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Bacon: As college football begins, Michigan and MSU hoping for big improvements

MSU and U of M football stadiums
Flickr user Ken Lund
The Michigan State Spartans kick off their season Friday at home against Tulsa. The Michigan Wolverines host Middle Tennessee State Saturday night.

College football is back. With Michigan State and Michigan about to begin their seasons, Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou for a preview. 

Friday night in East Lansing, Michigan State will host the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Saturday night in Ann Arbor, Michigan welcomes the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders to the Big House.

"Immense" pressure in Ann Arbor

The Wolverines had a 10-win season last year, but it ended on a double down note with a blowout loss to Ohio State followed by another blowout loss to Florida in the Peach Bowl. 

That was Jim Harbaugh's third straight loss in bowl games. Heading into his fifth season at Michigan, Harbaugh's squads still have yet to beat Ohio State or win a Big Ten title. Bacon says there's a lot of pressure, but that's not a big change.

"The pressure these guys feel on themselves is greater than whatever the world can put on them, including Jim Harbaugh himself," Bacon said.

Sarah Harbaugh, Jim's wife, told Bacon that the reminders from fans are constant. After a plumber finished working on the family's pool, he shared a parting thought.

"He said on the way out the door, 'Oh yeah, and tell your husband to beat Ohio State.'"

In the 2019 Associated Press preseason poll, Michigan was ranked No. 7. With starting quarterback Shea Patterson returning after a strong season and new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis bringing a fresh approach, Bacon says the high hopes are justified. 

Spartans need to score

The Spartans also staggered at the end of last season and finished with a record of 7-6. The Spartans lost three of their last four games, including a 7-6 loss to Oregon in the Red Box Bowl. 

After scoring a total of 32 points in those final four games, Bacon sees clear priorities for the green and white in 2019. 

"Offense, offense, and offense," he said, noting that 2018 was one of the worst seasons for a Michigan State offense during head coach Mark Dantonio's 12-year tenure. 

Michigan State also has a new offensive coordinator this year. Assistant coach Brad Salem was promoted to the job after last season.

The Spartans were 18th in the AP preseason poll. Bacon expects MSU to bounce back and land in a better bowl game this time around. 

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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