The 2018 season was a bit of a mess for the Michigan State Spartans, culminating in a 7-6 bowl game loss to Oregon to cap off a seven-win campaign. Injuries and some close losses as a result of what can only be called offensive incompetence were the main factors that led to the disappointment in East Lansing.
Heading into 2019, head coach Mark Dantonio has some key pieces in place to make a run at a division title. To do so, he's need quarterback Brian Lewerke to stay healthy and execute the offense at a high level — both things that did not happen a season ago.
The defense should once again be the strength of the team. A stingy effort on that side of the ball coupled with a strong rushing attack will be instrumental in navigating what appears to be a brutal road slate for Michigan State in 2019.
Michigan State Spartans 2019 Schedule
Byes: Week 8, Week 10
Week 1 — Aug. 30 vs. Tulsa (East Lansing, Mich.)
The Spartans open up the season under the Friday night lights against a Tulsa team that won just three games in 2018. The Golden Hurricane return a pair of running backs in Corey Taylor II and Shamari Brooks who combined for 1,813 yards and 18 scores on the ground last season. If the Spartans can key in on and subsequently contain the Tulsa rushing attack, this should be a walk in the park.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. Western Michigan (East Lansing, Mich.)
The Broncos haven't been the same since P.J. Fleck left, but they're no pushover. There are enough offensive weapons on Western Michigan's roster to give the Spartan defense a wake-up and a workout. This also will give Michigan State another chance to fine-tune a few things on offense before the degree of difficulty increases.
Week 3 — Sept. 14 vs. Arizona State (East Lansing, Mich.)
Herm Edwards' Sun Devil squad finished with the same record as Michigan State last season. That said, Arizona State will be working in a new starting quarterback and dealing with the loss of one of the best receivers in the country in N'Keal Harry. Overall, the Sun Devils have the talent to pull off the upset and log back-to-back wins over the Spartans, but the maturity and physical play of Michigan State will likely be the difference.
Week 4 — Sept. 21 at Northwestern (Evanston, Ill.)
It's tough to say there's ever really a rebuilding season for Pat Fitzgerald. He just lines up a team that is ready to compete every week. But the loss of quarterback Clayton Thorson cannot be ignored, and it's tough to imagine the Wildcats being as formidable as they were a season ago. Still, Evanston is a tough place to win for every team who visits, and the Spartans aren't good enough to win there without being their "A" game.
Week 5 — Sept. 28 vs. Indiana (East Lansing, Mich.)
The Hoosiers stumbled to a 5-7 record a season ago. That said, running back Stevie Scott is a rising star in the Big Ten, and Indiana will have an experienced transfer quarterback in Jack Tuttle (from Utah) under center. The Spartans can't afford to just go through the motions when prepping for this one.
Week 6 — Oct. 5 at Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)
There's a new head coach as well as a bunch of new faces in Columbus, but it'll be business as usual once the ball is kicked off. The Buckeyes will still field one of the most talented teams in the country, led by Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields. The two signal-callers will decide this one.
Week 7 — Oct. 12 at Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.)
There aren't many tougher places to win in the country than Madison. The last time Mark Dantonio's club was at Camp Randall was 2012 when the Spartans came away with a 16-13 win in overtime. This game will be a battle of physicality. Both teams have plenty of strengths and weaknesses, but the more physical team will win.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. Penn State (East Lansing, Mich.)
The Nittany Lions will be the toughest opponent Michigan State faces at home. This will be one of the most important games of the season in the Big Ten East, as both teams should be in the hunt for the division title at this point. The Spartan defense will need to come up big against Penn State. Just like Ohio State, James Franklin's club lost a lot of star power but will reload those spots will capable athletes.
Week 11 — Nov. 9 vs. Illinois (East Lansing, Mich.)
On paper, the Spartans get a nice break between playing Penn State and Michigan. First, they get a bye week, then they face lowly Illinois. Lovie Smith has not been able to figure it out during his time in Champaign, and the Spartans should be able to win handily — as long as they are not looking ahead to the Wolverines.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 at Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Normally you toss everything out the window in a rivalry game, but that may not be the case in this one. Michigan should be really good on offense, fielding one of the best receiving corps in the conference — if not the country. As always, Don Brown will field a vicious defense, and the unfriendly confines of the Big House will likely play a role. The chips are stacked against the Spartans in this one.
Week 13 — Nov. 23 at Rutgers (Piscataway, N.J.)
This one will be all mental for the Spartans. Michigan State is the more talented team at almost every position but needs to be careful. The Spartans will either be coming off a crushing loss to their rival or still feeling the high off a big win. Focusing on the Scarlet Knights will be tough, and Rutgers does have a handful of guys on its roster who can do some damage.
Week 14 — Nov. 30 vs. Maryland (East Lansing, Mich.)
There's a really good chance that the Terrapins are the worst team in the Big Ten East in 2019. That bodes well for Michigan State in terms of ending the season on a high note. I'm not sure the emotions of Senior Night will be much of a factor in this one, especially if the Spartans have done enough to put themselves in a position to clinch a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. Regardless of how the season has unfolded for the Spartans, the Maryland game is a must-win.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.