2016 football schedule analysis: Michigan State Spartans

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2016 football schedule analysis: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State is the defending Big Ten champ, coming off its first playoff appearance. This program is rolling. But, some big personnel issues are staring at Mark Dantonio as he begins his 10th season in East Lansing. And the 2016 schedule is filled with many challenges, including non-conference games at Notre Dame and vs. BYU.

Here is my breakdown of the Spartans’ schedule.

Toughest non-conference game: The game at Notre Dame on Sept. 17 will be a barometer for a Spartan program that is breaking in a new quarterback with retooled lines on both sides of the ball. Notre Dame and Michigan State have a storied rivalry, playing 77 times. But the series was put on hold the last two seasons after the programs had met every year since 1997. The Fighting Irish have won the last three meetings. The Spartans haven’t won in South Bend since 2007, dropping the last three under the Golden Dome. Notre Dame has some big holes to fill but still will be formidable in 2016 coming off a 10-3 season under Brian Kelly.

Toughest conference game: Michigan State gets Michigan AND Ohio State in East Lansing this season. Let’s go with the visit from the Buckeyes on Nov. 19 as the toughest. Last season, the Spartans invaded Ohio State and knocked off the No. 3 Buckeyes, 17-14, with backup Tyler O’Connor at the controls. The loss effectively killed Ohio State’s Big Ten and national title hopes while helping propel the Spartans to the Big Ten championship and playoff bid. No doubt, the Buckeyes haven’t forgotten. Check this out: Ohio State has won the last five trips to East Lansing, last losing in 1999.

Who they don’t play: The Spartans miss Purdue, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.

Easiest game: FCS Furman won’t know what hit them when the Purple Paladins wade into Spartan Stadium for a Friday night clash with Michigan State to open the season.

Toughest stretch: It comes early in the season. After opening with Furman, the Spartans play at Notre Dame, welcome Wisconsin, go to Indiana and play host to BYU and Northwestern. Michigan State hasn’t played the Badgers since 2012 but has won three of the last four. Yes, the Spartans have won seven in a row and 15 of 17 from Indiana, but going to Indiana is not that easy. This will be the first time Michigan State plays BYU. Northwestern is coming off a 10-win season and won the last time it came to East Lansing in 2012.

Best chance to be upset: If Michigan State’s lines aren’t up to par, the Spartans have a good chance to be dumped in Spartan Stadium on Sept. 24 when Wisconsin visits. The Badgers have a new signal-caller, but they will be strong in the trenches and have a star running back in Corey Clement.

Best chance to pull an upset: Michigan State won’t be an underdog often in 2016. One time figures to be when it plays at Notre Dame on Sept. 17. Yes, the Irish have talent. But they must settle their QB situation while replacing their top three wideouts and three offensive linemen. The defense lacks depth at linebacker and is looking for a pass rush with its two best options gone. Maybe the Spartans can ambush the retooling Irish.

Must win: If the Spartans want to repeat as East champs, they need to dispatch hated rival Michigan when the Wolverines visit on Oct. 29. The Spartans are 7-1 in the last eight games vs. Michigan, which hasn’t won in East Lansing since 2007. Michigan owes the Spartans after losing one of the wildest games in college football history last season when Michigan punter Blake O’Neil fumbled a snap with 10 seconds left and Spartans’ Jalen Watts-Jackson made the play of his life by returning it for a touchdown for a 27-23 win on the game’s final play.

Bye week: This comes WAY too early, as Michigan State is off the second week of the season after opening with Furman. At least the off week will give Michigan State extra prep time for its visit to Notre Dame, the first of 11 consecutive games for the Spartans.

2016 Michigan State schedule: 

  • Sept. 2 Furman
  • Sept. 10 OFF
  • Sept. 17 at Notre Dame
  • Sept. 24 Wisconsin
  • Oct. 1 at Indiana
  • Oct. 8 BYU
  • Oct. 15 Northwestern
  • Oct. 22 at Maryland
  • Oct. 29 Michigan
  • Nov. 5 at Illinois
  • Nov. 12 Rutgers
  • Nov. 19 Ohio State
  • Nov. 26 at Penn State

Here are few other schedule analysis posts:

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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