The look ahead to the 2022 schedule continues for ranking Michigan State’s football opponents this coming season. Up today is what was supposed to be the new West Division annual crossover opponent from 2022 through 2025 prior to the latest Big Ten Conference expansion, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
2021 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
The Golden Gophers had a tough draw to open the 2021 season with a visit by then No. 4 Ohio State. Despite losing 2020 All-America third-team running back Mohamed Ibrahim for the season in that matchup due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, Minnesota finished second in the Big Ten West with losses to Illinois and Iowa in conference play, alongside the OSU loss. Curiously, Minnesota also fell 14-10 at home to Bowling Green in Week Four. However, the Gophers finished strong with wins over Wisconsin (23-13) and a Guaranteed Rate Bowl victory over West Virginia (18-6). The nine-win season was just the fourth by the program since 1905.
Michigan State will be facing off against Minnesota for the 48th time this year in a series that dates back to 1950. MSU is currently riding a five-game winning streak against the Golden Gophers, which dates back to 2010. The Spartans hold the edge all-time by a mark of 30-17.
The game will mark the first visit to East Lansing by Minnesota since 2013, the longest break between visits by the Gophers in the history of the series. An originally planned visit by Minnesota in 2020 was later taken off of the schedule that season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shortened and delayed the Big Ten football season that year, and caused multiple changes to the eventual final schedule.
From 2022 through 2025, the teams were originally scheduled to play annually, alternating home venues similar to how Michigan State and Northwestern faced off from 2016 to 2021. That is likely now expected to change in 2024, if not sooner, with the addition of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten.
2022 Program Outlook
Sixth-year head coach P.J. Fleck has had some of the most success of any Minnesota coach in a century, but still posts as many winning seasons as losing to date. The offense will look to improve its passing attack under rehired offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca. Ciarrocca oversaw the best offense of the Fleck era in 2019 before leaving for the same role at Penn State. He was fired after one season and spent the past season at West Virginia as an assistant.
Four starters return for a sixth season at Minnesota to anchor the offense, including All-Big Ten center John Schmitz, quarterback Tanner Morgan, wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, and Ibrahim, the aforementioned running back.
Ibrahim will be coming back from a ruptured Achilles and Autman-Bell had a nagging injury that plagued him last season as well. Autman-Bell’s six touchdowns last season makes him the only returning receiver to catch more than two scores in an offense that ranked 118th in passing yards per game (162.0) and ahead of only the service academies in attempts (257). Morgan threw 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season, overall. An offensive line that replaces every starter except center Schmitz will make improving the trenches potentially troublesome.
The Gophers will hope to continue the success on defense the team enjoyed last season, ranking nationally in the top-10 in scoring (17.3 points per game) and total defense (278.8 yards per game) in 2021. Just four starters need to be replaced on this side of the ball, but six of the top-eight players on the defensive line, based on snap counts from 2021, need to be replaced. Only defensive end Thomas Rush and three-technique defensive tackle Trill Carter are the two returners from that group. Mariano Sori-Marin is moving to middle linebacker, while Justin Walley returns at cornerback hoping to build on his Freshman All-America season last year. Transfers Shannon “Beanie” Bishop (Western Kentucky) and Ryan Stapp (Abilene Christian) join Minnesota via the portal as cornerbacks as well.
Why No. 6?
This game is a tricky one for a number of reasons. The first is where the game falls, which is early in the season on Sept. 24 between a road trip to Washington and a road trip to Maryland. In addition, the two teams have not faced off against one another since 2017, meaning it could be a bit more difficult game-planning for such an unfamiliar opponent (the irony being the programs have been members of the same conference since 1950).
Finally, despite the poor passing attack, Ibrahim is one of the truly elite running backs in college football and will post a challenge to Michigan State’s defense, which is facing a lot of turnover at the defensive end position — players like Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley who were key in defending the run over the past several seasons are now gone. However, the interior of the defensive line remains stacked with Jacob Slade, Simeon Barrow, and others returning. All of that adds up to put Minnesota in the top-half of challenges MSU faces this season in my book.
Remember how frustrating it was for fans watching the Spartans’ third-down defense last season? One should potentially be ready for lots of downs being frustrating in this one at times. Having said that, Michigan State will need this conference win and find a way to get it despite being tired from a West Coast jaunt the week before. A balanced offensive attack should help to keep the clock in check against a rush-heavy offense and ensure the game isn’t too low-scoring of an affair that sees enough MSU touchdowns for the win.
Catch up on the rankings here:
No. 12 Akron Zips
No. 11 Western Michigan Broncos
No. 10: Indiana Hoosiers
No. 9: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
No. 8: Illinois Fighting Illini
No. 7: Maryland Terrapins
No. 6: Minnesota Golden Gophers
No 5: Coming soon
2022 MSU Football Schedule
|Sept. 2||Western Michigan||East Lansing, MI||7:00 PM||ESPN|
|Sept. 10||Akron||East Lansing, MI||4:00 PM||BTN|
|Sept. 17||Washington||Seattle, WA||7:30 PM||ABC|
|Sept. 24||Minnesota||East Lansing, MI||TBA||TBA|
|Oct. 1||Maryland||College Park, MD||TBA||TBA|
|Oct. 8||Ohio State||East Lansing, MI|
|Oct. 15||Wisconsin||East Lansing, MI||3:30/4:00 PM||TBA|
|Oct. 29||Michigan||Ann Arbor, MI||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 5||Illinois||Champaign, IL||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 12||Rutgers||East Lansing, MI||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 19||Indiana||East Lansing, MI||TBA||TBA|
|Nov. 26||Penn State||State College, PA||TBA||TBA|