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Michigan State's season at a crossroads with road trip to Maryland up next

The Spartans have their backs to the wall as they face another important road test this weekend...

This offseason, there were three major questions I had for Michigan State football coming into the 2022 season:

1. How much of 2021's success could be chalked up to Kenneth Walker just being phenomenal?

2. How much will the secondary improve from the 2021 season?

3. Can the offensive line hold up with less depth and experience than it had a season ago?

So far, all three of those questions have come with negative answers for the Spartans.

Kenneth Walker was a massive reason this team was able to go 11-2 a year ago — maybe even bigger than we realized at the time. On College Gameday right before the Michigan State played Ohio State in Columbus last season, ESPN's David Pollack said that Walker should be the Heisman favorite because Michigan State "would be at least a three-loss team" without him. The Spartans were 9-1 and ranked No. 7 in the country at that time.

Pollack was 100 percent correct about Walker adding multiple victories to MSU's win total, and without their superstar tailback this season, the Spartans' offense has regressed significantly.

Moving on to my second question, I really thought Michigan State's secondary would be better than it was last season, simply because it couldn't have gotten much worse.

The Spartans added transfer cornerback Ameer Speed from Georgia, and everyone else has another year in the system under their belts. None of that has mattered. The Spartans aren't any worse in the secondary then they were last year, but they aren't any better either. Both Washington and Minnesota got whatever they wanted through the air against MSU, and there isn't much reason to expect that to change based on what we've seen.

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Now, to my third question — Michigan State's offensive line remains a major concern. The Spartans averaged a total of 40 rushing yards per game in each of their last two games.

The lack of a run game has put a ton of pressure on quarterback Payton Thorne to move the offense, and he's buckled under the weight of that pressure. Michigan State has turned the ball over eight times this season, and Thorne is responsible for seven of them (six interceptions, one fumble).

All of the above is the bad news. Here's the good news — as bad as Michigan State has looked each of these last two weeks, I think a big part of it has been their opponents. I think we're going to look back at the end of the season and realize that Washington and Minnesota are two pretty darn good football teams.

The Gophers were my preseason pick to win the Big Ten West, and that has only been solidified based on what I've seen from Minnesota and the rest of the division so far this season. The Huskies are a little bit more of a mystery to me, but they are 4-0 and have outscored their opponents 176-76 so far this season. It wouldn't surprise me if they reach double-digit wins by the end of the year.

This past weekend's game between Michigan State and Minnesota was a huge game for Mel Tucker and the Spartans, and they got beat handily at home. Now, MSU has another big game upcoming at Maryland. This really is the pivot point for Michigan State's season.

Immediately following this weekend's game against the Terrapins, the Spartans will host Ohio State, host Wisconsin and then get a bye week before going on the road to play Michigan. That's a brutal stretch of games, especially considering the fact that Maryland looked much tougher than expected last week in Ann Arbor.

In fact, I feel better about MSU's chances of beating Wisconsin at home than I do about this upcoming road trip to College Park.

However, if Michigan State can go beat Maryland, there's a chance the Spartans can go 2-2 or maybe even 3-1 over these next four games and salvage their season.

Lose to Maryland, and suddenly the possibility of a six-game losing streak is suddenly staring MSU right in the face. Oh, and by the way, the Spartans finish their season with a road trip to Penn State, so if they go 0-4 over these next four games, suddenly bowl eligibility becomes a serious question.

This weekend's game against Maryland is a huge one for Michigan State.