The look ahead to the 2022 schedule continues for ranking Michigan State’s football opponents this coming season. Up today is the hated intrastate rival Michigan Wolverines, checking in at No. 5 on the countdown.
2021 Record: 12-2 (9-1 Big Ten)
Head coach Jim Harbaugh finally did what he had failed to do in the six seasons prior to 2021 at the helm in Ann Arbor: beat Michigan’s
rivals rival and win a Big Ten Conference title. OK, so Harbaugh still lost to one rival as the stout Wolverine defense failed to contain Kenneth Walker III in Spartan Stadium, falling 37-33 thanks to Walker’s five rushing touchdowns. That loss did not stop UM from absolutely pummeling Ohio State in the regular seasons finale, though, and pants-ing a weak Iowa squad in Indianapolis en route to a College Football Playoff berth. Michigan fell to Georgia in the Orange Bowl 34-11 in a game that was over by halftime.
Michigan State will be facing off against Michigan for the 115th time in a series that dates back to 1898. MSU is currently riding a two-game winning streak in the series, and has dominated over the past decade-and-a-half, but trails the Wolverines all-time as Michigan leads 71-38-5. The Spartans are 10-4 since 2008 in the series and lead 11-10 this millennium (reminder, it started in 2001, not 2000). MSU also trails more narrowly 38-29-2 in Big Ten matchups since joining the league. Finally, Mel Tucker is the only Michigan State head coach to start his career 2-0 over the Wolverines as well.
2022 Program Outlook
Credit where it is due, Michigan put together a stellar campaign overall in 2021. As for 2022, a lot of the talent that led to that result is now gone with question marks plugging the holes. The battle will be on between Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy for the starting quarterback role in 2022 while new co-offensive coordinators Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore take over for the departed Josh Gattis.
Rimington Trophy finalist Olusegun Oluwatimi is using a sixth year of eligibility as a transfer from Virginia to likely anchor the line at center for the Wolverines. Left tackle Ryan Hayes is a returning starter, while Zak Zinter (2021 second-team All-Big Ten by the media) and Trevor Keegan will step up at right and left guard, respectively. Meanwhile, Blake Corum will take over the lead running back role with Hassan Haskins off to the NFL. Ronnie Bell will be back after missing most of last season with a knee injury and will hope to stay healthy this year as the favored receiver.
As for the defensive side of the ball, it is even more serious in terms of finding replacements for lost production. The defensive coordinator will be a new face as Mike Macdonald returned to the Baltimore Ravens after one season in Ann Arbor and former Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Jesse Minter takes the reins in Ann Arbor.
On the field, Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo are both gone, taking 25 of the team’s 34 sacks last season with them. Defensive end Taylor Upshaw is the leading returner with just 2.5 sacks. The interior of the line does return big men Mazi Smith and Kris Jenkins, however. Junior Colson and Nikhai Hill-Green saw plenty of action at linebacker, and should make the transition to starter relatively easy. But three starters in the secondary are gone, including safety Daxton Hill. Converted wide receiver Mike Sainristil is likely to fill in at nickel while two underclassmen, Rod Moore and R.J. Moten, look poised to step in at safety.
Why No. 5?
Michigan won the Big Ten and qualified for the CFP last season, sure. Then Jim Harbaugh did Jim Harbaugh things and flirted with the NFL while losing most of the key talent from that 2021 squad and hemorrhaging a lot of key staff. Critics of my placing Michigan at No. 5 will scream bloody murder about how the Wolverines should be ranked higher, but that complaint is based on last season’s team.
This team has significant changes at key positions, including new coordinators on both sides of the ball. A repeat conference title squad is not at all guaranteed. While both teams have a bye week coming into this matchup, Tucker has the better track record of having his team prepared for the big rivalry games and Harbaugh does not. All of that added up is why Michigan isn’t as high on my list as others are. However, this will still be a difficult game for the Spartans.
This one is tough to pick. On the one hand, Michigan has to replace key starters at a number of positions. However, this game is on the schedule on Oct. 29. Both teams get a bye week before the matchup to prep, but the Spartans are unlikely to catch this squad still struggling to piece together how to work together with so many starters replaced. Besides, that bye follows back-to-back games against Ohio State and Wisconsin while Michigan’s follows at Indiana and home against Penn State. So MSU’s bye will more so come in handy for getting guys healed up rather than two whole weeks of game prep.
On top of that, this year is on the road at Michigan Stadium with a Wolverine fanbase that is surely ticked off at two-straight losses in the series. Everything wonderful must eventually end, and I fear Tucker’s winning streak over Michigan is likely to meet its maker with a loss this time around. Still, 2001 and 2015 surely taught us to never admit it is over until the clock hits zero and the final play is whistled dead, so keep those fingers and toes crossed all fourth quarter long just in case.
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: Michigan Wolverines
No. 4: 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|