Standing Room Spartans Staff
MSU Football 2021 Game-by-Game Predictions
The start to the 2021 football season is finally upon us, and that means one thing: prediction season.
Last year, the staff at Standing Room Spartans was slightly optimistic (read: delusional). But a new season offers a chance for redemption, so here we are.
As part of Kevin and I predicting every B1G game, we break down each game on MSU's schedule and the result we expect to see come gameday. Let's dive in:
Week 1: at Northwestern
Scott: After a statement upset by Mel Tucker & Co. a season ago, Pat Fitzgerald will have his Wildcats itching for revenge in the season opener. Always a hard-nosed matchup, this one figures to be scrappy, and with a multitude of new faces on both teams, don't be surprised if this one feels a bit chaotic. MSU's starting QB decision will dominate the headlines, but I expect the battle in the trenches to be the difference in this one. MSU's experience up front of both sides are the difference, and they get in the win column in their first conference game.
Kevin: The names and faces you will see on Friday night will be completely different than those we saw in 2020 on both sides. Northwestern will always field a tough team that plays with heart, discipline, and technique. Unfortunately for them the talent level just isn't there in 2021 with just 25% returning production. MSU goes into one of the few conference games on the schedule with a talent advantage and comes out with a W. MSU 1-0.
Week 2: vs Youngstown State
Scott: The Spartans talent, even with early season kinks, is too much for the Penguins. MSU builds an early lead and the coaches get an opportunity to see a lot of faces on the field in the second half. Comfortable, 3 possession win to move to 2-0.
Kevin: Not much to see here, Youngstown state is bad. Look for the backups and youngsters to see the field by the 3rd quarter in Mel's first non-conference blow out opportunity. MSU 2-0.
Week 3: at Miami
Scott: Heisman hopeful QB D'Eriq King returns to the field for the Hurricanes this season, giving a much needed shot in the arm to a Miami team that finished third in the ACC at 7-2 a year ago. While MSU's defense projects to be much improved this year, King's playmaking ability proves too much to contain for four quarters. Miami pulls away to a two-score win late, and the Spartans return home with their first loss of the campaign.
Kevin: As Scott mentioned, D'Eriq King is back and looks to be fully healthy after a torn ACL in 2020. Miami comes into this game after playing Alabama and Appalachian State in weeks 1 and 2, so we could catch them sleeping after a tough start to the season, but I just don't see it in this one. While the MSU roster has certainly bumped up the talent level, we're just not on the same level as Miami is right now. MSU stays competitive for 2-3 quarters but comes home with a loss. MSU 2-1.
Week 4: vs Nebraska
Scott: Both these teams will want this game badly, but for very different reasons. Tucker will be focusing his squad on an opportunity to establish themselves above the mess in the bottom-half of the conference, while Scott Frost's group will be in desperation mode, looking to avoid another disastrous start to their conference season. Adrian Martinez's athleticism will challenge our defense at times, but MSU forces enough mistakes and capitalizes on the home atmosphere to take care of business, sitting pretty at 3-1 and 2-0 in the conference a third of the way through the season.
Kevin: I made this prediction before seeing last Saturday's week 0 game, but damn does it feel even better afterwards. This Nebraska team under Scott Frost just doesn't have the talent to overcome mental mistakes and scheme deficiencies. If we can keep Adrien Martinez in the pocket I don't see us running into too many problems. MSU wins the conference home opener and continues a great start to the year. MSU 3-1.
Week 5: vs Western Kentucky
Scott: Another non-conference home game the Spartans will look to use to iron out any lingering early-season faux pas and bolster their chances at bowl eligibility. While the Hilltoppers should prove to be more formidable than Youngstown State, MSU should be able to put this one away before things can get interesting.
Kevin: Western Kentucky will bring a high-tempo offense into Spartan Stadium in what should be a more entertaining non-conference snoozer than Youngstown St., but ideally this will still be a snoozer. MSU wraps this up by the end of the 3rd quarter and has another opportunity to give backups some reps before getting into the full conference slate. MSU 4-1.
Week 6: at Rutgers
Scott: After a wild, chaotic, and downright infuriating loss to the Scarlet Knights in last year's opener, Tucker will be looking to right the ship in this series, and I expect his team to play a very focused, efficient game in Piscataway. This won't be a blowout like we've seen in years past, as Rutgers is returning a very large portion of their production from the team that downed MSU a year ago, but a moderate improvement on the mistakes seen in that game should keep the Spartans on the winning side of this one. Half way through the year, we find MSU at 5-1, and 3-0 in conference... how nice it'll be to have nonconference games again.
Kevin: Michigan State turned the ball over SEVEN times in 2020 and still kept it a one-score game going into the 4th quarter. Mel Tucker and co. will have this team focused and ready to come out and avenge that disgusting loss last season. Rutgers' arrow is pointing up under Greg Schiano, but they still aren't anywhere near an upper-echelon Big Ten team on the field this season. MSU 5-1.
Week 7: at Indiana
Scott: Unfortunately, the early-season honeymoon has to come to an end eventually. The second half of the season will be far more challenging than the first, and it'll start in Bloomington against an Indiana team that always seems to find the inches lately against MSU. If Michael Penix looks 100% after his injury rehab, I expect MSU to struggle in this one, going down early and never catching up.
Kevin: The Indiana game last season was one of the worst games I've ever seen Michigan State play. Not too often do you see an upper-tier P5 team get shut out, but that's what Tom Allen's squad did to us in 2020, finishing us off 24-0. While MSU's roster has certainly improved since that game, Indiana's has taken only a marginal step back. Look for MSU to be more competitive than we were in last year's match-up, but Tom Allen has built up that roster over the last six year to compete in the Big Ten East, we're not there yet. MSU 5-2.
Week 8: Bye
Week 9: vs Michigan
Scott: MSU will have the luxury of two weeks of prep before this year's battle for Paul Bunyan, and the series will finally be returning to Spartan Stadium after a two year hiatus. The first rivalry game back in front of Spartan faithful in three years, after an emotional and unexpected victory last year, in this game's traditional Halloween Weekend slot... this is going to be another energetic, emotional battle. Michigan will certainly work to patch the holes Jay Johnson exploited a year ago, and the Spartans will likely have to win this one in more traditional fashion. But the added talent on the roster, combined with a stagnant, good-not-great Michigan team are enough to keep Paul at home (and earn bowl-eligibility in the process).
Kevin: Two weeks. MSU will have two weeks to prepare for this match-up, and while it's a rivalry game that will see both teams ready to play, I envision the team foaming at the mouth by the time we kick-off this year's edition. On top of that, MSU fans will have waited three seasons to see an MSU-UofM game in Spartan Stadium. While Xs and Os don't factor as much into this game as most others, UofM just doesn't have the play-makers to strike fear into opponents this season. Mel Tucker starts his career 2-0 against our biggest rival. MSU 6-2.
Week 10: at Purdue
Scott: TRAP. GAME. After an emotional rivalry win a week prior, this one has "sleepy loss" written all over it. Purdue's passing game provides an early spark against a sleepy MSU team, and their head start keeps them ahead in a track meet. MSU drops a frustrating one and moves to 6-3 (4-2).
Kevin: Mel Tucker has a history of dropping bad losses following big wins. In 2020 we followed the UofM win with a 49-7 loss to Iowa, and followed the NW win with a 52-12 loss to OSU. In 2019 with Colorado, he followed a win at Arizona State with home loss to 4-8 Arizona, then followed a win against ranked Washington with a 45-15 loss to Utah. All that to say if I'm finding a loss on the schedule, I'll look for one following a big win. MSU drops one we probably shouldn't. MSU 6-3.
Week 11: vs Maryland
Scott: Somebody has to finish last in the East, and with Rutgers creeping back into the competitive picture, I expect a rough season for the Terps in 2021. By this point in the season, Maryland will have well-defined weaknesses to exploit, and Tucker & Co. will do just that. In a refreshing, comfortable conference home win, the Spartans keep the promising season rolling with a 7th win.
Kevin: MSU was a chaos team in 2020, and will be again in 2021. The way I went into this schedule prediction was finding a couple games that we will win that we probably shouldn't (@Northwestern, vs. Michigan), and a couple games that we will lose that we probably shouldn't (@Purdue, vs. Maryland). I just don't get good vibes with this one being situation following a tough trap game, and being right before the toughest two-game stretch you can find in the Big Ten. In a vacuum we win this game ~75% of the time, but I'll take a loss here. MSU 6-4.
Week 12: at Ohio State
Scott: Not much to make of this game this year. Assuming CJ Stroud is the real deal, OSU looks primed for another dominant season, and the Green and White just aren't ready to measure up yet... this could end up being the type of game that makes you question why you care so much about college football. I'm expecting a 3-score loss in this one, maybe have backup plans for your Saturday afternoon...
Kevin: I have current bet slips for OSU over 11 wins, OSU to win the Big Ten, and OSU to win the National Championship. I think if they had a proven QB this would be a no-brainer pick to go to if not win the title by national media with how good this roster is top to bottom. With the sheer talent discrepancy in this one I expect the final score to be pretty similar to 2020's match-up. MSU 6-5.
Week 13: vs Penn State
Scott: After fumbling a double-digit halftime lead in Happy Valley last year, the Spartans should feel pretty confident going into this one at home. The Nittany Lions will absolutely be on upset alert heading to East Lansing, and this should be closer than the national pundits might expect. That said, James Franklin keeps bringing top talent into his program, and it should be enough to keep them afloat on Thanksgiving weekend. Spartans drop their final game in a close one, closing the regular season at 7-5 and an inspiring 5-4 in conference play.
Kevin: I think Penn State is a lot better than their 4-5 record in 2020. This is the clear-cut 2nd best team in the Big Ten East, and is the only team in the Big Ten with the talent level to compete with Ohio State. We had them on the ropes last year, and I don't see any reason we can't keep this one close in 2021, especially with the game being in Spartan Stadium with fans in the stands. I expect a close game through 3 quarters, but we just don't have the talent to keep up for all 4. MSU 6-6.
So there you have it, our Standing Room Spartans 2021 MSU Football season predictions. Scott has the Spartans at 7-5, and 5-4 in conference, while Kevin's going slightly more conservative with 6-6 and 4-5.
Let us know what you think in the comments. Where did we nail it, where did we miss?
Check out our season predictions podcast episode including further breakdown on each matchup, as well as B1G standings & CFP predictions:
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