Michigan State vs. Northwestern: Live stream, start time, how to watch college football on TV, without cable. The Michigan State football team will play at Northwestern for its Big Ten Conference and season opener on Friday, Sept. 3. The game is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET.
The Spartans finished seventh in the Big Ten East division last year, going 2-5 overall and 1-4 in the division. The Wildcats won the Big Ten West in 2020, going 7-0 overall, 6-1 in Big Ten play and 5-0 in divisional play.
How to watch Michigan State vs. Northwestern football
Game time: 9:15 p.m. ET, Friday, Sept. 3
Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker talks to defensive end Jack Camper (91) during an NCAA college football game against Penn State in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Penn State defeated Michigan State 39-24.
Hunter Johnson watched from the sideline as Northwestern won seven of nine games last season, including a Citrus Bowl triumph.
Johnson won the starting quarterback job for the Wildcats, who open the season at home against Big Ten opponent Michigan State on Friday night.
Johnson started five games two seasons ago but didn’t throw a pass last season as Peyton Ramsey led the team to its fourth bowl victory in five seasons.
With Ramsey gone, Johnson won a training camp battle with Ryan Hilinski for the starting job.
“I was just trying to make sure I was doing everything I can to help the team,” he said. “There’s ups and downs. That’s life. That’s football. I’ve been just trying to keep plugging along and be ready for when my number is called.”
Johnson completed just 46.3 percent of his passes with one touchdown while appearing in six games two seasons ago. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald believes Johnson is much more prepared to be a starter in his senior campaign.
“He’s just grown since he’s gotten here,” Fitzgerald said. “He was probably thrust into having to start a little bit too early in the past. I think he’s really grown from that experience. I think his confidence level is very high.”
The receiving corps has been bolstered by Kansas transfer Stephon Robinson. Evan Hull and Bowling Green transfer Andrew Clair are among the options at running back.
Northwestern will be looking to avenge one of its two losses last season. The Spartans defeated the Wildcats 29-20 after Northwestern won its first five games.
“Nothing better than Friday night football,” Fitzgerald said. “Takes you back to your high school roots.”
The Spartans had a spirited camp battle for their starting quarterback job. Temple transfer Anthony Russo and Payton Thorne, who appeared in four games as a redshirt freshman last season, could both see action on Friday.
They’ll have some inviting targets, including wideouts Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed, who combined for 59 receptions, 922 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Michigan State finished 2-5 and had two games canceled.
Mel Tucker is looking forward to a less tumultuous season in his second year as the Spartans’ head coach.
“The last scrimmage we had, I felt like we got better as a football team, and we’re just really gaining ground and working to improve,” he said.
The Michigan State Spartans and Northwestern Wildcats meet up in Week 1 at Ryan Field in Evanston. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. ET and the game will air on ESPN. Northwestern will see plenty of new faces on the field, while Michigan State continues to develop under their new head coach.
The Wildcats will need to replace as much production as just about any team in college football after reaching the Big Ten title game for the second time in three seasons in 2020. Pat Fitzgerald is a fantastic head coach and while another conference championship appearance is unlikely, another return to a bowl game is expected. Michigan State will enter Year 2 under head coach Mel Tucker. He was a late addition to the coaching carousel last offseason, and this team should be improved with a much more normal practice schedule to develop the roster.
It's hard to put a finger on it, but there's something about a football game between Big Ten opponents Northwestern and Michigan State that just feels right whenever they meet, and that's what we'll get Saturday. The Wildcats and Spartans are two Big Ten programs that mirror each other in plenty of ways. Specifically, they've spent most of the last decade punching above their weight class.
Both programs have made a habit of exceeding expectations. Northwestern surprised everybody by winning the Big Ten West last season and gave Ohio State a scare in the Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan State spent years being a thorn in the side of the Big Ten East despite lower expectations. The Spartans even reached the College Football Playoff in 2015.
Now both teams enter a new season being glanced over by most yet again. Northwestern's win total for the year sits at 6.5, while Michigan State is only at 4.5, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Friday night in Evanston will give both teams yet another chance to prove their doubters wrong.
Northwestern vs. Michigan State: Need to know
Hunter Johnson is Northwestern's QB1: You may remember Johnson as a former five-star recruit who originally committed to Clemson but found himself stuck behind some guy named Trevor Lawrence on the depth chart. Johnson transferred to Northwestern and saw some action in 2019, but he wasn't great. He completed only 46.3% of his passes and had four interceptions to only one touchdown pass. The Wildcats believe he's improved after winning the job over South Carolina transfer Ryan Hilinski -- a highly-rated four-star QB himself.
The Wildcats are dealing with injuries: Every team works around injuries, but Northwestern was dealt a couple of significant blows a few weeks ago. The Wildcats lost starting running back Cam Porter (333 yards rushing, five TD in 2020) and offensive lineman Zachary Franks for the season. The Wildcats already had to replace a lot of players on both sides of the ball, so losing the team's top returning rusher an experienced offensive lineman is a big blow.
Mel Tucker finally had an offseason: It's easy to forget the timeline in which Mel Tucker took over Michigan State. Mark Dantonio caught people by surprise when he announced in February 2020 that he was retiring and Tucker was brought to East Lansing a little more than a week later. Tucker, who had just finished his first season at Colorado, was in the process of getting to know his new team when COVID-19 shut down the country. This has been Tucker's first chance to get an actual offseason with this Michigan State team.
Michigan State's starting QB is a mystery: Though Tucker completed his first full offseason, it wasn't enough to determine Michigan State's starting QB -- at least not publicly. Friday night will be our first glimpse into the results of the battle between incumbent Payton Thorne and Temple transfer Anthony Russo. Thorne appeared in four games for the Spartans last season, throwing for 582 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Russo has much more experience; he appeared in 31 games (26 starts) for the Owls over the last three seasons, throwing for 6,292 yards, 44 touchdowns and 32 interceptions.