After an 11-2 season culminating in a New Year’s win with six balls in 2021, expectations continued to rise for Michigan State football as the third year of Mel Tucker’s reign approached.
The Spartans opened last season 8-0, defeating Michigan in a top-10 undefeated showdown and climbing to third in the football world rankings before incurring losses to Purdue and Ohio State.
Michigan State rebounded to defeat Pittsburgh in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to top out 11 wins in Tucker’s sophomore year with the program.
However, despite all that success, the coach said that “last year wasn’t good enough” during spring practice in April. Tucker was brought to Michigan State, and took a 10-year, $95 million extension to win championships.
As the Spartans run through their summer conditioning in June, we take a look at their schedule this fall to determine the five most dangerous matches between Michigan State and a successful season in 2022.
No. 5: September 24 – Minnesota
That was a tough call, as I also considered Michigan State’s trip west to Washington on September 17 for this period. Trips to the Western Time Zone have always been risky for Eastern Time Zone teams, in any sport.
But in the end, I think Minnesota will be a better soccer team than Washington, so the game against the Golden Gophers is here for the fifth Spartans.
Michigan State will take that trip west and be instantly matched to a team that I consider a Big Ten West title contender.
Minnesota went 9-4 in 2021, and their worst loss was a 14-point defeat at the hands of Ohio State. All three other Golden Gophers losses were in single digits. If this game was played in Minneapolis, it would rank higher on this list.
The Spartans are 30-17 all-time against Minnesota, and Michigan State has won the last five meetings dating back to 2010.
No. 4: November 26 – Pennsylvania
Michigan State won a thrilling battle 30-27 over Penn State in last season’s blizzard in East Lansing, but the Land-Grant Trophy series returns to State College in 2022.
I was tempted to include this game as the third hardest game on the Spartans table this year, given that it is a road game. However, I’m not sure what to expect from the Nittany Lions in 2022.
Penn State was excellent defensively last year, but the Spartans managed to score 30 points against the Nittany Lions. Meanwhile, Penn State struggled offensively hard throughout 2021.
I expect the Nittany Lions to be a good team this season, but I put them as the fourth best team in the Big Ten East. Michigan State would have to be at the top of their game to go to Happy Valley and come out with a win.
The Spartans have a slight 18-17-1 all-time advantage in the series, but Penn State has won 16 out of 10 matches since the introduction of the Land-Grant Trophy in 1993. The programs have gone 8-8 in the last 16 matches, dating back to 2003.
No. 3: October 15 – opposite Wisconsin
Next on my list is another team that I expect to compete for the Big Ten’s West Division title. This game is located in the middle of a brutal three-game period for the Spartans. Fortunately, two out of three of these toys are at home.
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In my opinion, the Michigan State-Wisconsin Series is a rivalry game that no one has ever talked about. The Spartans and Badgers have played some of the classic games in football and basketball over the years.
Michigan State will come out of what I think will be the team’s toughest game in the previous week, and there will be no delays against the Badgers.
Wisconsin seems to have a top 5 defense in college football every season, and I expect them to be better offensively in 2022 than they were a year ago.
The Badgers started 1-3 in 2021 with a brutal September roster that saw losses for Pennsylvania, Notre Dame and Michigan. However, Wisconsin bounced back to win seven games in a row before losing the end of the regular season to Minnesota.
This is going to be a physical game that is won and lost in the trenches, and is in the midst of the toughest period in Michigan this year. Spartans will have a field advantage, but I would expect this game to be war.
Michigan State has an all-time 30-24 advantage in this series, but Wisconsin has won twice in a row. The programs went 5-5 in their last 10 meetings dating back to 2004.
No. 2: October 29 – in Michigan Wolverines
Mel Tucker is 2-0 against Jim Harbo, including the Big House win in 2020 that shocked the country at the time.
Michigan State has won 10 of the last 15 meetings since the Mark D’Antonio era began in 2007, but the programs have gone 3-3 in the last six meetings.
Michigan won’t be as good defensively as it was a season ago, but the Spartans won’t have Kenneth Walker third on the field to score five touchdowns. I expect the Wolverines to be more offensive in 2022, but I think Michigan State will make improvements on that aspect of the ball as well.
It’s one of the best confrontations of the college football season, but I think the Spartans have a psychological advantage in this series at the moment. With that, I still think this is the second toughest game on Michigan State’s schedule in 2022.
Michigan has a 71-38-5 advantage in competition history, but the series has only been 39-32-2 in favor of the Wolverines since Michigan State joined the Big Ten in 1949. Programs have split the series, 12-12, since 1998.
#1: October 8 – vs Ohio State
This should come as no surprise. The Buckeyes have been the Big Ten class for most of the past two decades, and they once again entered the 2022 season as conference favorites.
Michigan State was quite a bit behind last season in Columbus, when Ohio State led 49-0 in the first half before turning off the gas en route to a 56-7 win.
The Spartans have had that game at home this season, but that hasn’t meant much in the series lately, as the Buckeyes have won eight games in a row at East Lansing.
The entire Michigan football program — Tucker, his staff, and the players — has talked about winning championships. This is the tape that will measure how close this program is to competing for championships.
Tucker is 0-2 against Ohio State, and the Spartans have excelled 108-19 in those two encounters. The Buckeyes have won six consecutive meetings in this series, 15 out of 18 meetings dating back to 2000.