It's been an off-season to forget for the Michigan State Spartans football team. As if finishing 3-9 a year ago wasn't enough for those in East Lansing, the program went through a litany of off-the-field situations regarding some key personnel, both players and coaches included.
It all came to a reported end earlier this month when three now-former MSU players were charged with criminal sexual conduct amongst other allegations. The removal of these players will have a serious trickle-down effect with regards to players having to step up in their departures. Add in the fact that the Spartans may have the most difficult schedule in FBS this season, coupled with having one of the least-experienced teams in the country, head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff may be in for another rough season.
We're going to go game by game and, via the always reliable ‘spitball' method, see how much better, or worse, MSU will do in 2017.
GAME 1 | SEPTEMBER 2 vs. BOWLING GREEN
Bowling Green went just 4-8 a season ago averaging nine wins per campaign over the previous four seasons. One could argue that given their recent success in the Mid-American conference. They also enter 2017 with a recruiting class that ranks 2nd in the MAC.
It'll be a battle between two teams desperately wanting to start the new year on the right foot. This should ultimately come down the MSU being more talented in terms of overall personnel on the field, players and coaches.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke will get the call to start for the Spartans and will deliver an error-free game.
PREDICTION: MSU, 30-10 / RECORD: 1-0
GAME 2 | SEPTEMBER 9 vs. WESTERN MICHIGAN
The P.J. Fleck era in Kalamazoo has come and gone, and so has a lot of the talent he recruited, developed and produced. He heads off for the Twin Cities and taking over as new head coach of the Broncos is former WMU quarterback Tim Lester.
Lester will inherit a still pretty decent Broncos team, namely in the running game on offense. Western should still boast a respectable defense too. They are also welcoming in the fourth-best recruiting class in the MAC.
Look for Michigan State to move to 2-0 in the season, but don't be terribly surprised if WMU makes it interesting against an in-state foe and smelling upset.
PREDICTION: MSU, 24-7 / RECORD: 2-0
GAME 3 | SEPTEMBER 23 vs. NOTRE DAME
With a bye in Week 3, Michigan State will have two weeks to prepare for the latest chapter in the rivalry against Notre Dame, who, like the Spartans, will be clambering for a bounce-back season.
The Irish will assuredly have some pressure to be a contender again, after Brian Kelly endured his first losing season a year ago. Now entering his eighth year, any more setbacks and his seat will get even hotter than it did in 2016.
As always, Notre Dame unloads and reloads in talent every year as good as any other program in the country. It could make for a fun showdown in East Lansing. Expect a close one.
PREDICTION: MSU, 20-17 / RECORD: 3-0
GAME 4 | SEPTEMBER 30 vs. IOWA
Enter Big Ten play for the Spartans and it's going to start getting tougher, as if the two previous games for a young, inexperienced bunch weren't tough enough.
In come the Iowa Hawkeyes to East Lansing to close out September. Like the majority of teams in the league, Iowa has some questions moving forward but they figure to be a contender in that logjam West Division.
This will be the first defeat for MSU, and it'll largely be due to an experience factor. Half (11) of Iowa's projected starters, offense and defense combined, are seniors. Expect a typical Big Ten slugfest between these two, but Iowa squeaks one out on the road.
PREDICTION: IOWA, 23-21 / RECORD: 3-1
GAME 5 | OCTOBER 7 at MICHIGAN
Like Michigan State, their rivals down in Ann Arbor are losing a boatload of talent and experience from a year ago, specifically on defense. But as Jim Harbaugh has done so well in his time there, Michigan is bringing in a superior recruiting class to fill the voids.
If you've read our game-by-game predictions for Michigan, you will notice that we could be on a collision course for a pair of 3-1 teams meeting up in Ann Arbor to begin the October slate. Harbaugh, however, will have two weeks to prepare and carries a bit more experience and talent (on paper) with him.
A rivalry game alone should make it relatively close, but Michigan will hand MSU its second straight defeat.
PREDICTION: MICH, 27-21 / RECORD: 3-2
GAME 6 | OCTOBER 14 at MINNESOTA
Dantonio and the Spartans will get their first crack at the aforementioned Fleck-led Golden Gophers, staying on the road.
Minnesota has been a largely solid, steady program in recent years, nine games over .500 since 2012. They've been a ground-and-pound type of program during that time too, so it will be interesting to see how much, if at all, Fleck alters that mantra in Minneapolis.
These are two teams dealing with a lot of roster turnover from a year ago. MSU has won four straight in the all-time series, but haven't played since 2013. Initial gut says Sparty can steal one here on the road before heading back home.
PREDICTION: 27-24 / RECORD: 4-2
GAME 7 | OCTOBER 21 vs. INDIANA
If all goes according to plan, after surpassing their win total from 2016 just seven weeks in, MSU will return to East Lansing for their annual Homecoming game, hosting Indiana.
The Hoosiers turned in consecutive .500 seasons, something they hadn't seen in Bloomington in more than 20 years. They appeared to be a trendy pick to make some noise in the Big Ten, albeit in a top-heavy East Division. But in a bit of a surprise, head coach Kevin Wilson resigned citing “philosophical differences” and was the center of some poor player treatment allegations.
Indiana last year walk-off MSU on a game-winning field goal, upsetting the then No. 17 Spartans. It was their first win in eight tries vs. Michigan State, and only the fourth in the last 20 head-to-head. Sparty will avenge last season's defeat in a big way.
PREDICTION: MSU, 33-14 / RECORD: 5-2
GAME 8 | OCTOBER 28 at NORTHWESTERN
Back on the road MSU goes, making the short drive out to metro Chicago for a date with Northwestern.
The Wildcats took a step back in 2016, going .500 and winning their bowl game after piling up 10 wins the year before. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald continues to make Northwestern a relevant and competitive program in the Big Ten, and definitely a player in that West Division.
Here's another instance where depth and experience take over and propel Northwestern to a win. All but three of their projected starters entering 2017 are upperclassmen (junior or senior). MSU will make it a game for 60 minutes, but the ‘Cats pull away late.
PREDICTION: NW, 27-17 / RECORD: 5-3
GAME 9 | NOVEMBER 4 vs. PENN STATE
Michigan State will return home from Evanston and play host to rival Penn State. Bit of a shame not having the Land Grant Trophy game as the season finale, but it is what it is.
The defending Big Ten champions return a large portion of their production and success from a season ago. Another full year of Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley should do the Nittany Lions wonders, and it won't be surprising to see them at or near the top of the East Division once more.
The Spartans will make it a game early on, but a more experienced and talented Penn State bunch will pull away in the later stages of the game.
PREDICTION: PSU, 33-20 / RECORD: 5-4
GAME 10 | NOVEMBER 11 at OHIO STATE
The Ohio State-Michigan State rivalry in recent history has been a fun one; as MSU has been one of very few — perhaps the only in the Big Ten — to consistently compete with OSU.
The Spartans have traded wins and losses each of the last six times out against the perennial title contender Buckeyes. Ohio State unloads and reloads talent as good if not better than anybody nationally, and they're waltzing into 2017 with another highly-touted class.
Sparty nearly pulled off a stunning upset a year ago in East Lansing. With the scene shifting to Columbus, it'd be hard to expect another close contest, let alone a win for MSU.
PREDICTION: OSU, 34-17 / RECORD: 5-5
GAME 11 | NOVEMBER 18 vs. MARYLAND
Now in the midst of a three-game losing skid, Michigan State will happily return home for ‘Senior Day' and the home finale of 2017 against Maryland.
The Terrapins fared adequate a year go finishing 6-7, considering D.J. Durkin was in his first year as head coach and claiming a program that needed a change across the board. It'll be interesting to see how they follow up this season, especially with a top-4 recruiting class in the conference, easily their highest-rated crop of recruits since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
Maryland picked up their first win vs. MSU as a member of the Big Ten last season. The Terps are flooded with experienced players across the board, could bode well for them in picking up a big road win. But a ‘Senior Day' matinee for a Spartans team that gradually improved throughout the year will snap the losing skid
PREDICTION: MSU, 23-20 / RECORD: 6-5
GAME 12 | NOVEMBER 25 at RUTGERS
Already by most accounts, the season will have been considered a commendable bounce-back type of year in East Lansing. Having earned a spot back in a bowl game the week before, momentum is back in favor of Michigan State.
Perhaps a road game against Rutgers will be the ideal remedy. The lowly Scarlet Knights have gradually regressed with each season in the Big Ten (8 wins in 2014, 4 wins in 2015, 2 wins in 2016. It'll be hard to project them improving much, if at all, particularly given the division they play in.
Look for MSU to come out virtually worry-free. Dantonio and the Spartans cap off a rather remarkable 2017 season and ultimately put 2016 six feet under, for good.
PREDICTION: MSU, 31-13 / RECORD: 7-5