. Clearly, the Gamecocks are capable of pulling off an upset in certain circumstances.
The biggest challenge for Michigan State will likely be whether or not they can focus on the season-opener against Jacksonville State, or rather, be unable to pull their focus from the season-making match up against No. 3-ranked Oregon the following weekend. A win against Oregon could prove monumental in helping the Spartans appear in the first-ever college football playoffs later this year, but an early loss to the Gamecocks could be equally-devastating.
One factor in the Spartans' success during both week one and week two challenges will be defensive tackle Lawrence Thomas, who has been compared a number of times to former Michigan State defensive superstar Jerel Worthy on a number of occasions. In fact, Thomas' own defensive coordinator in Pat Narduzzi was one of the first to make the comparison when he appeared on the Big Ten Network last week.
Perhaps one of the young defensive tackle's biggest fans is the always defenisve-minded head coach, Mark Dantonio, who praised the athlete when speaking on the Mark Dantonio Radio Show during Wednesday night.
"Lawrence Thomas has had a great fall camp and a good spring,” Dantonio said. “He reminds me of Jerel Worthy, to be quite honest with you, in terms of how he’s playing. He’s been very very solid.”
Thomas is currently slated to start at nose tackle for Friday night's season-opener. After two seasons of injuries and setbacks, things are finally looking good for the talented young defensive player.
Kickoff will be Friday night at 7:30 PM EDT.
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.