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Michigan State football predictions: Here's how Spartans will fare in every game

Chris Solari
Detroit Free Press

The countdown clock continues to tick toward Saturday. Mel Tucker and Michigan State football’s oft-interrupted, two month-delayed wedding becomes official when toe meets football at Spartan Stadium against Rutgers.

It is the kickoff of a challenging schedule and the baptism of the Spartans’ new coach who was hired late, could not conduct spring practices, endured a COVID-19 shutdown in an unorthodox summer and waited out a one-month shutdown by the Big Ten before learning there would actually be football this fall after all.

Michigan State players celebrate the 19-16 win over Maryland, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in East Lansing.

Some of the plusses? MSU will face five new starting quarterbacks, including each of the first three games.


Downside? Back-to-back road games at Michigan and Iowa in Weeks 2 and 3, then closing the regular season with Ohio State and at Penn State — with none of the Big Ten getting a bye in the next nine weeks unless a COVID-19 outbreak occurs.

Tucker’s challenge will be replacing legendary coach Mark Dantonio. His charge is to bring the Spartans back to the elite level the program’s winningest coach elevated MSU football over the past 13 seasons, with three Big Ten titles and six seasons of 10 or more wins in the last decade.

Here’s a game-by-game score prediction for Tucker’s debut season.

Oct 24: Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 23: Elijah Collins #24 of the Michigan State Spartans stiff arms Mike Tverdov #97 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half of their game at SHI Stadium on November 23, 2019 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

Last season: MSU won, 27-0.

The buzz: Rocky Lombardi already has one win over the Scarlet Knights, and the junior QB will begin his tenure as full-time starter by using the passing game to set up Elijah Collins and the offensive line to control the game on the ground. It gives Tucker a close victory in Greg Schiano’s return to Rutgers.

The pick: MSU wins, 20-13.

Oct 31: at Michigan

Michigan defensive back Ambry Thomas (1), linebacker Cameron McGrone (44) and defensive lineman Taylor Upshaw (91) tackle Michigan State tight end Trenton Gillison during the second half at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.

Last season: U-M, 44-10.

The buzz: While the Spartans stay competitive early, Tucker’s mentor Nick Saban remains the only MSU coach to win his first game against the Wolverines. MSU struggles to move the ball and endures strong pressure in the backfield, while its retooled front seven on defense has difficulty bringing down U-M’s Zach Charbonnet.

The pick: U-M, 21-13.

Nov 7: at Iowa

Michigan State's Matt Coghlin against Iowa during the first quarter of MSU's 17-10 win over Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in East Lansing.

Last season: Did not play.

The buzz: Lombardi’s homecoming gets off to a promising start, with Collins and the offensive line taking advantage of a depleted Hawkeyes front four. But Iowa’s veteran offensive line dictates the flow and tone in controlling the clock for long drives, grinding down the inexperienced MSU defense.

The pick: Iowa, 27-17.

Nov 14: Indiana

Michigan State's Xavier Henderson, right, tackles Indiana's Stevie Scott III during the third quarter on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in East Lansing.

Last season: MSU, 40-31.

The buzz: This series has been close the past four years, with MSU winning last year on a Matt Coghlin field goal with 5 seconds left and a bonus TD as time expired. Expect another one to go down to the wire for the second straight year at Spartan Stadium, with the Spartans’ offense producing its best game so far and coming through late to hold off QB Michael Penix Jr. and RB Stevie Scott III in a shootout.

The pick: MSU, 33-31.

Nov 21: at Maryland

Michigan State's Tre Mosley runs on a pass reception against Maryland's Antoine Brooks Jr. during the second half Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in East Lansing. MSU won 19-16.

Last season: MSU, 19-16.

The buzz: Back to back games against Penn State and Ohio State leave the Terps aching and reeling. It’s a perfect chance for the Spartans’ defense to build some momentum. And it is a chance for WR Jayden Reed to flash his speed and playmaking ability on offense and in the return game.

The pick: MSU, 28-13.

Nov 28: Northwestern

Michigan State defensive tackle Naquan Jones (93) celebrates a tackle against Northwestern's Cameron Green, but was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for stepping over Green, during the second half at Spartan Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

Last season: MSU, 31-10.

The buzz: MSU remains Peyton Ramsey’s white whale after falling short as QB against the Spartans in 2017 and 2018 while the starter at Indiana. The grad transfer now gives the Wildcats a veteran presence with poise to come into Spartan Stadium and compete on offense, but Xavier Henderson and Shakur Brown make key plays in the fourth quarter to stymie Ramsey one final time.

The pick: MSU, 28-24.

Dec 5: Ohio State

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, is tackled by Michigan State defensive lineman Jacub Panasiuk, left, and defensive back Josiah Scott during the second half at Ohio Stadium.

Last season: OSU, 38-0.

The buzz: Tucker, like Mark Dantonio before him, came through the Jim Tressel coaching tree and served as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator in Columbus. Dantonio used this game as a measuring stick for his program’s worth on the national stage. The Spartans spent much of the last decade going toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes. Not yet for Tucker. Not even close.

The pick: OSU, 35-10.

Dec 12: at Penn State

Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford keeps the ball for a run against Michigan State during the first half at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Saturday, October 26, 2019.

Last season: PSU, 28-7.

The buzz: Congratulations if you made it this far — not with these predictions, dear reader, but with the season not being interrupted. All signs point to disruption growing, so there is no telling whether these games will be played as scheduled or at all. But if the Spartans get to State College in mid-December, things get a lot colder and a lot snowier high up in the mountains. Penn State will know its fate and be coming off a blowout of Rutgers, and MSU falls to a still-productive 4-4 for Tucker’s first year and waits for its Week 9 pairing and potential bowl destination.

The pick: PSU, 27-14.

MSU's record: 4-4

Contact Chris Solari: Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more on the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.