Michigan State had quite the 2010 season. The Spartans won 11 games, went to a New Year's Day bowl and earned a share of the Big Ten title. It was a season to be proud of for sure, but the Spartans want more in 2011. Specifically, they want to play in the Rose Bowl, which is why Mark Dantonio has instituted P4RB (play for Rose Bowl) as the team's slogan.
Will Michigan State reach their goal of playing well enough to be invited to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl? SB Nation Detroit's four writers don't seem to think so. All four of them shared their predictions for the 2011 season, and surprisingly a consensus has been reached: Michigan State will go 9-3 this upcoming season. Explanations of how each writer arrived at the 9-3 prediction can be found below.
Unlike Michigan, the cross-state rival Spartans don't have a very favorable schedule. While Michigan gets to ease into its Big Ten schedule a bit, MSU's first four conference games are absolutely brutal: at Ohio State, home with Michigan and Wisconsin and back on the road to Nebraska. If the Spartans get beat up in the first couple games they could conceivably start the conference slate 0-4.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins will have something to say about that as he leads the MSU offense for 2011. Cousins threw for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns last year and will be on plenty of early season Heisman watch lists along with his rival Denard Robinson in Ann Arbor.
He'll be backed by tailback Edwin Baker, but he'll also be missing receiving target Mark Dell, who has moved on to the NFL. The defense is led by tackle Jerel Worthy, but the unit suffered some significant losses with the departures of Greg Jones, Eric Gordon and Chris L. Rucker.
The offensive line is the biggest concern for MSU, as they need three new starters at both tackle positions and center. They do return Joel Foreman and Chris McDonald, but keeping Cousins off his back is going to be key to the Spartans' success. If they can't do that, MSU might be looking at trouble.
After an 11-2 season you might expect the Spartans to take a big leap forward, but the reality is they'll probably take a small step back. Their midseason schedule is not exactly easy and the team probably overachieved a bit last year, as evidenced by blowout losses to Iowa and Alabama. MSU will benefit early on from a ridiculously easy cupcake schedule that includes dates with Florida Atlantic and Youngstown State, but the first four Big Ten games will decide its season.
Ian Casselberry: 9-3
After going down the Spartans' schedule, I was surprised to see that my initial take had them finishing at 7-5. I think they'll be better than that, however. MSU brings back almost everyone from last year's 11-win team, most importantly Kirk Cousins at quarterback and an outstanding running game. So I took a closer look at each opponent and reassessed my first instincts.
For instance, just how good is Ohio State going to be this year after all that program has been through? Notre Dame looks formidable, but doesn't MSU kind of own them in South Bend? What to make of Wisconsin, who the Spartans throttled last year and are breaking in a quarterback who was the second baseman for the Colorado Rockies' Class A team until July? And the general sentiment seems to be that Nebraska will be very good, but The Only Colors points out that the Cornhuskers lost some good players. Will joining the Big Ten require more of an adjustment than many football analysts believe?
Most of MSU's big games this year are on the road, and that might present a problem. And then there's that brutal four-game stretch with Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. But I don't think either scenario sinks the Spartans. I can't see them winning at Nebraska and Iowa, but I think victories in Columbus and South Bend are entirely possible. Though MSU hosts Wisconsin, I think the Badgers will avenge last year's loss. But that's the game I keep flip-flopping on. It'll be the difference between a good and great season for the Spartans.
Brian Packey: 9-3
I can confidently predict that the Spartans will be national champs this season if they're as good as quarterback Kirk Cousins' speech at the Big Ten luncheon. (Hint: they won't.)
Mark Dantonio's squad enters the new year ranked as high as No. 17 in the polls, returning most of their starters and poised to build off of their 11-2 record from last year and earn a spot in a BCS game.
Despite having what looks to be their best team in years on paper, their schedule isn't doing them any favors. The Spartans' four straight games at Ohio State, vs. Michigan, vs. Wisconsin and at Nebraska will be especially grueling, and I can't see them escaping that block of games better than .500. Ultimately, I can't see the Spartans finishing any better than 9-3.
Sean Yuille: 9-3
Michigan State arguably has more talent on its roster this year compared to the team that won the Big Ten title in 2010, but the schedule is much, much tougher. Unlike last season, which saw Michigan State play its first seven games in the state of Michigan, the Spartans are going to face a much tougher slate of games in 2011.
The month of October is especially brutal for MSU. The Spartans open the month on the road against Ohio State. They then return home to face Michigan and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks before closing out the month with Nebraska on the road.
The Spartans will be tested week after week in October, and I actually have them passing with flying colors against OSU and Michigan. In fact, I think Michigan State will open the season with six straight wins -- four straight in the non-conference portion of the schedule and two straight to open the Big Ten. I have MSU finally falling at home against Wisconsin in what should be a very good game, and I have the Spartans losing to Nebraska as well.
The schedule gets much easier in November with home games against Minnesota and Indiana and road games against Iowa and Northwestern. I think Michigan State will fall in one of the road games (more likely Iowa than Northwestern) but cruise to victories in the home games, giving the Spartans a record of 9-3 for the season. This won't be good enough to play in the Rose Bowl, but it will still be another solid year for Mark Dantonio and company.