The look ahead to the 2022 schedule continues for ranking Michigan State’s football opponents this coming season. The list is almost finished as we reach No. 3 today, the Wisconsin Badgers.
2021 Record: 9-4 (6-3 Big Ten)
While nine wins is typically a good season for anyone except a Bo Pelini-led Nebraska squad, the Badgers’ nine-win campaign in 2021 was disappointing for most Wisconsin fans, and largely a result of a top defensive unit to even get that many victories. Wisconsin suffered three double-digit losses: against Notre Dame (41-13) on a neutral field, at home against Michigan (37-17), and on the road at Minnesota (23-13) to go along with a season-opening loss to Penn State (16-10).
Graham Mertz, who was a lauded quarterback recruit in the 2019 class, threw more interceptions (11) than he did touchdowns (10), while completing just 59.5 percent of his passes. The thing that likely hurt the most on the season was the fact that the Badgers put a 27-7 smackdown on Iowa, but the Hawkeyes ended up punching the ticket to Indianapolis for the conference championship anyway.
The Spartans will be facing off against Wisconsin for the 55th time in a series that dates back to 1913, but 2022 marks just the third meeting in the past 10 seasons. MSU is currently riding a two-game losing streak in the series, but holds the edge all-time at 30-24.
2022 Program Outlook
Paul Chryst enters his eighth season as head coach of the Badgers this fall and boasts the three-best recruiting classes in program history to fill out the starter roles on both sides of the ball.
However, four new assistant coaches will also be bringing new schemes to Wisconsin’s style of play this year. New offensive coordinator Bobby Engram will have to find a way for Mertz to cut down on turnovers after the starting QB threw 11 picks and lost four fumbles in 2021. Those statistics may also help answer why Wisconsin was ninth in the Big Ten in yards per attempt (6.9) last season. To help with that, junior wide receiver Chimere Dike is back as the most experienced receiver and will hope for a better 2022 campaign after only being targeted 33 times last season.
As for the ground game, the never ending staple of an elite running back continued for Wisconsin last season as Braelon Allen emerged to lead the FBS in yards when facing an eight-man box (814) and yards after contact per attempt (4.5), according to Pro Football Focus. Allen is just 18 as he enters his sophomore season this fall. Seniors Chez Mellusi and Isaac Guerendo will hope to make it a three-headed monster similar to what Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon III, and James White once did.
As for the offensive line, Bob Bostad moved to the position coach after coaching linebackers since 2017 and will hope that moving redshirt sophomore Jack Nelson to left tackle with improve the line play overall thanks to Nelson’s athleticism and aggressiveness.
As for the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Jim Leonhard needs to replace eight starters from the top-ranked rushing and total yardage defense in the FBS last season. Inside linebackers will continue to focus on pass rush despite losing Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Turner and junior Maema Njongmeta will likely fill in that gap. Meanwhile, outside linebacker Nick Herbig returns after a breakout 2021 season. Up front, senior nose tackle Keeanu Benton chose to return for 2022 and will be the player to watch in a deep unit.
As for the secondary, the Badgers added three transfers at cornerback to replace multi-year starters that departed. Justin Clark (West Bloomfield, Michigan native and Toledo transfer), Cedrick Dort Jr. (Kentucky transfer), and Jay Shaw (UCLA transfer) all bring plenty of college experience and will look to fill out the backfield along with safety Hunter Wohler, who is poised for a potential breakout season.
Why No. 3?
There’s a good argument for putting the game at Penn State ahead of Wisconsin in difficulty ranking, but position on the schedule matters. Wisconsin falls the week after a visit by Ohio State, whereas the Michigan game is following a bye week and Penn State comes after two bottom feeders of the Big Ten East. The Badgers are always a bruising, hard-nosed opponent and facing that team right after going against the Buckeyes makes this one clock in at No. 3 on my personal list as a result. On top of that, Wisconsin will enter this matchup having played at Northwestern the week prior, not exactly the same kind of imposing matchup as the Buckeyes.
Additionally, replacing a number of starters on defense might seem a similar problem as what I hit Michigan heavily on. However, Wisconsin’s reputation as a program is that it has a system it recruits to and sticks within that system. Michigan under Jim Harbaugh is less so known for that, most notably having just switched to a base 3-4 defensive front in 2020 for the first time under his leadership and now Michigan has its its third different defensive coordinator in three seasons. The Badgers’ players thus have less to figure out when stepping into new starting roles, and the staff members have a consistent track record of success getting the players to perform. Harbaugh’s record with the Wolverines is more one of inconsistency from year to year.
This game will feature an interesting storyline matchup as former Wisconsin running back Jalen Berger was dismissed by the Badgers last season and will likely be a featured part of Michigan State’s ground attack in this matchup, along with fellow transfer Jarek Broussard (Colorado) and possibly others.
Speaking of ground attack, Wisconsin is a hard-nosed ground and pound squad going up against a team that has traditionally excels at stopping the run. As noted in the Minnesota ranking, however, the Spartans have a couple of players to replace up front on the defensive side of the ball who were partly responsible for that success. But Jacob Slade, Simeon Barrow, and others returning should still allow MSU to plug up plenty of holes.
This matchup likely ends up a low-scoring affair as a result of the style of play, but Michigan State should be able to snap its losing streak to the Badgers during the 2022 homecoming game. It will be especially important, and difficult, to get that win given the Buckeyes will have visited the week prior.
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: Wisconsin Badgers
No. 2: 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|