In 2016, head coach Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans had far and away their worst season in his 10 years on campus, and one of the worst in the history of the program. They'll look to rebound in 2017, but that won't be an easy task.
A tumultuous offseason combined with a schedule full of high-caliber opponents and tricky road games makes getting back to bowl eligibility an uphill climb in East Lansing. How the Spartans handle the challenge will indicate whether or not Dantonio has the ability to get his team back to the top of the Big Ten East and legitimately compete with their in-state rival under his watch.
12. Sept. 2 vs. Bowling Green
It's the season opener at home against an inferior team in terms of talent. The Spartans have all summer to prepare for this one. There's no reason this shouldn't be a walkover.
11. Nov. 25 at Rutgers
You could make the argument that Rutgers is less talented in some spots than Bowling Green. The Scarlet Knights' inability to slow down the Spartan ground game should allow Michigan State to dictate the tempo in this one.
10. Nov. 18 vs. Maryland
Regardless of how the rest of the season turns out, this is Senior Day. The Spartans will be playing with a lot of emotion against a team where they have an advantage in almost every individual matchup.
9. Sept. 9 vs. Western Michigan
It'll be the second straight game against a MAC team for the Spartans, but the competition level will have increased dramatically. P.J. Fleck isn't rowing the boat in Kalamazoo anymore, but the Broncos will still be a tough out. They return 12 starters from a team that ran the table in the regular season in 2016.
8. Oct. 21 vs. Indiana
The only reason this game is so low is because its at home. Indiana has the potential to be pretty good this season, and new head coach Tom Allen will have his players fired up for a game they'll believe they can win.
7. Sept. 30 vs. Iowa
The Big Ten home opener will be like looking in the mirror for the Spartans. There will be new names and faces all over the field for the Hawkeyes, but this will still be a game won by the team that can run the ball more effectively.
6. Oct. 14 at Minnesota
There are a lot of pieces back from a Gopher team that won nine games a season ago. Defensive tackle Steven Richardson might be the best defensive player in the Big Ten West. New head coach P.J. Fleck's energy and innovation will make the Gophers a confident and dangerous group.
5. Sept. 23 vs. Notre Dame
Chalk 2016 up as a hiccup in South Bend. The Fighting Irish are loaded on both sides of the ball and poised to insert themselves back into the New Year's Six Bowl conversation.
4. Oct. 28 at Northwestern
Northwestern returns the most veteran team in the Big Ten. They have legitimate playmakers on offense and a couple of potential All-Americans roaming the secondary. Trips to Evansville are going to be tough even for teams better than the one Michigan State will field in 2017.
3. Oct. 7 at Michigan
By the time this game takes place, the young and talented Wolverines will have a month's worth of tune-up games under their belts. This one will set the tone for the rest of Michigan State's season.
2. Nov. 4 vs. Penn State
The only saving grace for the Spartans in this one is that the game will be played in East Lansing. The Nittany Lions are likely going to be in the national title hunt, and are flat out more talented than Michigan State at most positions.
1. Nov. 11 at Ohio State
Dantonio's team will likely serve as nothing more than the first of two sparring partners for the Buckeyes before the big game at Ann Arbor two weeks later.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is also covers the Big Ten for Black Heart Gold Pants, Iowa's SB Nation blog. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.