Couch: How Michigan State's football season will go – game-by-game predictions
Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch predicts Michigan State's football season, each and every game.
GAME 1: OCT. 24 VS. RUTGERS, NOON, BTN
Mel Tucker couldn’t have landed a better Big Ten opponent for his MSU debut. Rutgers re-hired the only coach who’s ever made its football program relevant in Greg Schiano. But it took Schiano a while the first time around and he’s inheriting a mess again. That doesn’t make this a gimme for the Spartans, who are entering a season with an unproven quarterback, an offensive line that hasn’t pushed around anyone in the Big Ten since 2015 and a defense that’s replacing a handful of mainstays. Just two years ago, MSU barely had enough to beat the Scarlet Knights, 14-10, at Spartan Stadium. Mel Tucker and new MSU offensive coordinator Jay Johnson open with a short-side Jet Sweep. It goes for 80 yards. Mark Dantonio, watching somewhere, nods.
MSU 37, Rutgers 20
GAME 2: OCT. 31 AT MICHIGAN, TBD
I like that this game is early in the season because both teams should still have hope and decent health heading into their Halloween date. For MSU, there is concern that Wolverines new starting QB Joe Milton is Patrick Mahomes or Cam Newton or a combination of John Elway and Buster Douglas. I Googled Joe Milton and God, just to make sure. Kidding aside, the 6-foot-5, 243-pound junior sounds like he has all the tools. This isn’t a Michigan team that from the outset looks like a top-tier national contender, given inexperience on the offensive line and the loss of wideout Nico Collins and corner Ambry Thomas, both of whom opted out of the 2020 season to prepare for the NFL draft. But the Wolverines defensively are still a more seasoned unit than the Spartans. That’ll be the difference.
Michigan 31, MSU 20
GAME 3: NOV. 7 AT IOWA
I think Iowa and MSU might wind up having somewhat similar football teams — both with first-year quarterbacks, strength at the skill positions, a number of returning offensive linemen and a lot to replace on defense. Iowa’s receivers and offensive line are a bit more proven heading in. But that might not be the case by Week 3. There’s a chance the scoring in this one is in the 30s. The last time MSU played at Kinnick Stadium, on Oct. 5, 2013, the Spartans found their footing and didn’t stop winning by double digits until the Rose Bowl. This MSU team does not have that defense.
Iowa 27, MSU 24
GAME 4: NOV. 14 VS. INDIANA
I think this is going to be a pretty good Indiana football team — a team that could challenge for a top-three spot in the East Division — with a lot returning from an eight-win team a year ago, including QB Michael Penix Jr., running back Stevie Scott and receiver Whop Philyor, who all gave the Spartans fits in 2019. They’ll likely give MSU fits in 2020. This Spartan offense has a chance to be more exciting than in recent years. It’ll likely have to be closer to explosive to win this game.
Indiana 37, MSU 31
GAME 5: NOV. 21 AT MARYLAND
This might be the hardest game to read ahead of time in a season that's even harder to predict than usual — and I usually get these season predictions spectacularly wrong. Maryland was an absolute mess after a great start last season. Injuries didn’t help, but it went beyond that. The Terrapins have some weapons on offense and now they have Tua Tagovailoa’s brother, Taulia, as an option at quarterback. That’s interesting. I wouldn’t be stunned if Maryland is competitive. Nor would I be surprised if the Terps go winless.
MSU 34, Maryland 30
GAME 6: NOV. 28 VS. NORTHWESTERN
MSU faces a familiar quarterback in Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey and a hungry Northwestern program coming off an un-Pat Fitzgerald-like 3-9 season. The Wildcats have a new offensive coordinator for the first time in forever and a defense that returns every soul in the secondary. But Peyton Ramsey isn’t Peyton Manning. And I think MSU might have better offensive personnel outside of the quarterback position. This winds up as the signature win of Mel Tucker’s first year and the day Trenton Gillison catches 15 passes to break Matt Trannon’s MSU single-game receptions record.
MSU 26, Northwestern 23
GAME 7: DEC. 5 VS. OHIO STATE
The College Football Playoff is Ryan Day’s birthright and the Spartans are in the way. After escaping Illinois a week earlier, one of the more talented Buckeyes teams we’ve seen offensively puts a business-like beatdown on an MSU program that doesn’t have the talent right now defensively to threaten an upset. The good news for the Spartans: Their playmakers offensively show enough spark to leave this game feeling on the right track — and to leave fans feeling like they’ve got something brewing.
Ohio State 48, MSU 24
GAME 8: DEC. 12 AT PENN STATE (IN INDIANAPOLIS)
The Big Ten’s in-season decision (hopefully) to move the final games of the regular season indoors puts MSU’s road game against Penn State in prime time at Lucas Oil Stadium. Same for Michigan vs. Ohio State earlier in the day, which gives the Wolverines their first taste of Indianapolis. Penn State is vulnerable. The Nittany Lions have some holes, especially at receiver. By the time they see the Spartans, I suspect they’ll have at least a couple of losses. If MSU is healthy and has some fight left, this could be interesting.
Penn State 31, MSU 24
GAME 9: DEC. 19 VS. PURDUE (AT THE SUPERIOR DOME IN MARQUETTE)
The Big Ten winds up splitting up its top four games — the championship game, 2 vs. 2, 3 vs. 3 and 4 vs. 4 — between Indianapolis and St. Louis. The other games are slated for campus sites, so MSU and Purdue, the two fifth-place teams, come up with a plan on their own — to play in the largest wooden dome in the world, the Superior Dome in Marquette, Michigan, which is vastly cooler than Lucas Oil Stadium anyway. It acts as a cold-weather paradise bowl trip for both teams, ore docks and all. Rondale Moore’s final college game is on the shores of Lake Superior. Gordon Lightfoot writes a song about it.
MSU 30, Purdue 27
Final 2020 record: 4-5.
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.