Michigan State football head coach Mark Dantonio has established one of the toughest cultures in all of college football over the last decade. That culture will be greatly tested by the Spartans' 2019 schedule.
Road trips to some of the Big Ten's most intimidating sites highlight a tricky slate of games that Michigan State will be asked to navigate this season. That, coupled with a roster full of guys who went through a pretty tough 2018 season make for plenty of interest and anxiety leading up to the '19 campaign.
The return of quarterback Brian Lewerke and the core of a solid defensive unit should be enough to get the Spartans through the month of September unscathed. After that, Dantonio and Co. hop right into what is one of the toughest three-game stretches on any schedule in the country.
12. Aug. 30 vs. Tulsa
The Spartans are spending all offseason to get ready to what appears to be an inferior opponent across the board. Tulsa won just three games all of last season, and the Golden Hurricane don't appear to be on the verge of turning the corner anytime soon. If this game is close beyond the first quarter, it would be a terrible sign for Michigan State moving forward.
11. Sept. 7 vs. Western Michigan
These are not the same Broncos who qualified for a New Year's Six bowl a couple of seasons ago — not even close. That said, they do return the bulk of a 7-6 squad from a season ago. That can be good and bad. Running back LeVante Bellamy is as good as there is in the Group of 5, but the Western Michigan defense gave up a whopping 34.5 points per game in 2018. This game shouldn't be close.
10. Nov. 9 vs. Illinois
The Illini will likely be the worst team in the Big Ten this season and in the conversation for the worst team in the Power 5. There are question marks at quarterback, and the defense gave up 39.4 points per game last season. The only way Lovie Smith's bunch keeps this close is if the wheels have somehow fallen completely off the wagon for the Spartans by mid-November.
9. Nov. 30 vs. Maryland
This game comes on Senior Day against a bad Maryland team that lost a bunch talent to the 2018 NFL Draft. This is a house-cleaning year for new head coach Mike Locksley, and the results on the field will likely be indicative of that.
8. Nov. 23 at Rutgers
As usual, Rutgers is not expected to be great. That said, it's still a road trip in the Big Ten — and it comes one week after the big game against Michigan. The Spartans will either be coming off a letdown or an emotional win. They'll need to stay focused for this to not turn into a trap game.
7. Sept. 28 vs. Indiana
These are not your daddy's Hoosiers. They come to East Lansing with a talented up-and-coming coach and a future NFL signal-caller. The Spartans better bring their "A" game.
6. Sept. 14 vs. Arizona State
After opening the season with what should be two snoozers, the Spartans will welcome in an Arizona State team that can match them blow-for-blow from a physicality standpoint. The Sun Devils have some work to do on offense, but they boast a defensive unit that could give Brian Lewerke and the Michigan State offense some trouble.
5. Oct. 26 vs. Penn State
The Nittany Lions lost a ton of talent to the NFL draft, but they should still be a top-20 team. The Spartans catch a break by getting this one at home and after a bye week.
4. Sept. 21 at Northwestern
With the core of last year's Big Ten West championship team still in place and Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson under center, the Wildcats are going to be a tough out. And that's not factoring in the game being played in Evanston. This Michigan State team is not good enough to sleepwalk through a game with Northwestern.
3. Oct. 12 at Wisconsin
The Badgers will be working in a new quarterback and four new starters on the offensive line. That said, Paul Chryst has established a winning culture and a plug-and-play program. Wisconsin will be ready, and Camp Randall will be rocking as usual.
2. Nov. 16 at Michigan
All bets are off in rivalries games, but this Michigan team looks to have the best shot of getting to the College Football Playoff of any team so far in Jim Harbaugh's tenure. If the Wolverines are still in the playoff picture when the Spartans head to Ann Arbor, you can expect a championship effort from the Maize and Blue.
1. Oct. 5 at Ohio State
Up until this point, the toughest team Michigan State will have played will be Arizona State. Now business picks up. The departure of Urban Meyer won't change the fact that Ohio State is the most talented team to a man in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes will be looking to make a statement to the nation early on in conference play.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.