After an 11-2 season which culminated in a New Year's Six bowl victory in 2021, expectations continue to rise for Michigan State football as Year 3 of the Mel Tucker era approaches.
The Spartans opened last season 8-0, beat rival Michigan in a showdown between undefeated Top 10 opponents, rose as high as No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings before suffering losses to Purdue and Ohio State.
Michigan State rebounded to beat Pittsburgh in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to eclipse 11 wins in Tucker's second year with the program.
Yet, despite all of that success, the head coach said that "last year wasn't good enough" during spring practices this April. Tucker was brought to Michigan State, and given a 10-year, $95 million extension to win championships.
As the Spartans work through summer conditioning this June, we take a look at their schedule this fall to determine the five most dangerous games that stand between Michigan State and a successful season in 2022
No. 5: September 24 — vs. Minnesota
This was a tough call, as I also considered Michigan State's trip out west to Washington on Sept. 17 for this slot. Trips to the Western Time Zone have always been precarious for Eastern Time Zone teams, in any sport.
Ultimately, however, I think Minnesota is going to be a better football team than Washington, so the game against the Golden Gophers falls here at No. 5 for the Spartans.
Michigan State will be coming off that trip out west and immediately be matched up with a team that I consider a contender for the Big Ten West division title.
Minnesota went 9-4 in 2021, and their worst loss was a 14-point defeat at the hands of Ohio State. All three of the Golden Gophers other losses were by single digits. If this game were being played in Minneapolis it would rank higher on this list.
The Spartans are 30-17 all-time against Minnesota, and Michigan State has won the last five meetings dating back to 2010.
No. 4: November 26 — at Penn State
Michigan State won a thrilling 30-27 battle over Penn State in a blizzard last season in East Lansing, but the Land-Grant Trophy series flips back to State College in 2022.
I was tempted to slot this game in as the third-toughest game on the Spartans schedule this year, due to it being a road game. However, I'm not sure what to expect out of the Nittany Lions in 2022.
Penn State was excellent defensively last year, but the Spartans still managed to score 30 points against the Nittany Lions. Meanwhile, offensively, Penn State struggled mightily throughout 2021.
I expect the Nittany Lions to be a good team this season, but I have them as the fourth-best team in the Big Ten East. Michigan State will have to be on top of its game to go into Happy Valley and walk out with a win.
The Spartans hold a slight 18-17-1 all-time advantage in this series, but Penn State has won 16 out of 10 matchups since the Land-Grant Trophy was introduced in 1993. The programs have gone 8-8 in their last 16 matchups, dating back to 2003.
No. 3: October 15 — vs. Wisconsin
Up next on the list is another team I expect to compete for the Big Ten's West division crown. This game is right in the middle of a brutal three-game stretch for the Spartans. Fortunately, two out of three of those games are at home.
In my opinion, the Michigan State-Wisconsin series is a rivalry game that nobody ever talks about. The Spartans and Badgers have played in some classic games in both football and basketball over the years.
Michigan State will be coming off what I believe will the the team's toughest game the week prior, and their will be no reprieve against the Badgers.
Wisconsin seemingly has a Top 5 of 10 defense in college football every season, and I expect them to be better offensively in 2022 than they were a year ago.
The Badgers got off to a 1-3 start in 2021 with a brutal September slate that featured losses to Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan. However, Wisconsin bounced back to win seven consecutive games before a regular season finale loss to Minnesota.
This will be a physical game that will be won and lost in the trenches, and it falls in the midst of Michigan State's toughest stretch of the year. The Spartans will have home field advantage, but I expect this game to be a war.
Michigan State holds a 30-24 all-time edge in this series, but Wisconsin has won two in a row. The programs have gone 5-5 in their last ten meetings dating back to 2004.
No. 2: October 29 — at Michigan Wolverines
Mel Tucker is 2-0 against Jim Harbaugh, including a win in the Big House in 2020 that shocked the country at the time.
Michigan State has won 10 out of the last 15 meetings since the Mark Dantonio era began in 2007, but the programs have gone 3-3 in the last six meetings.
Michigan won't be as good defensively as they were a season ago, but the Spartans won't have Kenneth Walker III in the backfield to score five touchdowns. I expect the Wolverines to be more explosive offensively in 2022, but I think Michigan State will make improvements on that side of the ball as well.
It's one of the best matchups of the college football season, but I think the Spartans have a psychological advantage in this series right now. With that said, I still believe this is the second-toughest game on Michigan State's schedule in 2022.
Michigan holds a 71-38-5 edge in the rivalry's history, but the series is just 39-32-2 in the Wolverines' favor since Michigan State joined the Big Ten in 1949. The programs have split the series, 12-12, since 1998.
No. 1: October 8 — vs. Ohio State
This should come as no surprise. The Buckeyes have been the class of the Big Ten for much of the last two decades, and they once again enter the 2022 season as the favorites to win the conference.
Michigan State was completely out-classed last season in Columbus, when Ohio State took a 49-0 lead into halftime before taking its foot off the gas on the way to a 56-7 victory.
The Spartans get this matchup at home this season, but that hasn't meant much in this series lately, as the Buckeyes have won eight consecutive games in East Lansing.
This offseason the entire Michigan State football program — Tucker, his staff, the players — have talked about winning championships. This is the bar that will measure how close this program is to competing for championships.
Tucker is 0-2 against Ohio State, and the Spartans have been outscored 108-19 in those two meetings. The Buckeyes have won six in a row in this series, and 15 out of 18 meetings dating back to 2000.