Michigan State football has the potential to have another ten-win season in 2022. Similar to the Spartans’ 2021 schedule, this year’s slate of games provides many tests, especially in conference play.
While archrival Michigan may not be as strong of a team as they were last year, anything can happen in a rivalry game. The Michigan and Ohio State games aren’t likely to be any more difficult for the Spartans than they were a year ago, but the 2022 schedule is more difficult across the board than the 2021 slate.
Let’s start with the easiest games on Michigan State’s schedule:
1. September 10 (Week 2) — vs. Akron
This is Year 1 at Akron for new head coach Joe Moorhead, who’s trying to rebuild one of the worst programs in the FBS. He has called some great offenses at Penn State and Oregon, but those are high-level programs. Akron doesn’t have the personnel yet to run the high-octane passing attack that Moorehead desires offensively. This is the closest thing the Spartans will get to a “gimme” win.
2. September 2 (Week 1) — vs. Western Michigan
This isn’t a typical year for the Broncos. Head coach Tim Lester is replacing All-Conference quarterback Kaleb Eleby and second round NFL draft pick wide receiver Skyy Moore. Western Michigan used the transfer portal to bring in a new quarterback, but their running game will be the offense’s calling card for the time being. Michigan State transfer running back La’Darius Jefferson is paired with Sean Tyler as a ‘thunder and lighting’ duo for the Broncos. But, the only problem with that for Western is Michigan State has one of the best run defenses in the nation.
3. November 19 (Week 12) — vs. Indiana
The Hoosiers had a fall from grace in the 2021 season. Indiana finished with a 6-2 record during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Since then, the Hoosiers lost all the key contributors from that 2020 season, and Indiana went 2-10 a year ago. Losing quarterback Michael Penix, linebacker Micah McFadden and tight end Peyton Hendershot have left many holes in the Hoosiers’ roster. They brought in some promising freshmen and transfers, but is that enough? By November, when Michigan State hosts Indiana, the Spartans should be humming.
Moving on to the hardest games on the schedule:
1. October 8 (Week 6) — vs. Ohio State
For obvious reasons, Ohio State is easily the hardest game of the year for MSU. Like most years, they return a lot of production and restocked talent via recruiting. Quarterback-wide receiver duo CJ Stroud and Jaxson Smith-Njigba are arguably the best tandem in college football. Even if Michigan State has fixed the defensive backfield, the Buckeyes will be hard to stop.
2. October 29 (Week 9) — at Michigan
It’s a rivalry game, need I say more? On top of that, MSU plays Michigan at the end of a six-game stretch that includes Washington, Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio State and Wisconsin. A bye week to prepare for Michigan will be much needed, but the Wolverines will be coming off a bye as well. The Wolverines’ defense won’t be as strong as it was last season, but their offense returns eight starters. Again, the question will be how well will the Spartans defensive backs improve?
3. September 24 (Week 4) — vs. Minnesota
A surprise for some, Minnesota quietly won nine games last season. They bring back offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who had the most success with the Gophers offense from 2017-19. Minnesota returns quarterback Tanner Morgan and running back Mo Ibrahim, who is coming back from an Achilles injury. Last season, all of Minnesota’s losses were by less than one possession, except their season-opener against Ohio State. It should be noted that the Gophers led the Buckeyes in that game before Ibrahim went down with his season-ending injury. Minnesota has a well-rounded offense and a fierce defense that rallies to the ball.
Wisconsin and Penn State will each be tough tests for Michigan State, and could both arguably be considered the third-toughest matchup of the season. The Spartans will see tougher defenses from those two programs, but MSU is expected to improve on that side of the ball as well. Michigan State won’t be playing as many air-raid offenses as it did last year – looking at you, Purdue – which is to the Spartans’ advantage.