Here's the countdown from the easiest to the hardest game to win:
12. Eastern Illinois
5. Michigan State
Michigan State could be one of the best teams in the Big Ten. They might struggle to get a bowl bid. Such is the lot in East Lansing where you never know which Michigan State team will show up. The Spartans managed to beat Iowa and Northwestern last year--both bowl bound teams--yet struggled against Penn State, Ohio State and lost their bowl game to Georgia 24-12. But they do seem to have more consistency under Dantonio than previously.
But if Penn State's program has questions (O-line, WR and secondary) then Michigan State's is even greater, having to replace both Hoyer at QB and Ringer at RB. The defense will return eight starters, and they should improve with experience, but let's face it--we scored 49 points on them last year.
Factors that favor the Spartans--home field advantage, coming off a road game with Purdue, and the fact that Dantonio was pissed off at Penn State for using its time-outs to honor the seniors last season.
For the Lions, they will be coming off a game with Indiana and Penn State may be mad at Dantonio for using his time outs in a ploy to prolong last year's game and make the fans wait in the cold for their impending celebration of a Big Ten title. Petty? Perhaps, but it is the sort of thing that rivalries can build on.
Michigan State has not beaten PSU at Beaver Stadium since we joined the conference in 1993. Alas, this game will not be played in the Beav. We have lost 4 games in East Lansing while winning 4. We lost the last match-up there, so we're due for another win, right?
Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not convinced that Dantonio has turned the program around, so to speak. They reminded me last year of the Penn State teams under Morelli--good enough to win the easy games, barely good enough to win the games they should win, and just lousy enough not to win any of the big games. Last season they lost to PSU, OSU, Georgia, and California. They beat a ND team that was still struggling, and barely beat a Wisconsin team that Penn State simply dominated. With a new QB and RB, I just don't understand how people feel this team will be in the mix for a Big Ten title. Oh wait. The Big Ten is down this year, so I guess just about anyone can win it?
That said, they're still number 5 on the list, and no easy win by any means.