Schedule analysis: Michigan State

Preseason practice is in full swing, and kickoff is just around the corner. To get you ready, we're analyzing every Big Ten team's complete 2013 schedule.

Next up: Michigan State

Nonconference opponents (with 2012 records)

Aug. 30: Western Michigan (4-8)

Sept. 7: South Florida (3-9)

Sept. 14: Youngstown State (7-4)

Sept. 21: at Notre Dame (12-1)

Legends Division games

Oct. 5: at Iowa

Nov. 2: Michigan

Nov. 16: at Nebraska

Nov. 23: at Northwestern

Nov. 30: Minnesota

Crossover games

Oct. 12: Indiana

Oct. 19: Purdue

Oct. 26 at Illinois

No plays

Ohio State

Penn State


Gut-check game: The Michigan game of course will be a important one. But the Spartans will have no trouble getting up for it, and they've been extremely competitive against the Wolverines for the past half-decade. The real gut-check game here might be the trip to Nebraska. Michigan State is 0-2 against Nebraska in Big Ten play, including last year's fourth-quarter collapse. Pat Narduzzi's defense will have its hands full going against one of the league's most explosive offenses, especially on the road.

Trap game: Michigan State has consecutive road trips against Notre Dame and Iowa, with a bye week sandwiched i between. When the Spartans finally play at home for the first time in nearly a month, they'll get Indiana in a noon game. Remember that the Hoosiers had Michigan State on the ropes last year in Bloomington. If the Spartans aren't fully prepared for that one, they could find themselves in a shootout with IU for the second straight year.

Snoozer: Mark Dantonio spent five years as Youngstown State's defensive coordinator, which makes for some easy pregame feature stories. It does not make for an interesting game, however.

Noncon challenge: This is a no-brainer, as the Spartans ought to be heavily favored in their first three nonconference games, all of which are at home. Then they head to South Bend to take on a Notre Dame team that thoroughly choked the life out of Michigan State's offense last season. It should be a matchup of two of the top defenses in the country.

Telltale stretch: It's become a familiar refrain to say that the Legends Division will be sorted out in the first few weeks in November. That's definitely the case as far as Michigan State's chances of contending are concerned. They open the month versus Michigan before heading to Nebraska, and they finish a crucial three-game stretch at Northwestern. The Spartans lost to all three division rivals a year ago and need to reverse that trend if they want to return to Indianapolis.

Analysis: The Spartans had a true meat grinder of a schedule last year, but the 2013 slate looks more manageable. Missing Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State from the Leaders is a bonus. In fact, Dantonio's team figures to be favored in seven of its first eight games, and a win at Notre Dame could potentially translate into an 8-0 start. There are also two well-timed bye weeks, coming after the Notre Dame game and before the start of Big Ten action, and between the Michigan and Nebraska showdowns. Of course, Michigan State's offense simply has to improve over last season, or else just about every game could go either way again. Drawing Nebraska and Northwestern in back-to-back road trips in Games 10 and 11 also won't be easy. But the schedule gives the Spartans a chance to gain some confidence early while potentially making some serious noise late.

More schedule analysis

Legends: Iowa | Michigan | Minnesota | Nebraska | Northwestern

Leaders: Purdue | Penn State | Illinois | Ohio State