College football season officially begins tonight, and with Michigan and Michigan State set to kick off their seasons on Saturday, it's time to make some predictions.
For Michigan, the days of being able to go through the schedule and predict only a few losses are long gone. While last year you knew Michigan was going to win more than three games, it was tough to get a read on how many more wins they'd have. As we all know, they ended up with five, but preseason predictions had them winning anywhere from four to eight games. This year is very similar in that regard. Although Michigan should be better in year three under Rich Rodriguez, will a very mediocre defense (on paper) allow them to win as many as seven or eight games? It's a tough call.
For Michigan State, it's pretty easy to nail down a range of wins. While last year's 6-7 record was a step back for the Spartans, their win-loss predictions for 2010 have been pretty consistent. Not many expect Michigan State to rattle off 10 wins or anything, but at the same time, not many expect them to win only six games like last year. As a result, the Spartans' window seems to be seven to nine wins for 2010.
Before I get to a win-loss prediction for the Spartans and go through their schedule, let's first take a look at Michigan's slate of games. (Predictions are in parentheses.)
Sept. 4 - vs. UConn (WIN)
Sept. 11 - at Notre Dame (LOSS)
Sept. 18 - vs. Massachusetts (WIN)
Sept. 25 - vs. Bowling Green (WIN)
Oct. 2 - at Indiana (WIN)
Oct. 9 - vs. Michigan State (LOSS)
Oct. 16- vs. Iowa (WIN)
Oct. 30 - at Penn State (LOSS)
Nov. 6 - vs. Illinois (WIN)
Nov. 13 - at Purdue (WIN)
Nov. 20 - vs. Wisconsin (LOSS)
Nov. 27 - at Ohio State (LOSS)
I have Michigan going 7-5 in 2010. I think the season will start with a win just based on pure emotion. While UConn is talented, I believe the rededication of Michigan Stadium will produce a victory. A week later, however, I have Michigan losing to Notre Dame. It will be important to set the tone against Notre Dame in Brian Kelly's first game against the Wolverines as head coach of the Irish, but I think ND's passing attack will lead them to victory. Michigan's secondary may be able to get by against a team like UConn, but ND, in my mind, has the potential to torch the Wolverines' defensive backs.
After a couple of games that should be wins for Michigan, the Wolverines start Big Ten play with a game at Indiana. Although the Hoosiers gave Michigan a hell of a game a year ago, I think the Wolverines will win by a couple touchdowns in Bloomington. Just like last year, though, I have Michigan following up a win against Indiana with a loss to Michigan State. As much as it pains me to make that prediction, I have visions of Kirk Cousins torching the U-M secondary en route to a third straight win for the Spartans over the Wolverines. Like I said, it's tough for me to predict that outcome, but I think Rich Rodriguez will really start to feel the heat after another loss to MSU.
Some of that heat will subside a bit after Michigan upsets Iowa a week later. Last year following a heart-breaking loss to MSU, Michigan went on the road and nearly upset Iowa. This year, I think Michigan will rebound in similar fashion except win the game, allowing the team to head into its bye week on a positive note.
Coming out of the bye week, I think things will shift toward the negative side of the spectrum again with a close loss to Penn State. If this game were earlier in the season I would be more apt to predict a Michigan victory, but I think the Nittany Lions will have their quarterback situation figured out by the end of October. Plus, this game is at night, and we all know how tough games at the "White House" are during primetime.
Wrapping up the season, I have Michigan ending a losing streak to Illinois and Purdue to start the month of November. That Purdue game has the makings of another shootout, but this time I think Michigan will emerge victorious. I don't see a victory after that, though. Wisconsin is beatable, but I don't think they will choke again like they did in 2008. As for Ohio State, well, that could be another rout in Columbus.
While a 7-5 record may be a disappointment to some, I think it will be enough for Rich Rodriguez to save his job for at least one more season. Losing to ND, MSU and OSU in the same season will be tough to overcome, but I think Dave Brandon will give Rodriguez one more year to take this program back to the level it was once on. If he doesn't deliver in 2011, however, it will be time for a change for sure.
Michigan State Spartans
Sept. 4 - vs. Western Michigan (WIN)
Sept. 11 - vs. Florida Atlantic (WIN)
Sept. 18 - vs. Notre Dame (WIN)
Sept. 25 - vs. Northern Colorado (WIN)
Oct. 2 - vs. Wisconsin (LOSS)
Oct. 9 - at Michigan (WIN)
Oct. 16 - vs. Illinois (WIN)
Oct. 23 - at Northwestern (LOSS)
Oct. 30 - at Iowa (LOSS)
Nov. 6 - vs. Minnesota (WIN)
Nov. 20 - vs. Purdue (WIN)
Nov. 27 - at Penn State (LOSS)
Moving on to Michigan State, I have the Spartans going 8-4 in 2010, and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if they manage to win nine games because of how their schedule sets up. Michigan State doesn't even leave the state of Michigan for a game until Oct. 23., and while they have a few tough games during that stretch, the lack of travel is a definite advantage.
I think Michigan State will begin their stretch of games in Michigan with a perfect September, rolling their three cupcakes and winning what should be an exciting game against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish will obviously present the toughest challenge, but unlike the last time MSU and ND met at Spartan Stadium at night, I think the Fighting Irish will lose.
October will be much tougher on Michigan State, starting with a game against Wisconsin. While it is yet another game at Spartan Stadium, I have the Badgers coming in and leaving with a win. Luckily for MSU, the next week is a game against Michigan, and as I already mentioned, I have the Wolverines losing.
October rolls on with the last game of MSU's stretch in Michigan. That should be an easy win, but things get tough with back-to-back road games against Northwestern and Iowa. I have MSU losing both games, though they should be extremely close finishes. (Just look at last year's MSU-Iowa game.)
The final three games on the schedule shape up pretty nicely for Michigan State. They get two more home games, and both should result in victories. To end the year, MSU will play at Penn State, which I have as a loss. Just as with the Michigan-Penn State prediction, I think the Nittany Lions will have their QB situation figured out well in advance of the latter stages of the season and will win at home.
The Spartans' schedule gives them the potential to win nine to 10 games in 2010. While I don't think they will reach that level, the good thing for them is that their plateau looks to be around eight wins. I would be surprised if they won seven or less, so I think 2010 will be a step in the right direction for Michigan State.