After hosting Nevada for their second game of the 2016 season, the Fighting Irish will remain at home to host one of their biggest rivals, the Michigan State Spartans under the lights. The Spartans and Fighting Irish have played many memorable games against each other during the history of the series, a series in which the Irish hold a 48-28-1 lead. Under Brian Kelly, the Irish are 3-1 against Sparty, with that lone loss coming on a fake field goal in 2010, Kelly's first year as Irish head coach.
The Spartans are coming off one of their best seasons in recent memory. They were the only team to defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes last year, as they traveled to Columbus and knocked them off 17-13. They also came out victorious from their match-up with Oregon, steamrolled Penn State, and beat their bitter rival, Michigan, on one of the strangest walk off wins in the history of college sports. They also edged out Iowa to win the Big Ten Conference Championship and made the College Football Playoff. Overall, it was a fantastic year for the Spartans. Unfortunately, despite all the great accomplishments Michigan State achieved in 2015, they ran out of magic in the Cotton Bowl, where they were blown out by the eventual National Champion, Alabama, 38-0.
Michigan State 2015 Results
@ Western Michigan Broncos
Vs. Oregon Ducks
Vs. Air Force Falcons
Vs. Central Michigan Chippewas
Vs. Purdue Boilermakers
@ Rutgers Scarlet Knights
@ Michigan Wolverines
Vs. Indiana Hoosiers
@ Nebraska Cornhuskers
Vs. Maryland Terrapins
@ Ohio State Buckeyes
Vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
Vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (Big Ten Championship)
Vs. Alabama Crimson Tide (Cotton Bowl)
As you can see, the Spartans' formula for success was a little different in 2015 than it's been in recent years. Their defense wasn't quite as good as they have been in the past decade, so they relied on their offense and star quarterback Connor Cook against the bulk of their schedule. Cook finished the season with 24 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Unfortunately for Michigan State, Cook has since moved on to the NFL, where he was drafted by the Oakland Raiders. Another quarterback on the roster who saw playing time last season is Tyler O'Connor. O'Conner filled in for Cook when Cook was battling injury and in his limited playing time, O'Connor threw two touchdown passes and one interception.
While the Spartan defense wasn't dominant last season, they still had a young standout player who burst on to the scene and established himself as a star. Defensive lineman Malik McDowell had a big sophomore season in 2015, where he racked up 41 tackles (13 for loss), 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. The former five-star recruit has already emerged as a potential top 10 pick in the next NFL Draft and is poised for a monster season in 2016.
Prediction: Notre Dame 30 Michigan State 17
The Spartans will be the best team the Irish will play up to this point in the season, however, Texas and Nevada are both FBS squads that will keep the Irish on their toes. While the Irish will play those two teams in their first two weeks of the season, Michigan State will host an FCS foe in Furman and will follow with a bye week. The Irish will not only have the advantage of playing in front of their fans, in what should be a rocking environment, they will also have the advantage of being battle-tested by playing two FBS teams with some talent as opposed to playing a warm up game against an FCS team and having a bye week. Notre Dame has the better offense from top to bottom and while their defense may be a question mark right now, I believe they'll be good enough to hold what should be an average Michigan State offense looking to replace one of the best quarterbacks in program history in check. Malik McDowell is an elite player who will make his fair share of plays on defense, however, Notre Dame has a very good offensive line and should keep him from getting into the backfield too often. Brian Kelly has had plenty of success against Michigan State during his tenure at Notre Dame, winning 3 out of 4 match-ups with the Spartans, and it took a fake field goal for Sparty to actually beat the Irish. A few seasons ago, Notre Dame was Michigan State's lone loss and kept the Spartans from playing for a national championship. Time will tell how good the Spartans will be with the loss of Connor Cook, but if they can't get good quarterback play this season, Michigan State might come back down to earth a little. I expect the Irish to chalk up another win against the Spartans.
Every summer, Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame football program host an on-campus football camp called the Irish Invasion. During the camp, high school prospects, both committed to Notre Dame and uncommitted, work out and compete against one another in hopes of impressing the Irish coaches. It's also a major recruiting weekend for the football program every year, as it gives recruits a great opportunity to visit the school and meet the coaches, Irish recruits and potential future teammates if they attend Notre Dame. While previous Irish Invasions have resulted in great success, perhaps none were more successful than this year's which took place a week ago.
The Irish Invasion weekend got off to a bang on June 17th when three-star defensive end Jonathon MacCollister from Orlando, Florida committed to the Irish. MacCollister should be a candidate for a fourth star before Signing Day, as his offer list doesn't match his current star ranking. He has offers from Michigan State, Auburn, Clemson, Ohio State, North Carolina, and Tennessee. He is a member of the 2017 class.
The good news continued the very next day, as fellow Floridian Jordan Pouncey announced his decision to commit to Notre Dame. Pouncey is a three-star wide receiver from Winter Park, a member of the 2017 class, and is also the cousin of Maurkice and Mike Pouncey. He has offers from Alabama, LSU, Florida, Michigan State, Georgia, and Virginia Tech. Like, MacCollister, I wouldn't be surprised if Pouncey received a rankings boost because his offer list also does not match what you'd expect a three-star recruit's to look like.
On the 19th, one of the best running back recruits in the 2018 class decided he would join in the fun and declare he would be playing his college football in South Bend. Markese Stepp, a four-star recruit, became the second commit in Notre Dame's 2018 class, joining five-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec. Stepp is from Cathedral High School in Indiana and has offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Tennessee.
Last, but certainly not least, the Irish added another great piece to their 2017 recruiting class as four-star, blue chip defensive back Paulson Adebo committed to the Fighting Irish. Adebo hails from Mansfield, Texas and has offers from Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, LSU, and Oregon.
As you can see, the Irish Invasion weekend was a great success for the Notre Dame football program. Not only did they add four great prospects to their 2017 and 2018 classes, they also put themselves in great position for multiple other highly regarded recruits. Notre Dame has risen back to relevance under Brian Kelly thanks to successful recruiting in talent-rich states such as Florida and Texas. Adebo, MacCollister, and Pouncey make up a very solid group of recruits from those states and should be playmakers for the Blue and Gold. Stepp, like Sheldon Day and Jaylon Smith, should become another local high school star that will become a star at Notre Dame. I wouldn't be surprised to see more players commit to the Irish in the near future.
Notre Dame added another solid piece to their impressive 2017 recruiting class on Friday night, as 3-star defensive end Jonathon MacCollister announced his commitment to the Fighting Irish.
MacCollister is a former high school teammate of incoming Irish freshman Parker Boudreaux and should be another talented player who will sign with the Irish in February. He should see his rating rise before Signing Day, as his current 3-star rating does not match the quality of his offer list. MacCollister has received scholarship offers from Auburn, Clemson, Michigan State, Ohio State, UCLA, Virginia Tech, and obviously, Notre Dame.
MacCollister's commitment came right before the Notre Dame football program began their annual recruiting camp, the Irish Invasion. MacCollister, along with other current Irish commits and highly ranked uncommitted recruits, will be participating in the camp. The Irish hope there will be more good news to come on the recruiting trail following the Irish Invasion.