After a two-year break the 78th meeting between Michigan State and Notre Dame is back on in South Bend. Prepare thyself for a renewed rivalry.
2015 Record: 12-2
F/+ Rank: 9
S&P Rank: 13
FEI Rank: 8
Wins: Western Michigan, No. 19 Oregon, Air Force, Central Michigan, Purdue, Rutgers, No. 12 Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, No. 4 Ohio State, Penn State, No. 9 Iowa
Losses: Nebraska, No. 1 Alabama
I don't know if anyone saw Michigan State rising to these heights. Mark Dantonio was an experienced assistant coach at the Power 5 level prior to taking his first head coaching job at Cincinnati but he was merely serviceable with an overall 18-17 record and .500 win percentage in Conference USA (1st year) and the Big East (2nd & 3rd year) before handing the job off to a one Mr. Brian Kelly.
Once Dantonio was hired in East Lansing it didn't appear huge things were on the horizon following a 22-17 start through 3 seasons. Since then, it's been a whole different ball game.
Many Irish fans would admit there's been a begrudging respect for the program that has been built at Michigan State. Going 65-16 with 3 Big Ten Titles since those first 3 seasons is one of the best coaching jobs in America.
Most also welcome the Spartans back to the Notre Dame schedule, and why not? After the collapse that was Little Giants in 2010 the Fighting Irish have won 3 in a row against Michigan State. With Tommy Rees at the helm all things are achievable.
There were some shaky moments earlier in the season (like losing in the 2nd half against Rutgers) but there's an obvious choice here. Been there done that!
Michigan State had the pleasure of matching up with Alabama in the Cotton Bowl semi-final and found themselves bloodied and battered when the final whistle blew. They achieved 29 rushing yards on 26 carries, only 3.7 yards per play, and punted on their first 5 drives before actually moving the ball only to throw an interception at the Crimson Tide goal line.
Alabama led "only" 10-0 at the half but then scored touchdowns on 3 out of their next 4 drives to open the second half. When time expired it finished 38-0 only to give us yet another data point that, yes, Alabama is definitely playing a different game than everyone else.
As time moves on this game may be known more for Ohio State giving it away (pretty much is viewed that way now) but the Spartan victory in Columbus last year was as big of a win as any during the regular season.
The Buckeyes were limited to 5 first downs, 86 rushing yards, and just 132 total yards. And yet, they led 14-7 early in the 4th quarter! That is until a clutch touchdown drive that began in the 3rd quarter and spilled over to the final frame, plus an even more clutch 41-yard field goal as time expired for the victory.
As Notre Dame found out in the Fiesta Bowl, the not-screwed up version of Ohio State was probably the second best team in the country. Beating them in Columbus, no matter the offensive play-calling debacle witnessed by the Buckeyes, is a huge achievement.
Home: Furman, Wisconsin, BYU, Northwestern, Michigan, Rutgers, Ohio State
Away: Notre Dame, Indiana, Maryland, Illinois, Penn State
It's tough to imagine Michigan State doing any worse than 4-1 with this road schedule. On the other hand their home schedule is no joke and could feature a handful of ranked teams.
The Spartans have been shockingly successful against ranked teams in recent years (including 4-1 last year) so I'm not sure I can see them dropping every single tough game and having a 7-5 type of season. They have some big questions in certain spots of the team but the program is built up with enough talent that somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3-2/2-3/2-2 record against ranked teams should provide another successful season.
S&P Projected Rank: 22
This is a safe spot, I think. Michigan State is likely shaping up to be a team with a very good defense and an offense that just isn't explosive and productive enough to put together another playoff run. However, as we all know this is a combination that can win you a bunch of games in the Big Ten.
There is some hope for a good offense, though. It's not like they will be breaking in a redshirt freshman quarterback. Things could be far worse than being able to go directly to a 5th-year senior with some big game experience.
Be that as it may, if the Spartans prove worthy of a Top 15 ranking it's likely to be due to a dominant defense.
Predicted Kickoff Spread: Notre Dame (-2.5)
How much does Michigan State want to beat Notre Dame? Bad enough that they've scheduled their bye week prior to the Irish game and after having played Furman. They are out for blood and an end to the 3-game losing streak!
This is unofficially the home night game for Notre Dame in 2016 which adds an additional layer of intrigue and suspense. Another layer is Brian VanGorder getting his first shot at the Spartans while coordinating the Irish defense.
In the mornings, Bob Diaco combs his hair in the mirror with a look of supreme confidence knowing the job he was able to do against Michigan State from 2011-13. Notre Dame won those 3 games by an average of 13 points per contest but that is largely thanks to limiting the Spartans to just 9.6 points per game.
I'm sensing this will be a huge early test for the BVG defense in year three of this experiment.