Scope of the Spartans: The Goal is Elevation Part Four
Here we go again, Spartan Nation. To being my tenth season talking Spartan Football with you all let’s take a close look at this team and program to being 2018. Almost a complete outlook, if you will. Here is part four: PREDICTIONS!
Michigan State: Expectations for Spartan Football are back to where they were a handful of years ago. If the Spartans stick with the Offense they showed beginning at Northwestern last year and have ditched the “Run-First-Stubborn” approach that limited them before then, the 2018 Offense should put up plenty of points to win a lot of games. Their biggest game should again be the battle with Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes, but given how last year’s game with Penn Stateplayed out and the scheduling luck the Lions have this fall, MSU's bigger game may well be their trip to Happy Valley in mid-November.
Ohio State: A new era was already set to begin with key assistant Kerry Combs and long term Quarterback J.T. Barrett exiting out of Columbus. Then Big Ten Media Days happened, and now Meyer is somewhat suspended for a few more weeks, at least for now. Ohio State was foolishly left out of the Playoff last year, which should motivate them for 2018. But how do they handle this unexpected, late-offseason earthquake? The key game on their schedule will again be the best modern rivalry in the Big Ten, this time at Michigan State. As long as the Bucks are outstanding up front they should be able to compete for the division, despite all the recent turmoil and new faces in key positions around the program.
Penn State: What if the best of the James Franklin era has already past at Penn State? After coughing up a Rose Bowl to USC and coming up short of their goals in 2017, things will not get any easier in State College this year. Penn State returns a lot, most notably a scrappy Quarterback that’s made a lot of plays and won a lot of games in the last two years, but they also lost a lot to graduation and the NFL. Key games for the Lions are at Pitt in Week 2 and then the back to back home monsters against the Buckeyes and Spartans. Incredibly, Penn State has a bye between those two. Franklin knows you cannot win the B1G East without beating OSU and MSU. He’s got to feel like he’s holding an “ace in the hole” with a bye week between those two heavyweights.
Michigan: Same old story for Michigan: until they find a Quarterback and some chemistry they will struggle. Shea Patterson has been named the starter in Ann Arbor, so let's see how that goes. Michigan could be as bad as 2-3 on October 1st, or as well off as 6-0 before facing Wisconsin in mid-October. The key game of their season might be the opener at Notre Dame, but it’s more likely at home against Penn State to begin November. As unstable and disorganized as Michigan looked on “A Season With” last year, if they find chemistry and a Quarterback this fall they will also find some stability in Ann Arbor.
Indiana: Tim Allen deserves credit for getting his Hoosiers to make the most (almost) of his first year in Bloomington. Indiana woulda-coulda-shoulda too much last year. This year, reality sets back in and the harder parts of the rebuilding at IU continue. Better days may be ahead, but a better record is not this year. The key game for Indiana may be at Rutgers. If they don’t get a Big Ten win on the road in New Jersey that day they may not win another Big Ten game until 2019.
Rutgers: Chris Ash has done a pretty good job trying to bring Rutgers Football up to a Big Ten level. It has not been easy, it will not get any easier, and they are probably less than half way to measuring up with the competition in the East. The key game for the Scarlet Knights looks to be a road visit to Kansas. If RU can win that game they should have a shot to compete in a string of subsequent games. Otherwise, Rutgers just does not yet have the number of Big Ten caliber players developed to compete in nearly half of their twelve game schedule.
Maryland: After an incredibly rough 2017 injury wise, with Quarterback after Quarterback going down at a historic rate, 2018 got off to a tragic start with the death of player after a summer workout. It has since gotten worse. Look for total chaos in College Park this year before a massive change at the end of the season. The opener hosting Texas is once again huge, and serves as a chance for Maryland to make a statement again on a national stage that they’re on the rise. If they keep momentum through September they could show up in Ann Arbor undefeated to open October. That's a major "if," given the recent happenings. Don’t bet on it.
Wisconsin: Bucky begins another season with a butter soft out of conference schedule, unless the BYU game somehow becomes competitive. A very tough pair of out of division road games seriously threatens the Badgers from winning another B1G West crown. Their reign atop the softer side of the Big Ten begins the process of eroding this year.
Iowa: The Cy-Hawk game is often a rude awakening for Kirk Ferentz's bunch, falling too soon on the schedule for Iowa to measure up with the giant chip on the shoulder that Iowa State brings to the rivalry game. The key game for Iowa in conference is probably their opener at Wisconsin. A win there and the Hawks are competing for the division into November. A loss there and you might be looking at something rather ugly by the end of the Corn Bowl in Iowa City on Black Friday.
Northwestern: New facility or not, it's been historically difficult for Northwestern to follow up a great season. Expect some of those issues again this year. The Michigan game at home appears to be the key to their season. As that game goes, the balance of the Cats season should follow. They will be an interesting team to study.
Purdue: Until the Jeff Brohm train slows down, I'm staying on it. The key game to their season is without a doubt their end of September visit to Lincoln. A road-win there and Purdue is probably still playing for the division into November. A second straight Bowl Game is a realistic goal for Petey and his pals. A win in another Bowl Game would be real progress.
Nebraska: Hype is the name of the game this year in Lincoln. Usually, a new Head Coach gets the best attention and motivation he will ever get out of that ffirst-yearteam, often ending up in an extra win or two than people expected. Not only are the Huskers getting a new head man in a weaker division, they're getting one with valuable and successful coaching experience. Nebraska shouldn't become a 10-win team over night but their schedule does leave that option. That opportunity should first present itself at Michigan in the fourth week. If they win there, watch out for the Big Reds again, for real.
Minnesota: If last year was "year zero" for P.J. Fleck as Goldy's new ship captain, what makes you think this year will actually be year one? I don't know what to make of Fleck yet and I don't know if I'll be able to make much more of him after 2018. The Gophers look a couple more years away from being competitive, but who knows, maybe they can row above their heads even sooner.
Illinois: Lovie Smith comes off as a little more energized than Michigan assistant Pep Hamilton. I'm not sure either guy is best fit in College Football, though both can surely coach. Illinois has problems all over the place and we have yet to see any signs that those will be resolved in 2018. Four wins or more would count as a big surprise.
Notre Dame: There has not much noise at all about the Irish this offseason around College Football. That silence ends on September 1st when they host Michigan at home. That game sets the table for big Irish run that could extend into a rather long winning streak. Next to the Michigan game, going to Virginia Tech and then hosting Pitt look to be the other key games to their season. 2018 is the first good chance for Notre Dame to get serious consideration for the College Football Playoff.
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