Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, May 11, 2017
It?s an understatement to say the 2016 season didn?t go as planned for Michigan State.
The Spartans went from a 12-2 mark and playoff spot in 2015 to a 3-9 record in 2016. It was an epic plummet for this proud program, as Michigan State endured its first losing season since 2009. And it was the first time the program missed a bowl since 2006. Now, can Mark Dantonio get his program back on track?
Here is a look at MSU?s 2017 schedule, which is full of challenges:
Sept. 2 Bowling Green
Sept. 9 Western Michigan
Sept. 16 OFF
Sept. 23 Notre Dame
Sept. 30 Iowa
Oct. 7 at Michigan
Oct. 14 at Minnesota
Oct. 21 Indiana
Oct. 28 at Northwestern
Nov. 4 Penn State
Nov. 11 at Ohio State
Nov. 18 Maryland
Nov. 25 at Rutgers
Toughest non-conference game: A visit from Notre Dame on Sept. 23 will be a good test after opening at home vs. MAC foes Bowling Green and Western Michigan. Last year, the Spartans toppled the Fighting Irish, who endured a disappointing 4-8 campaign. That was Notre Dame?s worst record since going 3-9 in 2007 under Charlie Weis. Last year was the first losing season in Brian Kelly?s seven years in South Bend. ND had won three in a row vs. MSU before falling 36-28 in 2016.
Toughest conference game: Lots to choose from with games at Michigan and vs. Penn State, among others. Let?s go with the trip to Ohio State on Nov. 11 that comes on the heels of the visit from the Nittany Lions. MSU and OSU have split the last six meetings, as the Buckeyes won last year in East Lansing, 17-16. The year before with a backup quarterback, MSU stunned OSU in Columbus, 17-14, to cost the Buckeyes a shot at defending their national title. The Spartans have won their last two trips to the Horseshoe.
Who they don?t play: A bit of good news/bad news, as Michigan State misses Purdue, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Illinois.
Easiest game: Bowling Green ventures to Spartan Stadium for the opener on Sept. 2. And the Falcons are coming off a disappointing 4-8 season. A rousing season-opening triumph is just what the doctor ordered for a Michigan State program coming off a 3-9 season. The Spartans are 2-0 all-time vs. BGSU, last playing in 2007.
Toughest stretch: MSU will have its mettle tested over a four-game stretch from Sept. 23-Oct. 14 when it plays host to Notre Dame and Iowa, and then travels to Michigan and Minnesota. The Spartans will have a bye before embarking on this rugged stretch. Still, can Michigan State earn a split? They won last year vs. ND but lost three in a row vs. the Irish before that. The Spartans have won two in a row vs. Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have won the last two times they visited Spartan Stadium. These teams last met in the 2015 Big Ten title tilt. Michigan beat Michigan State last year, but the Spartans are 7-2 vs. the Wolverines in the last nine meetings for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. MSU has won four in a row vs. Minnesota, but the schools haven?t met since 2013. This will be the Spartans' first trip to Dinkytown since 2012, which they won 26-10.
Best chance to be upset: Maryland may be a tough foe when it invades Spartan Stadium on Nov. 18 in the second-to-last game of the season. The Terrapins are on the rise under second-year coach DJ Durkin. And Maryland dumped Michigan State last season. Making this tilt more challenging for the Spartans is the fact it comes on the heels of games vs. Penn State and at Ohio State.
Best chance to pull an upset: Michigan State probably will be an underdog when it plays on Oct. 28 at Northwestern, which may be the favorite in the Big Ten West. But the Spartans could leave Evanston with a win, especially if the line play on both sides of the ball has developed and MSU is getting consistent play at quarterback. NU has won two of the last three vs. Michigan State, but the Spartans have won the last five meetings in Evanston dating to a Wildcat win in 2001.
Must win: If Michigan State wants to rebound from last year?s disappointing season, it needs a nice win vs. a quality foe early in the schedule to give it confidence. So, how about MSU knocking off visiting Iowa on Sept. 20 in the Big Ten opener? This could be a beatable Hawkeyes squad coming off an 8-5 season that has a new quarterback, questions at receiver and a rebuilt secondary.
Bye week: This comes Sept. 16 after Michigan State plays at home vs. Bowling Green and Western Michigan, which has lost P.J. Fleck. The off week will allow Mark Dantonio?s crew extra time to prep for a rough four-game run that includes Notre Dame, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota.