The look ahead to the 2022 schedule continues for ranking Michigan State’s football opponents this coming season. The list continues to fill out with the Penn State Nittany Lions checking in at No. 4.
2021 Record: 7-6 (4-5 Big Ten)
While the 2020 season was an absolute nightmare for Penn State, the 2021 campaign ended up being not that much better by the end of it. The Nittany Lions picked up a big road win at Wisconsin to open the season and defeated a then No. 22-ranked Auburn Tigers squad in Happy Valley to open the season. Then things went off the rails in October. Three-straight losses at Iowa and to Illinois in cross-division games, along with a road game at Ohio State, deflated the sails in a hurry. Losses to Michigan and at Michigan State followed in November, before being defeated by Arkansas in the Outback Bowl to end the year. A banged up offensive line caused lots of problems on offense and the final season record reflects that.
The Spartans will be facing off against Penn State for the 37th time in a series that dates back to 1914. However, only 10 of those matchups occurred prior to Penn State joining the Big Ten, and MSU is 8-1-1 in those games. As Big Ten opponents, Penn State holds the edge in the battle for the Land Grant Trophy, 15-10, though Michigan State holds a narrow all-time series lead overall 18-17-1.
2022 Program Outlook
Entering his ninth season at the helm, head coach James Franklin signed a big contract extension toward the end of the 2021 season in exchange for not taking the job at soon to be Big Ten rival USC. No word yet on whether that deal to keep him in Happy Valley at all costs was also in part because his beloved Akron was in the hunt for a new head coach as well.
As for the offense, super senior Sean Clifford is back for another season under center for PSU and has started 33 games while becoming one of just three players in school history with over 8,000 yards of total offense. If he can get time to throw this year, he will find great targets in Parker Washington and Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley.
The running back room for Penn State is filled with former four-star recruits coming into the college level, but not a single returning back rushed for 100 yards in a game last season. Keyvone Lee led the team last season with 530 yards, but Nick Singleton, the No. 1-ranked tailback in the 2022 class, arrives as a freshman this year after rushing for almost 6,400 yards in high school and could make an impact right away.
However, Penn State’s offensive line was a liability last season and requires significant improvement to make anything happen for an improved ground game in 2022. To that end, the guards (Hunter Nourzad and Sal Wormley) and tackles (Landon Tengwall and Olumuyiwa Fashanu) have a grand total of one start for Penn State between the four of them. However, they are all likely stepping in as starters and need to provide protection for Clifford and open holes for the backs if Penn State is going to improve this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan State fans might recognize Manny Diaz on the sidelines. He is now the defensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions, but was formerly the Miami (FL.) head coach. Of course, the Spartans dragged Diaz and the Hurricanes into the “deep water” last season in a 38-17 victory for MSU.
While PSU has a new coordinator, only a few starters need to be replaced up front, one on the defensive line and two in the linebacker corps. Most importantly up front is that defensive tackle PJ Mustipher and defensive end Adisa Isaac are back after suffering season-ending injuries in 2021. However, someone else needs to step up to replace Arnold Ebiketie, who ranked third in the Big Ten with 9.5 sacks last year before heading off to the NFL for 2022.
As for linebackers, Curtis Jacobs returns as starter after notching 61 tackles last season, while Tyler Elsdon and (Detroit native) Kobe King are competing for the middle linebacker spot. Super senior safety/linebacker Jonathan Sutherland, meanwhile, will fill in at the outside linebacker job. The secondary looks to be in good hands despite the loss of Sutherland given cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and field safety Ji’Ayir Brown are returning. Brown tied for the FBS lead with six interceptions in 2021.
Why No. 4?
Penn State has had its two worst seasons in 2020 and 2021 since going 7–16 in 2003 and 2004. That is in large part because of abysmal offensive line play. The Nittany Lions went out and got potential fixes for that this season. That should result in a much more dangerous ground game combined with a seasoned quarterback who can sling it with the best of them given a reasonable amount of pass protection. Add in an elite secondary and this team has the talent to challenge everybody on its schedule.
On top of that, PSU in the month of November gets games against the three bottom feeders of the Big Ten East prior to hosting Michigan State in road games at Indiana and Rutgers, along with hosting Maryland. Meanwhile, Michigan State gets a tricky road trip to Illinois before facing Indiana and Maryland prior to the trip to Happy Valley. If the Nittany Lions are in contention for even a share of the division title, or have a good bowl game bid on the line, expect this venue to be rocking with fans, too.
Even though I think this road trip is a tougher game than where I placed Michigan, I am more confident the Spartans can get the job done in the end. While this team can be a tough out if the offensive line is even serviceable, Franklin has proven to not always be the best in-game coach. It will probably take until the final few offensive drives by both teams, but in the end the PEW PEW LAZERZ Land Grant Trophy is more likely staying with MSU for another year.
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: Penn State Nittany Lions
No. 3: 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|