Schedule analysis: MSU has to like 2013 draw

The schedule is pretty kind to a Michigan State program coming off a disappointing 7-6 season that saw MSU lose five games by a combined 13 points. If the Spartans can win at Notre Dame on Sept. 21, they could be 8-0 when they welcome Michigan on Nov. 2.

The slate opens with three beatable foes that should allow the Spartans time to work out kinks on offense before facing the Irish. In Big Ten play, Michigan State has a favorable road slate; in fact, it may be able to go 3-1 away from East Lansing.

Toughest non-conference game: Without a doubt, it’s the trip to Notre Dame on Sept. 21 to play a Fighting Irish team that is hot coming off an appearance in the BCS title game. After winning two of three in the series from 2007-2010, the Spartans have lost two in a row. And MSU has been outscored 51-16 in the process. The Spartans’ last win in the series came in 2010 on a trick play in overtime. Michigan State last won in South Bend in 2007, taking a 31-14 decision.

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Toughest Big Ten game: Playing host to Michigan on Nov. 2 won’t be a picnic. But the game at Nebraska on Nov. 16 will be rugged. The Spartans have lost both meetings with the Cornhuskers since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, falling 24-3 in Lincoln in 2011 and 28-24 last season in East Lansing. In fact, MSU is 0-7 all-time vs. Nebraska, which should be the Legends Division favorite.

Who they don’t play: Talk about catching a massive break–Michigan State misses Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. That means the Spartans play the three weaker Leaders Division teams in Purdue, Indiana and Illinois. This brightens the bowl outlook and Legends Division hopes for Michigan State.

Easiest game: FCS Youngstown State comes to Michigan State on Sept. 14. But, beware, Spartans: The Penguins won at Pitt last season.

Rugged stretch: The final month of the season kicks off with a tough three-game run of Legends foes, with Michigan coming to East Lansing on Nov. 2. After a bye week, the Spartans travel to Nebraska on Nov. 16 and then go to Northwestern on Nov. 23. The Wildcats won in East Lansing last season, 23-20. MSU needs to win at least two of these three if it hopes to win the division.

[ RELATED: View all of Dienhart’s 2013 Schedule Analysis archive ]

Interesting factoid: Many feel this could be one of Northwestern’s best teams ever. That makes MSU’s trip to Evanston on Nov. 23 a key Legends Division game. The Spartans lost last year, 23-20, to the Wildcats in East Lansing. Before that, Michigan State had won four in a row vs. NU. It last lost two in a row to Northwestern in 2000-2001.

Best chance to be upset: The Spartans need to be careful when they open Big Ten play at Iowa on Oct. 5. Yes, the Hawkeyes are coming off a tough 4-8 season. But Iowa has won three of the last four meetings, including a 19-16 double overtime decision last season in East Lansing. But MSU did win the last time it visited Iowa City in 2011, prevailing 37-21. The Spartans also need to be careful when South Florida visits on Sept. 7.

Best chance to pull an upset: Michigan State needs no motivation vs. Michigan, which comes to East Lansing on Nov. 2. Before losing, 12-10, last year in Ann Arbor, Michigan State had won four in a row in the rivalry. So, the Spartans know they can beat the Wolverines. Reasserting its power in this series is critical for Michigan State in its quest for a successful season.

Must win: With a soft home schedule, the Spartans will need to score a road win or two to enjoy a strong 2013. One they need to win is at Illinois on Oct. 26. This is a Fighting Illini squad that will enter the season on a 14-game Big Ten losing skein. And Michigan State has dominated the series of late, going 11-1 vs. Illinois in the last 12 meetings. The Illini’s last win vs. the Spartans in Champaign was in 1992.

Bye weeks: These are spread out well. The first comes on Sept. 28, after four non-conference games. MSU then plays five games before the next bye on Nov. 9, allowing the Spartans to catch their breath for a stretch run that begins with back-to-back road games at Nebraska and at Northwestern that could be season-defining contests.

Here is Michigan State’s 2013 schedule:

Day Date Opponent Time TV Result
Sat. Aug. 31 vs. Western Michigan TBA
Sat. Sep. 7 vs. South Florida TBA
Sat. Sep. 14 vs. Youngstown State TBA
Sat. Sep. 21 at 4 Notre Dame TBA  NBC
Sat. Oct. 5 at Iowa TBA
Sat. Oct. 12 vs. Indiana TBA
Sat. Oct. 19 vs. Purdue TBA
Sat. Oct. 26 at Illinois TBA
Sat. Nov. 2 vs. 24 Michigan TBA
Sat. Nov. 16 at 25 Nebraska TBA
Sat. Nov. 23 at 17 Northwestern TBA
Sat. Nov. 30 vs. Minnesota TBA
About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (18 Comments)
Reality Check on 5/13/2013 @ 4:33pm EDT Said:

Mark Dantonio may start out 7-1 but he will end up 8-5 with a bowl game loss, The season will start its downward slide when Brady Hokes elite recruiting stars will savage the MSU offense with the speed and quickness of its defense, 24-3 I call it with negative yardage for the Spartans
We are about to enter an age where Michigan and Ohio State again dominate the Big Ten. In time ever Doug will cheer for the Wolverines in the post season. Maybe Graham Couch can cover the Rose Bowl for LSJ as the Spartan community cheers on the Maize and Blue. In the past LSJ would cover the Wolverines when there was no post season for Sparty.

Will on 5/13/2013 @ 5:03pm EDT Said:

Michigan State didn’t beat a single AQ opponent at the Woodshed last year. until Dantonio switches to a spread offense with a mobile QB, it will continue to struggle and be anemic. his players and recruits aren’t good enough or highly touted enough to run a Power I-Pro Set offense. Michigan’s defense flat out dominates any Pro Style offense it faces, unless it’s Bama, who recruits 5* prospects for breakfast. where the threat, MSU?

Doug on 5/13/2013 @ 6:50pm EDT Said:

Hey Mark and Will MSU dominated Michigan 4 out of last 5, it will be 5 out of last 6, M needed a mini miracle just to beat MSU by 2 at the little house. The # 1 defense in the big ten will shut down Michigan again, get ready for another long and disappointing season with all those overrated recruits, of course you guys should be used to this since it’s been going on since 2004.,

Reality check on 5/13/2013 @ 7:08pm EDT Said:

Doug, silent again, Hoke says nochickening out Doug put on your big boy pants and face the truth

Doug on 5/14/2013 @ 10:04am EDT Said:

Funny that Floyd backed out of playing VTech when they had Michael Vick, pushing the Oregon games back a few year so they didn’t have to playing Joey Harrington, so Michigan knows all about chickening out…..

Steve on 5/14/2013 @ 5:27pm EDT Said:

@Will, are you serious? UM didn’t stop Sparty in years past. Last year Sparty had a horrible offense and still took a last second FG AT HOME none the less to pull out the victory.

Will on 5/14/2013 @ 6:30pm EDT Said:

you realize that we had probably the worst defensive coordinator in our history in GERG during those 3 years you are talking about, don’t you? Greg Mattison has cut over 200 yards of offense and 24 points from your score in just 2 years. he is a proven winner who has won 2 national championship rings, one at Michigan and one at Florida

    Matthew M. Jones on 5/14/2013 @ 7:01pm EDT Said:

    We lost 2 of our school’s best receivers last year. Freshman dropping passes all over the place. New quarterback. And you guys barely beat us. Keep patting yourself on the back. Bullough and Rush are going to be eating Gardner’s lunch.

Matthew M. Jones on 5/14/2013 @ 6:36pm EDT Said:

I find the UofM fans funny on this thread. I guess you forgot how Dantonio beat you guys 4 years in a row with 3 star recruits. Devin Gardner is going to be running for his life.

Common Sense on 5/14/2013 @ 7:06pm EDT Said:

Taylor Lewan, the man who dominated Tom Gholston and held his own against Clowney, begs to differ. congrats on beating Michigan teams led by a coach the alumni rejected his entire tenure at Michigan

Doug on 5/14/2013 @ 11:41pm EDT Said:

Who the hell is Tom Gholston, it’s Will, you know, the guy who beat Lewan 2 of the 3 games they played. I doubt Clowney begs to differ, does Vincent Smith know what time it is yet? HAHAHAHHAHAH

And MSU beat Hoke in his first year, did you forget about that, oh wait, another excuse, those were rich rod’s players, excuses excuses, that’s all M fans know

How did Mattison cut 24 points off, MSU scored 28 then 10, that equals 18, geez even a Michigan student would know that, which obviously, you are not, and the 10 points were because MSU’s offense stunk last year, M’s defense had nothing to do with that, nice try though

Spartyon on 5/15/2013 @ 12:17am EDT Said:

I swear Michigan fans talk about one bad season and act like because they have a long history of winning they will just continue it. Out bad year lately was 7-6. U guys had a 3-9 and a5-7. A couple of yrs ago. You have always recruited 4’s n fives u just don’t have the coaches and schemes and discipline. Sparty proves every yr that guys with superiority complexes being so highly recruited are beaten by guys who work non stop to gain praise.
Btw even still Michigan state in the last 3 yrs has won more big ten games than anyone.
Don’t forget the Rich Rod era because its convenient.

Spartyon on 5/15/2013 @ 12:19am EDT Said:

Oh and Michigan fans…. You guys are aware you had one more win than is last yr right? And Taylor Lewan coming back to lead an oline of freshman shouldn’t be you guyses happiest preseason headline.

Common Sense on 5/15/2013 @ 2:21am EDT Said:

I was talking about the 2010 game, the year before he got here, where you scored 34 points against our statistically worst defense ever. Clowney’s hit was his sole highlight of that bowl game, and Lewan wasn’t even responsible for blocking him. Lewan shut him down all game and he failed to get a sack. like I said, Michigan’s defense only struggles against spread offenses with a mobile QB, and MSU has neither

SpartyRules77 on 5/15/2013 @ 12:39pm EDT Said:

common sense.. if you can be dismissive about RRod’s tenure, so can MSU fans not count Bobby Williams and JL Smiths tenures verses UM? OF COURSE NOT! Get a clue..

Doug on 5/17/2013 @ 12:43am EDT Said:

So MSU scored 34 and then 28, that’s still only a 6 point difference, I know you didn’t go to Michigan, so I’ll call you no common sense, geez dude if you’re going to root for michigan, at least pay attention

Doug on 5/17/2013 @ 4:16pm EDT Said:

Dhani, I can tell you didn’t graduate from Michigan, your addition is horrible !

Doug on 5/17/2013 @ 4:17pm EDT Said:

And MSU’s non spread offense put up 34 in 2010 and 28 in 2011, but blame your defense not MSU’s offense Dhani