Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 13, 2013

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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