Expectations are high for Michigan State after a 11-3 season and winning the Leaders Division with a 7-1 record in the Big Ten. Most of the strong defense from last season as eight starters return, but the key to the season will be on the offensive side with only four starters returning.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has moved on to the NFL while his leading receiver B.J. Cunningham has moved on as well. Replacing these two will be the key for Michigan State heading into the 2012 season.
Even with these holes in the offense MSU is facing one of its toughest non-conference opponents in recent memory in Boise State. The Broncos come in with offensive problems of their own but the Spartans should be able to pick up the victory (1-0.)
Next MSU heads to Kelly Shorts Stadium to face the Chippewas of Central Michigan. This is a part of the biggest home season in Central’s history, but the Spartans should be able to pick up another victory (2-0.)
Then comes in Notre Dame at home in an interesting match-up to try to predict right now. Both teams are unsure at the quarterback position and the first two games should be more of a determinant of how they will play throughout the season. Either way State’s defense should be able to handle whoever is at quarterback for the Irish by then (3-0.)
To round out the non-conference Eastern Michigan comes to Spartan Stadium. Ron English has turned an 0-12 Eagle team in 2009 to 2-10 in 2010 and 6-6 in 2011. Eastern has a chance to make their third bowl in school history this season, but they won’t be getting a victory in East Lansing this season (4-0.)
Ohio State comes to East Lansing to begin the Big Ten season and it should be a great game between contrasting styles. The Buckeyes bring in an explosive offense with dual-threat quarterback Braxton Miller against the tough Spartan defense. This will be a really close back-and-forth game and I think that the Spartan defense will cause a turnover late in the game to seal the victory (5-0.)
Indiana hosts MSU next which should be another victory for the Spartans. The Hoosiers return the most starters in the Big Ten from last season, but that team wasn’t very good so that stat isn’t very impressive. MSU won by 52 points last season but this game should be much closer this season (6-0.)
Heading back home to face Iowa in a trap game is next for the Spartans. MSU has a history of losing games that they shouldn’t every season and I think this is the one that Sparty will lose. Iowa always plays teams tough and I think MSU will be looking ahead to the toughest part of their season and will slip up in this game (6-1.)
A trip to Ann Arbor and the big rivalry game is next for MSU. Like the Ohio State game it will be contrasting styles with the defense of State against the explosive offense of the Wolverines and Denard Robinson. Again this will be a very close game and it pains me to say it, but MSU should pull out the victory again. Last season Michigan couldn’t handle the pressure from the Spartans defense and I think it will be the same again this year (7-1.)
After Ann Arbor the Spartans are heading to Wisconsin to play the Badgers. Winning the game against Michigan will take the energy out of the Spartans again this season as I think they will lose the following game again this year. The Badgers have been a consistent force in the Big Ten for years now and should win this game (7-2.)
Michigan State returns home to face Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are returning the top passer and rusher from last season along with a typical strong defense as well. Nebraska had a decent showing in their first season in the Big Ten and I think they will knock off the Spartans. I think Nebraska will be a dark horse to win the Big Ten and finish in the top-10 nationally (7-3.)
After facing Nebraska, MSU gets a bye week before facing Northwestern at home. The Wildcats and Spartans have played some memorable games the past few seasons but I think Michigan State is going to roll in this game. Sparty knows they will have to end the season strong to have a chance at the Big Ten title game and potentially more (8-3.)
Finally is a trip to Minnesota to finish out the regular season. The Golden Gophers have had a rough past two seasons with six wins combined and a few beatings on the field as well. This game should be no different as Michigan State should be firing on all cylinders offensively and defensively to win big in Minnesota (9-3.)
Ending 9-3 would give the Spartans a chance at a New Years Day bowl and potentially a Big Ten Championship game appearance. Again, everything will come down to the development on the offensive side of the ball which will determine if this is a nine or ten win team or a six win team.
So what do you think fans, will the Spartans be on the verge of another Big Ten Title game or will it be a season of failed expectations? Let us know at @DSBloggers on Twitter or on Facebook or in the comments below to tell us what you, the fans, think.