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Michigan State Spartans football team looks to improve to 6-0

Michigan State’s Chester Kimbrough, left, intercepts a Nebraska pass intended for Nebraska’s Samori Toure during overtime on Saturday in East Lansing. (AP photo)

By TOM CANAVAN

AP Sports Writer

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — While Rutgers may have the same players who knocked off Michigan State in the season opener a year ago, these No. 11 Spartans are vastly different.

Coach Mel Tucker has infused his lineup for Saturday’s game at SHI Stadium with 20 transfers, including five starters. Payton Thorne also has taken over as the starting quarterback.

The changes have Michigan State (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) off to its best start since 2015, when they won their first eight games and made the College Football Playoff. It’s a big change from last season’s 2-5 record during the pandemic.

Rutgers, which went 3-6 last season in Greg Schiano’s return, is in the meat of its schedule. The Scarlet Knights (3-2, 0-2) are riding a two-game losing streak after losses to No. 9 Michigan and No. 7 Ohio State.

“You’ve also got to remember, now, that game — we all practiced during school,”

Schiano said of last year’s game against the Spartans. “That’s a whole different look, as I’ve said before. I think different programs were affected differently. Now, this is real.”

The key to the Rutgers win last year was forcing seven turnovers and converting those into 21 points. MSU has three turnovers in five games this season.

The Spartans have gotten big contributions from the transfers.

Running back Kenneth Walker, who came from Wake Forest, has rushed for 680 yards to lead all Football Bowl Subdivision players. Left tackle Jarrett Horst is starting after transferring from Arkansas State, while the defense has three transfer starters from the SEC — linebacker Quavaris Crouch (Tennessee) and cornerbacks Chester Kimbrough (Florida) and Ronald Williams (Alabama).

“Coach Tucker always talks about something special happening here in East Lansing,” linebacker Michael Dowell said. “We’ve known that throughout the whole summer and even throughout the whole spring. I think now, East Lansing and the rest of the country is kind of seeing that.”

BIG-PLAY JAY

Michigan State’s Jayden Reed leads all major college football players with 176.6 all-purpose yards per game. He ranks second with 23.2 yards per catch, eighth in kickoff returns, and is also among the nation’s leaders with eight touchdowns, five catches for scores, and 92.6 yards receiving per game.

The past two weeks Reed has scored on punt returns to help the Spartans rally to beat Nebraska in overtime and to start strong against Western Kentucky.