Michigan State Football returns to action Sept. 3 in an away season-opener against Northwestern. After ending the 2020 conference-only season 2-5 under Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker, the Spartans will be looking to bring new energy to Spartan Stadium and against their opponents.
Sept. 3 - Northwestern:
Last season, the Spartans took on the Wildcats with only one win under their belt and three losses at that point in the season. Giving Northwestern their first loss was an important victory under former quarterback Rocky Lombardi. With an Anthony Russo and Payton Thorne quarterback duo, the Spartans have the capability to take another win in this 2021 season opener.
Sept. 11 - Youngstown State:
The Penguins went 1-6 record in their 2020 conference-only season, so the Spartans should be looking to add another win under their belt in their second game. Tucker will likely have the opportunity to give his backups the time to shine in this non-conference matchup.
Sept. 18 - University of Miami:
It's been 32 years since a Miami versus MSU game, but the Spartans are likely to fall short to the Hurricanes after an 8-3 overall record for Miami last season. Miami Head Coach Manny Diaz will be taking over play-calling on the defensive side of the ball after struggling in 2020. With an electric Miami offense, the Spartans will need to be strategic on the defense, especially against Heisman hopeful D’Eriq King.
Sept. 25 - Nebraska:
Going 3-5 last season compared to the Spartans’ 2-5 season, this game is a toss-up for either team to take the win. Nebraska’s experienced quarterback Adrian Martinez could put up a challenge for the Spartans but struggled in the season opener as the Cornhuskers lost to Illinois to begin the college football season. With a four-season losing streak under Nebraska Head Coach Scott Frost and a struggling Nebraska offense with a high turnover margin, Tucker could add another win on the roster for the Spartans.
Oct. 2 - Western Kentucky
MSU lands itself in another toss-up game against a pesky Western Kentucky. Despite a losing record last season, Western Kentucky Head Coach Tyson Helton has proven in just two seasons that he can keep up with the best with two bowl game appearances. Playing against the Hilltoppers' strong defense will be a challenge MSU’s offense, making a good performance from Russo/Thorne vital.
Oct. 9 - Rutgers
In last year’s season opener, the Spartans handed the Scarlet Knights a 38-27 win with turnover after turnover. Performances from Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor proved to be important for the Spartans in last year’s game, and this year should be no exception. Although ending the season 3-6, Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano broke their 21-game Big Ten losing streak and the majority of the team will return for this season as the Spartans seek revenge.
Oct. 16 - Indiana
The Spartans will face their toughest opponent so far this season with the Hoosiers. Ending the 2020 conference-only season 6-2, Indiana proved to be a pleasant surprise last season. In last season’s matchup, Thorne relieved Lombardi in the second quarter, which has the potential to help in this year’s game. Despite this, Indiana will return a few star players with Michael Penix Jr., Ty Fryfogle, Micah McFadden and Tiawan Mullen, putting them at an advantage over the Spartans.
Oct. 30 - Michigan
The most infamous matchup of the Spartans’ 2021 season will take place at Spartan Stadium this season, after shocking the Wolverines last season, 27-24. Losing a few of its key defensive players could pose a problem for the Wolverines which the Spartans should be able to capitalize on with performances from Jayden, Nailor and the rest of the receiving core as it did a year ago. With Michigan being his first win as head coach, Tucker will be looking to keep the Paul Bunyan Trophy in East Lansing.
Nov. 6 - Purdue
A previous 2-4 season for the Boilermakers leaves the Spartans in a good position to add another win under their belt. The Boilermakers have one of the best defensive linemen in the country with George Karlaftis to pose problems for the Spartans' defensive line, but not much threatens after that. With three tough weeks of matchups before Purdue and another three Big Ten opponents in the following weeks, the team will possibly need a mark under the win column to avoid a losing streak.
Nov. 13 - Maryland
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With two instances of COVID-19 hitting the Terrapins last season, the matchup against the Spartans was canceled twice. Maryland ended their season overall with a 2-3 record, not posing to be much of a threat to the Spartans. The Russo/Thorne duo will need to play strategically in order to walk away with a win against Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, who showed to be slightly inconsistent last season but has the potential to show out at Spartan Stadium.
Nov. 20 - Ohio State
After falling well-short to their toughest opponent last season 52-12, not much has changed in the offseason before the Spartans take on the Buckeyes in Columbus. In last season’s game, an injured Lombardi was replaced by Thorne who moved the offense better, but still struggled. With Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields being drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, he will be replaced with CJ Stroud, a five-star out of California. A Stroud, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson trio poses a major threat to the Spartan defense as the Buckeyes will be looking to secure their fifth consecutive Big Ten championship.
Nov. 27 - Penn State
The Spartans will have a tough game ahead of them after facing off against Big Ten champion Ohio State the week before. In last season’s final matchup, the Spartans fell short to the Nittany Lions 39-24. After a strong first half for MSU, they fell short in the second half the defense began to open up for the Nittany Lion offense. PSU was Thorne’s first career start, which is hopefully an advantage he can bring into this season’s game against the Nittany Lions.
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