The USA Today Preseason Poll is finally out, but not all Michigan State fans may love where their beloved Spartans will begin the 2012 campaign.
Ranked 13th in the nation and second in the state of Michigan (the Wolverines are penciled in at No. 8), the Spartans will have an uphill climb to leapfrog over two conference opponents and 10 non-conference schools all voted ahead of them.
After an 11-3 season in 2011 that was topped off by a thrilling three-overtime victory over Georgia in the Outback Bowl, things seemed like they couldn't be any better for Michigan State.
But as 2012 looms, adversity is Sparty's biggest opponent.
Andrew Maxwell takes the reins of the offense after losing three-year starter Kirk Cousins to graduation, and there is sure to be a rough transitional period for the team. Maxwell attempted only 26 passes for a lowly 171 yards.
Not making the quarterback change any easier is Michigan State's lack of star power in their 2016 class. Of their 22 incoming freshmen or transfers, none were ranked in ESPN's Top 150 or 300 and only one received a 4-star rating.
Those freshmen will be thrown right into the fire for the Spartans though, due to the tough non-conference schedule Michigan State perennially begins with. Within the first three weeks of the season, the green and white will square off with Boise State, the winningest team in college football over the past four years, along with Notre Dame, who defeated the Spartans 31-13 last season.
If they can survive their two top 25 tests at home, they'll hit the road for their biggest games of the year. In back to back weeks, the Spartans will have to play games at Michigan and Wisconsin—both of whom are ranked ahead of Michigan State entering 2012.
But not all hope is lost for 2012.
In the Big Ten, four teams are ranked, but none higher than eighth. Michigan State gets Nebraska at home, but has beaten Michigan in each of the past four seasons. The Spartans also played Wisconsin down to the wire last year, dropping a 42-39 heart-breaker.
The road to the Rose Bowl or any other BCS game won't be an easy one for Michigan State, but it's not an unconquerable one. The Spartans were a top 10 team in the nation in points against last season, so if the defense holds strong, it could be enough to win games during Andrew Maxwell's first few games.
Once Maxwell gets comfortable, though, the sky is the limit.