The look ahead to the 2022 schedule continues for ranking Michigan State’s football opponents this coming season. As the ranking countdown nears its apex, the Washington Huskies check in at No. 2 on the list.
2021 Record: 4-8 (3-6 Pac-12)
The Huskies started the 2021 season ranked No. 20 in the preseason poll, but then things pretty much went downhill from there. Washington promptly lost 13-7 to Montana (FCS) in the season opener in Seattle before suffering a 31-10 road loss at Michigan in the second game of the year. A brief respite followed for fans as the team picked up wins against Arkansas State (52-3) and California (31-24) at home. Back-to-back losses at Oregon State and at home to UCLA by a combined total of 10 points were next up before wins at Arizona (21-16) and at Stanford (20-13). Then UW proceeded to drop its final four games of the season, though three of the losses combined for just 18 points before being blown out by Washington State, 40-13, in the season finale.
In addition to a poor showing on the field, off-the-field controversy was a big problem for Washington last season. Head coach Jimmy Lake lasted a total of 13 games at the helm of the program, after being elevated to the role following Chris Petersen’s retirement at the end of the 2019 season. He was fired on Nov. 14, 2021 after being suspended on Nov. 8 for hitting and shoving a player the prior weekend. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory took over for the remainder of the season.
The Spartans will be facing off against the Huskies for the fourth time in a series that dates back to 1969. Michigan State is currently riding a two-game losing streak in the series and trails Washington 2-1 overall. The programs have only played each other in a home-and-home series once, with MSU taking the 27-11 win in East Lansing in 1969 and UW repaying the favor, 42-16, in Seattle in 1970. The only other meeting to date was the Aloha Bowl, a 51-23 Huskies’ win, on Dec. 25, 1997.
2022 Program Outlook
The Huskies start the 2022 season under new head coach Kalen DeBoer who went 12-6 in two seasons at Fresno State, including a 9-3 mark last season. The Bulldogs offense averaged 464.8 yards and 33.4 points per game during his time with the program as well. DeBoer also had a 67-3 record as head coach at Sioux Falls (NAIA) from 2005 to 2009, winning three NAIA titles (2006, 2008, 2009) and three NAIA Coach of the Year awards (2006, 2008, 2009) to go along with a NAIA runner-up finish (2007). Two of his three losses as head of the Cougars came to the NAIA national title winner Carroll in 2005 and in 2007. Now the question is can he bring that success to a Power Five FBS program.
One of the first things DeBoer did as head of the Huskies was add Indiana transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to the roster. DeBoer was familiar with Penix after coaching him his sophomore season in Bloomington that saw Penix post his most efficient completion percentage of his career. Penix joins a quarterbacks room that boasts three starters at the college level, including returning starter Dylan Morris and former five-star recruit Sam Huard who redshirted last season in Seattle but still earned a start in the Apple Cup against Washington State. Penix and Huard are also both left-handers. Penix’s familiarity with DeBoer’s spread offense makes him the expected favorite to start this season.
The receiving corps will be the strength of the offense — a good thing for a spread team, after all. Rome Odunze (41 receptions), Jalen McMillan (39), and one-time Texas Tech transfer Ja’Lynn Polk all pose a threat to opposing defenses. Michigan transfer Giles Jackson also impressed staff in spring ball. Meanwhile, Devin Culp and Jack Westover pose a threat at tight end as well.
Giving the quarterback time to throw will be the key and the Huskies’ offensive line is widely considered to have underperformed last season while boasting a surplus of young lineman. However, leading the position group will be two-time All-Pac-12 offensive tackle Jaxson Kirkland who returned for a sixth year of eligibility and is a likely first round NFL Draft pick in 2023.
As for a ground game, UW has seven running backs on scholarship, but most missed at least parts of spring ball. Four-star Texas running back Emeka Megwa did not appear this spring, but picked Washington over a list of schools that included heavyweights like Alabama and Ohio State.
The defensive side of the ball is littered with talent, but needs to return those players to full health to realize its potential. Up front, returning edge rusher Zion Tupuola-Fetui was one of the most disruptive players in 2020 (seven sacks, three forced fumbles) and an Associated Press third-team All-American, but played in just two games in 2021 due to an Achilles injury and concussion issues. Four-year starter Tuli Letuligasenoa will help anchor the inside, alongside Ulumoo Ale, who transitions to the defensive line from his offensive guard spot last season, adding five inches and 40 pounds compared to Letuligasenoa. However, the defensive line overall was a weakness last season, giving up 193.6 rushing yards.
In the linebacking corps, Pittsburgh transfer Cam Bright and Carson Bruener will be relied upon, while big-playmaker Edefuan Ulofoshio takes until mid-season to recover from a knee injury in winter conditioning. UAB transfer Kris Moll is expected to contribute as well after finishing with first team All-Conference USA honors in 2019 and 2020, while Bruener had a big freshman season last year that saw 70 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
The secondary is the big question mark on defense, though, having lost a first-round draft pick in Trent McDuffie and a second-round pick in Kyler Gordon. Mishael Powell and Jordan Perryman are the favorites to step in, with Powell transforming over his career from walk-on to starter in three games last season. Perryman, meanwhile, was a first-team All-Big Sky Selection at UC Davis before joining Washington. Alex Cook and Asa Turner return as expected starters at safety.
Why No. 2?
A lot of commenters previously brought up skepticism of putting Washington so high. For me, Michigan State is cursed in regular season road games in the Mountain Time zone or further west until proven otherwise. Since 1950, MSU is 4-14 in such matchups. The last time the Spartans registered a win was in 1984 at Colorado, a 24-21 season-opening victory against the then Big-8 Conference member. To locate the next win you would have to go back to 1957 at California. Adjusting bodies to the big time zone shock to compete at a high level in the season is clearly something this program has struggled with over the past 72 years and will have my skepticism until proven unwarranted.
Besides the evidence of history, Washington seems poised for a rebound year after suffering its first losing season since 2009. This team has plenty of talent to be a ranked squad and challenge the Pac-12 when the right schemes are in place and off-field controversy is not an issue. Not only that, but DeBoer brings a familiarity with the Spartan program, even if not against MSU head coach Mel Tucker. DeBoer was the offensive coordinator for Eastern Michigan from 2014 to 2016, during which time the Eagles fell in East Lansing to MSU 73-14 in 2014. Again, he was also the Indiana offensive coordinator in 2019 when the Hoosiers fell 40-31 in East Lansing.
This game could be a high-scoring affair. With the struggles to stop the run on the Washington side of the ball against a potentially potent ground game for Michigan State combined with a lot of potential in the UW offensive line and a spread scheme against a Spartan defense that will still be figuring out the secondary early on, it could come down to who has the more potent offense. However, at the end of the day, Michigan State has to prove it on the field when it comes to winning a West Coast matchup. The edge goes to Washington for me in this one as a result.
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: Washington Huskies
No 1: 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|
Michigan State western game history since 1950
The full list of Michigan State football games from the Spartans’ 4-14 record played in the Mountain Time Zone or further west during the regular season since 1950 is listed below:
Western Road Losses by Michigan State since 1950
|Sept. 29, 1962||Stanford||16-13||Stanford Stadium - Palo Alto, CA||Pacific|
|Oct. 4, 1963||USC||13-10||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - Los Angele, CA||Pacific|
|Sept. 19, 1971||Washington||42-16||Husky Stadium - Seattle, Ca||Pacific|
|Sept. 30, 1972||USC||51-6||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - Los Angele, CA||Pacific|
|Sept. 28, 1974||UCLA||56-14||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - Los Angele, CA||Pacific|
|Sept. 29, 1978||USC||30-9||Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum - Los Angele, CA||Pacific|
|Sept. 20, 1980||Oregon||35-7||Autzen Stadium - Eugene, OR||Pacific|
|Sept. 13, 1986||Arizona State||20-17||Sun Devil Stadium - Tempe, AZ||Mountain Standard Time, so -3 hours|
|Dec. 5, 1993||Wisconsin||41-20||Tokyo Dome - Tokyo, Japan||Japan Standard Time, so +12 hours|
|Sept. 5, 1998||Oregon||48-14||Autzen Stadium - Eugene, OR||Pacific|
|Dec. 4, 2004||Hawaii||41-38||Aloha Stadium - Honolulu, HI||Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time, so -5 hours|
|Aug. 30, 2008||California||38-31||Memorial Stadium - Berkeley, CA||Pacific|
|Sept. 6, 2014||Oregon||46-27||Autzen Stadium - Eugene, OR||Pacific|
|Sept. 8, 2018||Arizona State||16-13||Sun Devil Stadium - Tempe, AZ||Mountain Standard Time, so -3 hours|
Western Road Victories by Michigan State since 1950
|Oct. 4, 1952||Oregon State||17-14||Bell Field - Corvallis, OR||Pacific|
|Sept. 29, 1956||Stanford||21-7||Stanford Stadium - Palo Alto, CA||Pacific|
|Oct. 5, 1957||California||19-0||Memorial Stadium - Berkeley, CA||Pacific|
|Sept. 8, 1980||Colorado||24-21||Folsom Field - Boulder, CO||Mountain|