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Spartans to open season against Youngstown State

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)

William Gholston and the Michigan State Spartans have had eight months to stew over their ugly finish to last season.

Michigan State won 11 games and tied for the Big Ten title, but in the Capital One Bowl, the Spartans were overmatched in a 49-7 loss to Alabama. The 17th-ranked Spartans will have a chance put that bad memory behind them when they open this season Friday night against Youngstown State.

''We've used that loss to make ourselves better,'' said Gholston, a defensive lineman. ''It was a real eye opener about reaching elite status. We know what we have to do to get there. We also know what we've done. Now, it's time for us to show that.''

Michigan State has several key holdovers from last season. Senior Kirk Cousins is back at quarterback, and Edwin Baker also returns after rushing for 1,201 yards as a sophomore. The Spartans will be heavily favored against a Youngstown State team that plays in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Although there are surely bigger games to come, Michigan State is hoping for a nice crowd in a rare Friday night contest that should be over before Labor Day weekend begins in earnest.

''Makes it a little bit more like high school, so that will be more fun,'' Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. ''I think it's an advantage to our people in Michigan that we moved this game on Friday so that they can have a Labor Day weekend - while we continue to labor.''

Dantonio's father died last weekend, and he's taken some time away from the team to be with family, but he's expected to coach the game. He'll be up against a familiar opponent. Dantonio was a defensive assistant at Youngstown State under Jim Tressel from 1986-90.

''This is a little bit of a homecoming, I guess, even though they're coming up here,'' Dantonio said. ''I spent a lot of time there and a lot of things were built there in the time that I was there and then a lot of things came later with Coach Tressel. It'll be exciting. I know a lot of people that are still there administratively.''

Although several big names are still with the team, Michigan State has some issues it needs to resolve while trying to build on last year's success. The Spartans are replacing three starters on the offensive line and standout linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon from last season's team.

''We are not the weak link,'' offensive lineman Joel Foreman said. ''I don't think there is a weak link on this team. We've come out with a purpose and set goals for ourselves. We're a very prideful unit. We want to do our best, and we're very, very confident we'll do that.''

The defense may be anchored by the defensive line, which includes NFL prospect Jerel Worthy at tackle.

Dantonio said he'd like backup quarterback Andrew Maxwell to be able to play this week so he'll be ready if needed later in the season.

''I think Andrew needs to get some reps in the football game,'' Dantonio said. ''Kirk Cousins is obviously our starting quarterback, but these are the times that we're not going to wait until the middle of the season and say, `Let's put him in and see how he does.'''

Youngstown State went 3-8 last year but returns quarterback Kurt Hess, who started all 11 games as a redshirt freshman and threw for 2,117 yards. The Penguins had the lead at some point in every game last year, including a 7-3 advantage after one quarter of their opener at Penn State. They ended up losing 44-14, and coach Eric Wolford is being cautious about setting too many specific goals for this week.

''There's a fine line there. You can build this game up to be something big, and there's a pitfall there if you don't play well,'' he said. ''Last year, what I talked to our players about was, `Just go out and execute the game plan. Play like you're capable of.' Last year, all the talk was, `Can you score a touchdown against a BCS team?' That was the big talk, and we scored one.''

Tagged: Michigan, Michigan State, Kirk Cousins

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