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Michigan State Football Roundtable: Thoughts On The 2020 Schedule

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Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

With the new 2020 schedule out, there are quite a few changes from the original besides the non-conference being cancelled. A few TOC writers provide our opinions, thoughts, and a few key takeaways on the schedule changes below.

Original 2020 Football Schedule

  • September 5: Northwestern Wildcats (Home)
  • September 12: Brigham Young University (Away)
  • September 19: Toledo Rockets (Home)
  • September 26: Miami Hurricanes (Home)
  • October 3: Iowa Hawkeyes (Away)
  • October 10: Michigan Wolverines (Home)
  • October 17: Ohio State Buckeyes (Home)
  • October 24: Indiana Hoosiers (Away)
  • October 31: Minnesota Golden Gophers (Home)
  • November 7: Bye
  • November 14: Penn State Nittany Lions (Away)
  • November 21: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (Home)
  • November 28: Maryland Terrapins (Away)

Updated 2020 Football Schedule


Operating under the premise the season is played with no hiccups, what are your initial thoughts? Is a .500 or better season more likely, less likely, or remains about the same?

Kevin: Losing the non-conference games hurts. A lot! A road trip to BYU and home game against Miami weren’t exactly a guarantee, but seemed more likely wins than a trip to Iowa and hosting Minnesota. Take those out and add a trip to Lincoln, this is brutal.

Paul: As luck would have it, I can calculate that (I think) pretty accurately. The odds to go .500 are lower. Just removing a team like Toledo from the schedule is enough to tip the scales in the negative direction. In the original schedule, my simulation pegged MSU’s odds to win six games at 45 percent. In the new schedule, the odds to win five games drop to 36 percent. But, that is still better odds than most folks will give MSU with this schedule.

Ryan: This conference-only slate is going to be brutal for a relatively young and inexperienced MSU team, with a new coaching staff, whose offseason program was essentially taken away from them. Honestly, going .500 seems like an extreme long shot. I see three comfortable wins — Maryland, Northwestern and Rutgers — and I think MSU could steal one of the three games against Iowa, Indiana or Nebraska. I say a 4-6 finish is likely...but playing out the full schedule seems doubtful at this point, anyway.

Matt S: Listen, I don’t want to be Negative Nancy here but I didn’t have high hopes for a .500 season to begin with the Miami, at BYU and T(rap game)oledo non-conference games. Missing those game and now adding a 10th conference game at Nebraska has me thinking that’s a wash of a trade, so my thoughts on achieving .500 greatness remains the same — not optimistic.

Matt H: A .500 season seems tougher to me than it did before. You add in overall stronger opponents, and draw some tough road games (fans or not). Added to that is the fact the team has a new staff and has had little time to practice and get up to speed. If this team finishes .500, I’ll be really impressed.


The new schedule includes numerous changes, both for MSU and the conference. From flipping Michigan moving forward to balance home schedules to “the-game” not being played at the end of the season, what did the Big Ten get right and/or wrong?

Kevin: Moving the Michigan game so the home schedules are more balanced for ticket sales will be the only good thing to come out of COVID-19 that is sports related. What sucks is the fact we didn’t make Michigan cave to an East Lansing game somehow instead to try and eat into their absurd imbalance in the series history. Otherwise the flexibility really seems well thought out, and I think they did as close to a miracle as they could to try and make a season happen.

Paul: I agree flipping the Michigan game venue will be good for MSU season ticket holders in the long run, so I have no quarrel with that. I am also not sure that if it matters that OSU gets to pummel Michigan in late November or mid October. But, it does seem that the teams at the top of each division got a soft extra game as Ohio State added a game at Purdue, Penn State now travels to Illinois, and Wisconsin gets the host Rutgers. I believe the technical term for that is “weak sauce.”

Ryan: There were a lot of challenges to make this work. I have no issue with MSU going back to Ann Arbor this year — actually I prefer it that way as fans will either be severely limited or not permitted in the stadium at all, and it’s a short trip from East Lansing, so Michigan wouldn’t have much of a home field advantage. As Kevin and Paul both mentioned, this will also allow for a more balanced schedule moving forward, with MSU now expected to host either Ohio State or Michigan in rotating years, rather than hosting both programs or traveling to both schools in the same season. The schedule was carefully made and well-thought out by the Big Ten office. It isn’t perfect, but it is what was needed to create a schedule that works and is flexible enough to be able to move ahead with the football season. If the fall season is canceled, the schedule could also be shifted to the spring without any further alterations needed.

Matt S: The only “wrong” I’m miffed about as a State fan is having the boys head to Lincoln to end the season. Switching the Michigan game to Ann Arbor? Fine, whatever — you’re still sleeping in your bed and taking a 60 mile bus trip over on game day (ideally). Nebraska — as far as Big Ten geography goes — might as well be in French Polynesia. That’s not necessarily a travel option I would be tickled by if I’m a player.

Matt H: I think any scheduling complaints need to be taken in context. This is a really difficult situation and they had to throw this together quickly in a way that attempted to make sense for everyone while keeping the division games intact. From an MSU perspective, their travel is more than I think would be preferred.


How rough is that three game gauntlet of at Penn State-at Michigan-Ohio State compared to the at Iowa-Michigan-Ohio State schedule originally scheduled?

Kevin: I was going to bucket-list Iowa this season so I’m annoyed about that for starters. A game at Kinnick isn’t easy, but man that was less awful than two road games to PSU and UM before the Buckeyes. Coming out of that with competitive losses in all three is probably a realistic, though high-minded, goal to hope for.

Paul: Well, Penn State projects to be better than Iowa this year and the Michigan game is on the road now, so it’s not great. In the original schedule, I calculated the expected win total of the Iowa-UofM-OSU trio to be 0.57. For the PSU-UofM-OSU trio, that falls to 0.30. So, it’s twice as bad. But, at least there is a bye week now between the Michigan and Ohio State games... which is maybe better... I guess.

Ryan: My original thought is that the Iowa game is winnable, though it will be tough on the road whether the Spartans play the Hawkeyes on Oct. 3 or Halloween (and likely a loss either way). Anything can happen in rivalry games, but I would be absolutely stunned if MSU upsets any of Penn State, Michigan or Ohio State this season. The bye week between U of M and Ohio State will be much needed to retool and recharge, but I think the game against Iowa is the most winnable of the four, so I guess I would prefer the original trio.

Matt S: Ayyyyyyy it be like that sometimes. I feel like I would take the new gauntlet handed to us as it now has a bye week after the game against the team that’s never played in the Big Ten Championship Game. The first gauntlet, I mean YEESH, I feel like even I would’ve been in physical pain by the third game.

Matt H: The stretches are pretty comparable, although I think the new one is tougher. MSU has had stretches like this in the past, and you have to play all three of those teams anyway, so might as well get it over with.


If you had to give it odds, how likely is at least a partial season occurring at this point in your minds?

Kevin: Flipping a coin seems too high of probability (I am not a math major so don’t correct me on my misunderstanding odds). Finishing the season just doesn’t seem realistic, but given fall camp begins Friday after all I would put the odds of a season starting before being scrapped at maybe 60-percent.

Paul: I hate to lay odds on things I can’t calculate. That said, I think that there is still a strong emotional and financial driving force to try to get in at least a few games, but that might not happen until spring. Gun to my head, I give the odds of at least a partial season sometime before May of 2021 to be 80-percent. A lot can happen between now and then when you have the combined brains of the scientific community working on the same problem. As this sites self-designated Chief Optimism Officer, I say its going to happen.

Ryan: For greedy reasons, the NCAA, conferences, and schools will do everything they possibly can to have a season — there is too much money on the line (even without fans in the stands). For the most part, the players (who haven’t opted out yet) want to play, so long as their health and safety is guaranteed to be the top priority. The Big Ten Conference and its schools, and I think MSU in particular, have done a pretty good job preparing for this unimaginable situation we’re living through to be in a position where fall camps have actually started and there is a schedule to play out. But the issue is the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the proper steps have been taken, the safety guidelines have been set up, the protocols are in place when players test positive, there are plans and backup plans and just about everything in between to see this thing along. But, we don’t know what the future holds and this pandemic isn’t going away any time soon. I say there is at least a decent chance the regular season begins on time — maybe a 30 percent chance if I had to put a number on it — but I feel like there has to be under a five percent chance the season is actually completed from start to finish this fall. Things can and will happen throughout the next several months, and it’s the unknowns that are scary.

Matt S: Partial season starting? Maybe about the same odds as Wisconsin winning the Big Ten? They’ll give it a shot is my guess, but that’s far from a guarantee. Now FINISHING a whole season where every team plays their 10 games? Probably about the same odds as Eastern Michigan winning the Big Ten this year.

Matt H: I think there is almost no chance a full season happens. I wouldn’t be surprised if they attempt to start and then abort. But honestly that would surprise me, too. Maybe a 40 percent chance they start at all, but that’s on the high end.


Was adding the road game at Nebraska the right or wrong move versus a road game to Illinois?

Michigan State at Nebraska, November 15, 2013
Kevin Knight

Kevin: I wanted the Illinois game, myself. I am not confident about odds for winning in either, and Scott Frost sure turned a not great situation into quite the stunning dumpster fire in his first two seasons. Playing Nebraska never goes well for us, though, and a chance to avenge last season’s debacle was far more appealing than a third straight trip to Lincoln.

Paul: Illinois is projected to be worse than Nebraska, and the trip to Champaign is closer, so it is hard to imagine that playing the Huskers is a better deal for MSU. Based on the raw odds, I project a 31-percent chance to win in Lincoln, but MSU would have had a 46-percent chance beat Illinois.

Ryan: Obviously, Illinois would have been the more ideal choice. It would have been nice to play them again given last year’s debacle against the Fighting Illini. Actually, that sneaky dude Lovie Smith actually (shockingly?) has Illinois on a two-game winning streak against Michigan State, so it would have been cool to have a chance to avenge that. I don’t have an issue playing against Nebraska as a team, though. Although the Spartans often struggle against the Cornhuskers, I really just don’t buy Nebraska as a strong program right now. What does bother me is the travel this requires. Lincoln is far and away the furthest road trip for MSU in the new slate. Given the current situation, is it going to be by bus or plane? With the lost revenue expected, is chartering planes even an option this season? The travel method could make a difference on how energized the team is. And any time you’re crossing that many state lines, you’re putting yourselves at risk right now. So due to all of that, it could be a difficult game to win on the road. Also, this is the third time in a row the Spartans have to make the trip to Lincoln (did so in both 2015 and 2018), so that seems a bit one-sided. But again, this schedule was carefully put together by the powers that be at the Big Ten, and there were going to have to be some nuances that came with that. I’m OK with it for what is probably going to be a lost season anyway.

Matt S: I needed the Illinois revenge game from a mental well-being standpoint. And I just have horrible PTSD to that Nebraska road game from two seasons ago, so I am double dreading this.

Matt H: I would much prefer the Illinois game both from a winnable standard, as well as shorter travel. That said, I doubt it ever makes it that far. But that was a rough swap for sure.


Let’s see those season record predictions. What’s your best guess?

Kevin: I guess I will try to be optimistic and presume an upset or two, so 5-5 it is!
Minnesota - L
Maryland - W
Northwestern - W
PSU - L
Michigan - L
tOSU - L
Rutgers - W
Iowa - L
Indiana - W
Nebraska - W

Paul: My revised simulation suggests about 50-50 chance that MSU wins between three and five games. I will also be optimistic at 5-5 and go with the following

Minnesota - W
Maryland - W
Northwestern - W
PSU - L
Michigan - L
tOSU - L
Rutgers - W
Iowa - L
Indiana - L
Nebraska - W

Ryan: Like I said above, 4-6 feels about right. If we ever get that far.

Minnesota - L
Maryland - W
Northwestern - W
PSU - L
Michigan - L
tOSU - L
Rutgers - W
Iowa - L
Indiana - W
Nebraska - L

Matt S: Oh boy you guys are not going to like this...

Minnesota - L
Maryland - L
Northwestern - W
PSU - L
Michigan - L
tOSU - L
Rutgers - W
Iowa - L
Indiana - W
Nebraska - L

Matt H: 4-6

Minnesota - L
Maryland - W
Northwestern - W
PSU - L
Michigan - L
tOSU - L
Rutgers - W
Iowa - L
Indiana - W
Nebraska - L