The Michigan State Spartans enter the 2013 season with something to prove. The Spartans have enjoyed a very successful stretch under head coach Mark Dantonio, but slumped to 7-6 in 2012 while their offense regressed badly. A bounce-back year from Michigan State would go a long way towards confirming their presence in the upper echelon of the Big Ten, and their 2013 schedule presents a favorable roadmap for them.
2013 Michigan State schedule
Projections from Football Outsiders' 2013 college football almanac.
A pessimistic analysis of Michigan State's schedule leaves them around an 8-4 record. They avoid Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State, and play Michigan in East Lansing. Their out-of-conference schedule should yield at least three wins, and with much of the Big Ten looking vulnerable, wins could be had in bunches in September and October. If the ball bounces the right way for the Spartans, they have a shot at double-digit wins. That's a big if, though.
Michigan State's season will be made or broken in November. In the span of four weeks, the Spartans play Michigan at home, and then Nebraska and Northwestern on the road following a bye week. Add in a September visit to Notre Dame, and Michigan State has to play three of their four toughest opponents on the road. Granted, Northwestern's Ryan Field is hardly a fortress, but the Wildcats lost only one game at home last year, and it was by one point to Nebraska.
If Michigan State can win at least two of their three games against Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern, then they have a real chance to get back to the Big Ten Championship Game. That task is easier said than done, though, and it would also require no other slip-ups in their conference schedule, something at which Michigan State has historically not excelled. The road back to the top of the conference is maneuverable for the Spartans. They won't be the favorites to win the division, but with some inevitable improvement on offense and a little bit of luck, they can make it happen.