Schedule analysis: Michigan State

Michigan State opens its season in exactly six weeks. (Pause for applause). While the opener against Boise State is a big one, we're here to analyze the Spartans' entire 2012 season as part of our ongoing series looking at each Big Ten's slate this fall.

Here's what the defending Legends Division champs can look forward to this year:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Aug. 31: Boise State (12-1)

Sept. 8: at Central Michigan (3-9)

Sept. 15: Notre Dame (8-5)

Sept. 22: Eastern Michigan (6-6)

Legends Division games

Oct. 13: Iowa

Oct. 20: at Michigan

Nov. 3: Nebraska

Nov. 17: Northwestern

Nov. 24: at Minnesota

Crossover games

Sept. 29: Ohio State

Oct. 6: at Indiana (protected)

Oct. 27: at Wisconsin

No plays

Penn State



Gut-check game: The last few games between the two have been classics, but can Michigan State win at Wisconsin? The Badgers hardly ever lose in Madison, where the Spartans haven't won since '01 and the crowd will be geeked up for the game (and by the Halloween weekend festivities). That sure looks like the Spartans' biggest road test of the year, though luckily for them it is not a division game.

Trap game: Iowa should never be considered a gimme game in any way. But the Spartans will be favored at home against the Hawkeyes. Thing is, it comes a week before the colossal showdown at Michigan, and Michigan State has to be careful not to get caught looking ahead.

Snoozer: Pick your directional Michigan school for this one. The Spartans should outclass both its in-state MAC opponents. Eastern Michigan was better than Central Michigan last year, but the game against the Chippewas is slightly more interesting because it comes on the road.

Non-con challenge: The toughest challenge arrives in August as Boise State comes to East Lansing. Michigan State is lucky in the sense that the Broncos will be opening their post-Kellen Moore era, but anyone who thinks this one will be easy hasn't paid attention to recent history. The Notre Dame game is always interesting, too.

Telltale stretch: Michigan State doesn't have an unrelenting stretch quite like last year's October obstacle course, but the four-week run from Oct. 13 to Nov. 3 is still pretty daunting, with Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska all in a row. When that is over, we should have a pretty good idea where the Legends Division race stands.

Analysis: We thought last year's schedule would keep Michigan State from winning the division, but we were wrong as the Spartans proved up to the challenge. It isn't much easier this year, though Nebraska, Ohio State and Notre Dame have to go to East Lansing. The team's fortunes may well depend on whether it can keep up its winning streak against Michigan by going into the Big House and making it five in a row. The toughest job for Mark Dantonio might be keeping his players fresh and focused, since they play their first 10 games without a bye week. If they can get to that point in the season in good shape, the schedule eases up considerably for the final two weeks. And if the Spartans are to return to Indianapolis, they once again will have earned their way there against what's arguably no worse than the second-toughest schedule in the Big Ten.

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