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MnB B1G Preview: Michigan State's schedule...a run to the playoff?

Michigan State is the defending Big Ten Champion. Their defense may take a step back, but the offense returns almost everyone. It should be a good year for the Spartans and their fans.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans started out slow, gained some momentum, and then won played in their first Rose Bowl since the 1980s. This year's team will be on an easier road. Will they take advantage?

Who They Play

Date Opponent Prediction
8/29 Jacksonville State W
9/6 at Oregon L
9/20 Eastern Michigan W
9/27 Wyoming W
10/4 Nebraska W
10/11 at Purdue W
10/18 at Indiana W
10/25 Michigan Toss-up
11/8 Ohio State Toss-up
11/15 at Maryland W
11/22 Rutgers W
11/29 at Penn State W

Most Winnable:

Pete:  Y'know, I think Penn State has an easy schedule, but look at the Spartans' schedule. How do I pick only one "most winnable"? Jacksonville State, Eastern Michigan, Wyoming, Purdue, Rutgers...low hanging fruit, anyone?

Zach: I'm with Pete on this one.  EMU and JSU look like easy wins and while I hope Wyoming can give MSU the same kind of scare it did Nebraska last year, I don't know if I have enough faith in what will be a pretty experienced Wyoming offense against an MSU defense that needs to replace a couple pieces.  Yeah, I know that sounds completely backwards, but such is my confidence in Pat Narduzzi.

Guaranteed Loss:

Pete:  Gotta be Oregon. I think. Maybe.

Zach: Do I have to choose one?

Honestly, I think MSU probably beats Oregon.  Hear me out.  Remember a couple years ago when Oregon played LSU in the first game of the season and cruised to a pretty comfortable victory?  I think this game plays out like that one where giving MSU all fall camp to get ready for that game neutralizes Oregon's scheme advantage.  Michigan State is too good at containing offenses and forcing them into lanes for Spartan tackles.  My money is on MSU in this one.  I think that OSU game is potentially more trouble for MSU.

The Rest:

Pete: this is one envious road slate for Michigan State. With Purdue, Indiana, Maryland, and Penn State all on the road, Sparty should make it 4-1 without any problems; of course, they could also could be sitting at 5-0 if they beat the speed of the Ducks (a loss that would not be shameful in any way, as we all know). That home slate isn't anything to ignore, either: three home cupcakes in a row before facing Nebraska is a good way to start things in Spartan Stadium.

There is a tricky spot in MSU's schedule and it's the weeks from October 18 through November 15. The Spartans beat Indiana by only 14 points last year; the Hoosiers may be able to make things difficult and close again this year. Michigan and Ohio State travel to East Lansing in consecutive weekends. With the Wolverines in a state of flux, but still a danger, and the Buckeyes looking to relieve the sting from last year's loss, these two weeks could be a bit of a trap for Michigan State. Follow those three games up with the Maryland Terrapins, and it's a bit of a tricky stretch.

Zach: That conference road slate.  Woof.  Talk about a pu pu platter of games.  Getting Nebraska, Michigan, and Ohio State — possibly MSU's three toughest games in conference — all at home is good news for MSU fans.

At least MSU fans will have a reason to show up to the stadium this year for the big games, because the non-conference schedule looks especially poor from a spectator perspective.

The Outlook

Pete: Even with the tricky stretch, the Spartans should be able to handle most opponents quite well. They've lost some pieces from last year's defense (Denicos Allen, Max Bullough, and Darqueze Dennard), but a key returner in Shilique Calhoun means that the defense may take a step back, but not a large step. On the offensive side of the ball, the vast majority of the Spartans' production is returning and should be able to continue where they left off last year--that means not having the ridiculously slow start they had in 2013.

At the very worst, Michigan State will finish 10-2, but a win against Oregon, and the Spartans could take a serious shot at the College Football Playoff.

Zach: I'd love to sit here and forecast the great return to the mean for Michigan State where the Spartans fall back into just a pretty good range as the defense looks to replace some out and out stars, but any hiccups on defense should be offset by what is a really advantageous schedule.  Really, even if MIchigan State trips on the understandable hurdles OSU and Oregon are, that is still a ten win season and a chance at the Big Ten title game depending on OSU's final record.  That is depressing.