August 28, 2014 at 8:05 pm

MSU vs. Jacksonville State preview: Spartans must be wary of FCS title contender

Coach Mark Dantonio and Michigan State are coming off a huge season and are one week away from a huge showdown at Oregon, but must be aware of the task at hand in Jacksonville State. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)

Jacksonville State: Players to watch

DaMarcus James, RB: The preseason All-American is on the Walter Payton Award (FCS top player) watch list after rushing for a school-record 1,477 yards last season. He scored 29 TDs (Ohio Valley Conference record) and scored a TD in 12 straight games.

Eli Jenkins, QB: The 6-foot-3 dual threat was a freshman All-American last season, throwing for 887 yards and running for 953 and eight TDs. He started eight games and played in all 14, rushing for 100 yards or better five times. There’s a chance he will split time with former Minnesota QB Max Shortell.

Chris Landrum, DE: The Auburn transfer is a preseason All-Ohio Valley selection after recording four sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss last season. He played in 12 of 15 games last season and notched 38 tackles, including multiple tackles in 11 games.

Intangibles

New look: The Gamecocks have a new coach and a new defensive coordinator. While the offense should be similar — first-year coach John Grass was the offensive coordinator last season — the defense could be different. The Spartans will be challenged if the Gamecocks break their tendencies

Looking ahead: Michigan Sate has all said the right things leading up to Friday night’s game, but it’s hard to ignore the fact Week 2 presents a huge trip to Oregon. The Spartans insist the focus is on Friday, and it better be, considering the Gamecocks are FCS national title contenders.

Rosy hangover: The preparation for this season began on the trip home from Pasadena, California, and the offseason mantra hammered home by Mark Dantonio was to “handle success.” Tonight’s matchup will be a true test to see if that has sunk in.

Getting defensive: The Spartans have heard about the six starters lost from last year’s defense. Most expect a dropoff, but this year’s crew is convinced they will be just as good, if not better, than the unit that finished second in the nation in total defense.

Second chance: The Gamecocks have a roster dotted with players who once played for powerhouses like Alabama, Auburn and Florida State. No doubt, the former FBS-level players will be out to prove they can play with the Spartans.

Facts and figures

* Jacksonville State is the fifth FCS opponent Michigan State has played, all five coming during the Mark Dantonio era. The Spartans have outscored their FCS opponents 172-33.

* In its 117-year history, Michigan State is 96-21 in home openers and has won 15 straight dating to a 23-16 loss to Colorado State in 1998. Mark Dantonio is 7-0 in home openers.

* Friday night’s game is the 15th night game in the 91-year history of Spartan Stadium. Michigan State is 9-5 in prime-time games, including four victories over ranked opponents.

* Michigan State’s preseason ranking of No. 8 is the highest in the AP poll since a No. 3 ranking in 1967. The Spartans are also No. 8 in the coaches poll, their highest rankings since the poll began in 1991.

* Jacksonville State is 5-16 overall against FBS opponents, including a victory last season over Georgia State.