The Big Ten’s Legends Division could very well end up being a four-team battle royale between Nebraska (my pick), Michigan, Northwestern (I’m not so high on the Wildcats) and the Michigan State Spartans. The four will square off in key games in November and Michigan State gets perhaps the toughest draw of the four in November with three straight games at home against Michigan and on the road at Nebraska and Northwestern with a bye week to prep for the Huskers. As long as Michigan State can do what they generally do and get off to a solid start to the season then the Spartans could very well be in position to think about making a return trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game in early December (The Spartans played in the first Big Ten Championship Game in 2011).
Once again I helped out with the Athlon Sports season prediction for a Big Ten team, this time providing my take on the Michigan State Spartans. I have the Spartans coming up shy of a division championship but still winning nine games by the end of the season. That sounds like a lot to ask from a team that was so anemic on offense last season and is in a position to have to replace a 1,793-yard rusher in Le’Veon Bell. Michigan State’s offense was abysmal last season but I lean on the idea that we saw the worst of this offense. The Spartans return quarterback Andrew Maxwell and a crop of receivers that will hopefully have a better year actually holding on to the football. Maxwell will play behind a solid offensive line and the Michigan State defense should be solid once again with linebacker Max Bullough leading the way. If the Spartans can find a way to win battles on the outside edges, then Michigan State’s defense should put the offense in position to win some games.
So, about that schedule.
The Spartans have a knack for getting off to a good start. A 3-0 record heading in to a very winnable road game at Notre Dame should be expected, although I am curious if South Florida finds a way to give Michigan State a scare in East Lansing in week two. Michigan State and Notre Dame have played some crazy games over the years and this year could continue that trend. Notre Dame shut down the Spartans last season, holding Michigan State to just 237 yards of offense and 50 rushing yards. Notre Dame won that game 20-3, and this year could be another defensive-focused game, but despite not having Bell lining up in the backfield I would be stunned if Michigan State manages just 50 yards on the ground. Can Michigan State win in South Bend? Absolutely, but for now I am going on record with a win for the Irish until we see what either team’s offense looks like early on.
Michigan State gets a nice Big Ten schedule in October. A road game at Iowa could be tricky but I’ll give the Spartans the victory for now. Indiana and Purdue could actually be troublesome but Michigan State gets the victories at home. I imagine Illinois has to be improved this season, but I’ll still give Michigan State the edge heading in to the season. That gives Michigan State a nice 7-1 record heading in to a difficult November. I’ll play off the momentum angle and give Michigan State a home victory over in-state rival Michigan but for now I’m giving the edge to Nebraska and Northwestern as the Spartans go on the road. That leads to Michigan State falling out of the Big Ten Leaders race but the Spartans end the regular season on a high note at home against Minnesota, allowing a chance to put together a 10-win season in a bowl game.
I just do not think Michigan State can be as poor on offense as they were last year. Not with the coaching staff and talent in place. Does that make them a Rose Bowl contender? Maybe, but I’m not quite that optimistic at this point. The Spartans will be good, and with a favorable Big Ten schedule in October they should be in good position entering November to make a run.
Check out how my picks compared to members of the Athlon Sports team as well as Big Ten Network blogger Brent Yarina. How many wins are you predicting for Michigan State in 2013?