After a highly-enjoyable season in 2021, we're already looking ahead to Michigan State football in 2022. The Spartans went 11-2 this past season, with a win over rival Michigan and ending the year by winning the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
With all of that success and several key players returning — quarterback Payton Thorne, top receiver Jayden Reed, team captain Xavier Henderson and more — expectations are very high for Mel Tucker and Michigan State this fall.
While September is still eight months away, Spartan Nation takes a peak at the 2022 schedule and gives way-too-early predictions on how each game on Michigan State's schedule will play out.
Sept. 3 — vs. Western Michigan Broncos
Michigan State kicks off its season hosting an in-state opponent from the Mid-American Conference. Western Michigan went 8-5 in 2021, and scored an upset win over Pittsburgh early in the season. The Broncos defeated Nevada in the Motor City Bowl to conclude their season.
While MAC schools have snuck up and beaten Big Ten schools on occasion, Michigan State will be chomping at the bit to get Year 3 under Mel Tucker underway, and the Spartans take care of business in the season-opener. Score prediction: Michigan State 42, Western Michigan 20
Sept. 10 — vs. Akron Zips
It's back-to-back MAC opponents to open the year for Michigan State, but this one should result in an even bigger blowout. Since joining the Mid-American Conference in 1992, Akron has finished a season with a .500 record or better only eight times. The Zips went 2-10 in 2021.
Akron did hire a familiar face as its new head coach this offseason — Joe Moorhead — who was the offensive coordinator at Penn State during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Moorhead was the head coach at Mississippi State for two seasons (2018, 2019) and then served as the OC at Oregon the last two seasons. While the Zips' new head coach is known for producing prolific offenses, he's going to need more than just one offseason to turn around a program like Akron. Score prediction: Michigan State 55, Akron 10
Sept. 17 — at Washington Huskies
Michigan State's first true test comes in Week 3, as the Spartans travel to the West Coast to battle Washington. The Huskies are coming off a disappointing 4-8 season in 2021, and will have a new head coach in 2022 — Kalen DeBoer, who spent the previous two seasons as the head coach at Fresno State.
Washington had one of college football's best secondaries in 2021, but three starters who made up that secondary have declared for the NFL Draft. The Huskies offense was dreadful last season, and while DeBoer has an offensive background, he'll be working with players mostly recruited by the previous regime. West Coast road trips can be daunting for Big Ten teams, but the Spartans are well-ahead of Washington as a program and should return to East Lansing boasting a 3-0 record. Score prediction: Michigan State 34, Washington 17
Sept. 24 — vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Spartans open Big Ten play with a tough cross-divisional opponent in Minnesota. The Golden Gophers had nice wins over Wisconsin, Purdue and West Virginia, but also had an inexplicable loss to Bowling Green, on their way to a 9-4 record in 2021.
Minnesota is 35-23 record in five seasons under head coach PJ Fleck, including an 11-2 campaign in 2019. The Gophers are well-coached and will play a factor in the Big Ten West division race. This is an "upset-alert" game for Michigan State, but the game being played in Spartan Stadium will prove the difference. Score prediction: Michigan State 27, Minnesota 24
Oct. 1 — at Maryland Terrapins
Sitting at 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten play, Michigan State goes on its second road trip of the season. Maryland is 19-47 in conference games since joining the Big Ten in 2014. Fourth-year head coach Mike Locksley has improved the Terrapins winning percentage in each of the last three seasons, and the Terrapins went 7-6 in 2021 for their first winning season since 2014.
While it appears Maryland is headed in a positive direction as a program, this is a game that Michigan State should have no problem with, even on the road. Score prediction: Michigan State 37, Maryland 24
Oct. 8 — vs. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes open their 2022 season with a big-time matchup with Notre Dame, but there's a decent chance both Ohio State and Michigan State will be undefeated for this game. Unfortunately, the Spartans have been badly outgunned in this matchup in recent years.
Michigan State has lost six in a row to the Buckeyes, and the average margin of defeat during this streak is 29.8 point per game. Ohio State has been the king of the Big Ten Conference for the majority of the last 20 seasons. In order for Mel Tucker to accomplish his goals for his program in East Lansing, he has to find a way to close the gap with the Buckeyes. Unfortunately, after a 56-7 defeat last season, its hard to imagine all of that ground being made in just one season, even if the Spartans get this game at home. Score prediction: Ohio State 44, Michigan State 27
Oct. 15 — vs. Wisconsin Badgers
After the loss to Ohio State, the Spartans don't have long to lick their wounds with Wisconsin coming to East Lansing just a week later. The Badgers have been one of the most consistent programs in the Big Ten for the last two decades, and this matchup has provided many memorable games.
There's just something about playing Wisconsin right after Ohio State that I don't like for Michigan State. The Badgers got off to a 1-3 start last season, but finished the year 9-4, and will bring back many starters. This will be a tough, hard-nosed football game. Score prediction: Wisconsin 24, Michigan State 23
Oct. 29 — at Michigan Wolverines
Should the season play out the way we've predicted above, Michigan State will go into their bye week off back-to-back losses. At 4-2 and 1-2 in Big Ten play, what better way to get right than in the "Battle for Paul Bunyan".
Mel Tucker is 2-0 against Jim Harbaugh, and the Spartans seem to have a psychological edge in this game. Michigan State battled back from a 16-point deficit late in the third quarter last year, and that will give the Spartans an abundance of confidence no matter the situation of this game. The Wolverines bring back a ton offensively and could be explosive on that side of the ball, but Michigan's defense is losing a multitude of starters. This will be another high-scoring game between the two rivals, and right now there's no reason to believe Michigan State won't come out on top again. Score prediction: Michigan State 33, Michigan 30
Nov. 5 — at Illinois Fighting Illini
After a brutal four-week stretch in which the Spartans played the Buckeyes, Badgers and Wolverines, Michigan State gets a bit of a reprieve in Week 9 when they travel to Champaign, Ill.
Still, Illinois shouldn't be taken lightly just because of their 5-7 record last season. The Fighting Illini went 4-5 in Big Ten play, and three of those conference losses came by six points or less. Second-year Illinois coach Bret Bielema has proven he can build a contender in the Big Ten after winning three conference championships at Wisconsin. This is a game the Spartans should win, but the Fighting Illini shouldn't be overlooked. Score Prediction: Michigan State 26, Illinois 17
Nov. 12 — vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Sitting at 6-2 overall and 3-2 in league play, Michigan State returns home to battle Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights went 5-8 last season after accepting a late invitation to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, replacing Texas A&M (COVID-19). Rutgers has shown signs of improvement in Greg Schiano's first two seasons back in Piscataway, but the Scarlet Knights continually struggle against the brutal Big Ten East schedule.
Last season, the Spartans had no trouble dispatching Rutgers on the road, and we'd be shocked to see Michigan State stumble at home against the Scarlet Knights. Score Prediction: Michigan State 34, Rutgers 18
Nov. 19 — vs. Indiana Hoosiers
After getting back on track in recent weeks, the Spartans will attempt to hold on to the Old Brass Spittoon in Week 11 when they host Indiana. In some ways it's hard to know what to expect from the Hoosiers, and in other ways...well, it's hard to expect much at all.
Indiana went 8-4 in 2019, and then had a breakout season in 2020, going 6-1 in a shortened Big Ten season with their only loss coming to Ohio State, 42-35, in a tight battle. The Hoosiers went on to lose the Outback Bowl, 26-20, to Ole Miss. It appeared Indiana had turned a corner as a program under Tom Allen, but that all fell apart in 2021. The Hoosiers went 2-10 last season, and 0-9 in Big Ten play. Indiana did play Michigan State extraordinarily tough last year — the Spartans squeaked out a 20-15 victory — but this doesn't feel like a game in which MSU will drop at home. Score Prediction: Michigan State 27, Indiana 17
Nov. 26 — at Penn State Nittany Lions
It's back-to-back trophy games to conclude the regular season for Michigan State, as they travel to Happy Valley to face Penn State for the Land Grant Trophy. The Nittany Lions are coming off a disappointing 7-6 season in 2021, but that record can be deceiving. Penn State lost four conference games by four points or less, including a 30-27 loss to the Spartans.
Penn State is a program that averaged 10.5 wins per season from 2016 to 2019. The Nittany Lions went 4-5 in Big Ten play both in 2020 and 2021. This program recruits well and is very tough to beat at home. I expect a bounce back season from Penn State in 2022, and this game is definitely one to circle on the calendar. Score Prediction: Penn State 31, Michigan State 30
Michigan State concludes their regular season at 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten Conference. With three losses, a return to a New Year's Six Bowl is unlikely, and the Spartans get invited to either the Citrus Bowl or the Outback Bowl to face an SEC team.
Reminder: This is an opinion piece, and it shouldn't be taken overly seriously. The 2022 season is still over eight months away, and there are a limitless number of things that can happen between now and September that could change opinions, projections, etc. The intent of this piece is to take a fun look ahead and create respectful discussion about the upcoming season amongst the Michigan State fanbase.