Michigan State is going to enter the 2017 college football season already in a steep, uphill battle. With the tumultuous off-season of players transferring and being dismissed coupled with a largely young and inexperienced roster in the fold, things are already going to be difficult for the Spartans and head coach Mark Dantonio.
The off-the-field stories have dominated the headlines surrounding the team this off-season. So much so, very few ‘experts' have delved into what the Spartans have to deal with on the field in 2017.
However, one writer is suggesting that not only does MSU have a difficult schedule, but it could be the toughest in all of college football.
Tom Fornelli of CBSSports recently put together a list of five teams with the most difficult schedules this upcoming season. And he lists the Spartans among having the toughest, and here is why:
If Michigan State rebounds from an awful 3-9 record last year to compete in the Big Ten East this year, it will have earned it. The nonconference isn't murderous, but it's not simple, either. Bowling Green should be a win, and Western Michigan won't be easy, but there's some question as to how good the Broncos will be following so many key losses. Then there's Notre Dame, which went 4-8 last season, but Notre Dame was a better team than its record reflected. Still, what does it for Michigan State is its Big Ten schedule. The Spartans not only have to play Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State this season, but only Penn State will be coming to East Lansing. Also, five of Michigan State's Big Ten games will be on the road this season (it's the East's turn), and its cross-divisional draw avoids the West's heavyweights, but it still provides challenges in Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern.
With the Big Ten now playing nine conference games, it leaves less room for “softness” in the non-conference portion of the schedule that most teams are so accustomed to having.
Collectively, MSU has a very tricky non-league slate. On paper, their season opener against Bowling Green (09/02) is probably the weakest. The Falcons finished just 4-8 last season, but this is a program that won 8+ games in four straight years prior.
It'll be interesting to see how Western Michigan (09/09) fares post-P.J. Fleck and the talent he recruited and developed. And the Spartans continue their storied rivalry with Notre Dame (09/23), after beating the Irish in South Bend last season.
The good news is that all three of these games against the teams named above are at home to start the season.
However, MSU does have their work cut out for them in Big Ten action. Obviously being in a top-heavy division, Spartan fans circle the games against Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State. Two of those games — vs. Michigan (10/07) and Ohio State (11/11), respectively — are on the road this year. But this trio went a combined 32-8 last season; 23-4 in league play.
With nine league games, that means three crossover games against the Big Ten West Division. In addition, all the teams in the East Division play more road conference games (5) than home games (4).
Michigan State avoids playing two of the better annual West contenders in Nebraska and last year's division champion Wisconsin, but they still have to play three always-tough, competitive teams in Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern. Two of the three — Minnesota (10/14) and Northwestern (10/28) — are on the road and in a span of two weeks.
This particular trio went 24-15 a year ago, all making bowl games. They've won seven of 11 overall against Northwestern, and four straight head-to-head vs. the Golden Gophers, but road games as any sports fan knows are never easy, especially in college football. Iowa has been a team that's given MSU fits over the years, the Spartans are just 6-7 this century vs. the Hawkeyes.
You can view Michigan State's 2017 schedule in its entirety here. What do we think? Does Mr. Fornelli have a case?