The Michigan State Spartans open their 2021 regular season on the road against the Northwestern Wildcats in a Big Ten showdown. Michigan State was 2-5 in 2020 and is not expected to be any better than a .500 team in 2021. The starting quarterback for Michigan State will be either transfer Anthony Russo or sophomore Payton Thorne. While with Temple, Russo passed for 44 touchdowns but was intercepted 32 times.
Whichever of the two quarterbacks end up starting, wide receivers Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed will be the top targets over the middle and down the field. Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker gives Michigan State an excellent running game. Last season Walker rushed for 579 yards and 13 touchdowns with the Demon Deacons The Spartans defense which is a 4-2-5 gave Northwestern difficulty last season and will be led by defensive end Jacub Panasiuk and transfer linebacker Quavaris Crouch.
Northwestern finished the 2020 season first in the Big 10 West at 7-2 overall and 6-1 in conference play. Northwestern is one of the nation's youngest teams. A pair of quarterbacks Hunter Johnson and Ryan Hilinski are vying for the starting position for the Wildcats. Hilinski played as a freshman for South Carolina, passing for 11 touchdowns in five games. Transfer wide receiver Stephon Robinson is a big pickup for Northwestern after their top four receivers moved on. Cam Porter is the top running back returning for the Wildcats.
Northwestern's defense led the nation last season in passing efficiency, but only five of the 11 starters from the defense are back. Chris Bergin will be the leader of the linebackers and will play alongside middle linebacker Joe Spivak. The secondary lost several players but has plenty of talent returning with Brandon Joseph at safety and AJ Hampton at cornerback anchoring the defensive backfield.