The 2017 season is still several months away. But we never stop looking forward here at the Big Ten blog.
It may be ridiculously early, but we’re examining what will be the must-win game and the potential trap game for each league team this fall. Up next: the Michigan State Spartans.
Must-win game: Sept. 30 vs. Iowa. The Spartans are in need of a bounce-back season and don’t have much time to waste. They open their Big Ten schedule in late September against the Hawkeyes -- another team that dipped (albeit not as dramatically as Michigan State) after playing for a Big Ten title in 2015. Iowa’s visit is one of several swing games that could determine whether last season is viewed as a blip on the radar for a consistent program under Mark Dantonio or a blow that will set it back for several years. Results against the likes of Notre Dame, Indiana and Northwestern could prove to be the difference between a 6-6 record or a return to the upper crust of the conference. Iowa falls in that category, too, and a notable September victory could be important for building confidence for a relatively young team.
Trap game: Nov. 18 vs. Maryland. Coming on the heels of clashes with Penn State and Ohio State, Michigan’s State game against the Terps could be a sneaky test of its depth and consistency. Maryland took a step forward last season under new coach D.J. Durkin and his staff, including a 28-17 win against the out-of-sorts Spartans in late October. Michigan State isn’t in a position to overlook any opponent at this stage, which makes this "trap" feel a little unfair to Maryland. Nonetheless, if Michigan State does make progress in resurrecting its reputation in 2017, a loss to Durkin’s crew could knock them back toward the bottom of the East Division's pecking order.