The Michigan State University football team had one of the odder seasons in memory in 2012.
The Spartans, which finished 7-6, 3-5 in Big Ten play, were 13 points from going 11-1 (five losses by four points or less) and seven points from finishing 3-9 (three wins by a combined 11 points, including a second-half rally at, of all places, Indiana).
So how do things shape up for MSU in 2013?
The defense should be strong again (MSU’s D finished in the top five of several statistical categories last season), but what of the offense?
Senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell returns for his second season as the starter. Starting senior quarterbacks has led to much recent success for the MSU program. The last two seasons in which MSU started a senior quarterback (2008, 2011), the Spartans finished 9-4 and 11-3, respectively.
The offensive line looks to be healthier than last year, but It really comes down to the wide receivers — a group that couldn’t catch a cold last season. If the receivers, a young group, can make a few plays each game, the Spartans have a shot to outperform expectations put forth at Big Ten Media Days (writers picked MSU to finish fourth in the Leaders Division). If not? It’s another trip to the Toys R Us Geoffrey Bowl (you decide if I made that up or not).
Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of MSU’s 2013 schedule.
- 8/30 vs Western Michigan – The Broncos, which finished 4-8 in 2012, will travel to East Lansing and play a quarterback making his 10th start and first against the defensive unit the caliber of the Spartans’.
- 9/7 vs South Florida – MSU welcomes in the Bulls, which will be working in a new starting quarterback and running back. Even with seniors in those spots last season, South Florida finished 3-9 in a bad Big East.
- 9/14 vs Youngstown State – The Spartans knocked off the Penguins 28-6 in the 2011 opener. This should be a similar affair.
- 9/21 at Notre Dame – This should be MSU’s first real test of the season. A win here, and the Spartans should be 8-0 when Michigan comes calling Nov. 2. That’s not to say MSU is a great team. That prediction comes in large part because of the schedule. The Irish had four defensive starters drafted from a unit that shut down the Spartans in 2012 in a 20-3 Notre Dame win. Notre Dame senior QB Tommy Rees will likely start for the Irish in place of suspended sophomore Everett Golson after throwing only 59 passes last season. Rees has started 17 games for Notre Dame over the course of his career.
- 10/5 at Iowa – MSU is 1-4 in its last five trips to Kinnick Stadium. The Spartans allowed 38.25 points per game in those four losses. MSU won its last game at Iowa – a 37-21 triumph in the 2011 season.
- 10/12 vs Indiana – Indiana’s football program has been bad for the better part of the last decade. But MSU needed a furious comeback to upend the Hoosiers in 2012 (The Spartans outscored Indiana 17-0 in the second half of an Oct. 6 matchup to down the Hoosiers 31-27). MSU in five previous matchups with Indiana averaged 43.2 points per game, going 4-1 over that stretch.
- 10/19 vs Purdue – The Boilermakers have lost four straight to MSU and this match up comes in a stretch from mid-September to early November where Purdue will face Notre Dame, Wisconsin, MSU, Nebraska and Ohio State. Also in that run is a matchup against Northern Illinois — a BCS team last season with a Heisman candidate (Jordan Lynch) at quarterback.
- 10/26 at Illinois – There were 124 Division I NCAA football teams in 2012. Illinois scored more points per game last season than two of them. The Illini also allowed 32.1 points per game and were near the bottom in rushing and passing yards. This marks the first time MSU has faced Illinois since 2010, when the Spartans bested the Illini 26-6.
- 11/2 vs Michigan – MSU is a blown coverage away from being 5-0 in its last five meetings against the Wolverines. A win last year (Michigan won 12-10 and didn’t cross the goal line once) would have given the Spartans their longest win streak against Michigan in 105 meetings. I’d give the edge to the Spartans now because of their senior quarterback, home crowd and defense. Michigan should be healthy and ready for the match-up, as it has a bye Oct. 26 (and a pseudo bye since the Wolverines host Indiana Oct. 19). Michigan leads the overall series 68-32-5. To give that some perspective, since 1950, the Wolverines have a 35-26-2 advantage in the rivalry.
- 11/16 at Nebraska – MSU is 0-7 all time against the Cornhuskers, 0-4 in Lincoln. This will be a critical game if the Spartans want to win the longstanding, prestigious Leaders Division title.
- 11/23 at Northwestern – MSU has won in its last three trips to Evanston.
- 11/30 vs Minnesota – MSU has won its last three games against the Golden Gophers. Minnesota hasn’t finished with a winning campaign since 2008.
In just taking a look at the schedule and how it shapes up – no Wisconsin, Ohio State, or Penn State – and looking at when and where MSU plays certain teams, right now I’d peg the Spartans to finish with no less than nine wins.
**Click here to check out the Michigan football season preview**