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Michigan State Will Be Highest Ranked Big Ten Team by Start of Conference Play

TMAPA, FL - JANUARY 02: Running back Le'Veon Bell #24 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates after a touchdown run against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Outback Bowl January 2, 2012 at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Florida. The Spartans won 33 - 30. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Adam JacobiBig Ten Football Lead WriterAugust 31, 2012

Take a look at the AP and Coaches polls. Coming into Week 1, Michigan is ranked eighth in both polls while Wisconsin is at 12th, one spot ahead of Michigan State.

Got all that? Good, because once it's time for the Big Ten season to begin, there'll be a new team atop the Big Ten standings: Michigan State.

Here's how.

Michigan's not sticking around the Top 10 for long

Our sincerest congratulations to Michigan, who bravely scheduled a game down in Dallas against defending national champions Alabama. To put a near-guaranteed loss on your schedule like that for $5 million or so is a level of bravery most schools could never achieve. Of course, some people have different words they might use instead of "bravery."

The Wolverines do have a trip to Notre Dame on their docket as well, but unless they absolutely annihilate the Irish, pollsters aren't going to move them back to the top of the heap in the Big Ten. 

 

Bigger wins for Sparty than anyone else

Meanwhile, Michigan State's going to come out of the gate roaring with a win against Boise State. The Broncos are going to be a challenge for the Spartans, and this game should probably be within a single possession into the fourth quarter. But the Sparty defense is just too strong for a Boise attack that loses Kellen Moore, Doug Martin and a whole lot of their friends.

Combine all that with a revenge win over Notre Dame in East Lansing and Michigan State is going to have one of the strongest non-conference resumes of anybody in college football. That's not to say they'll be top three or anything—the combination of cupcake schedules for top teams and win-go-up-lose-go-down lazy pollsters means it'll be tough for MSU to go up too far—but the nation will have noticed.

 

Wisconsin's schedule isn't going to impress anybody

On the other side of the spectrum, Wisconsin comes through with another thoroughly lackluster non-conference schedule. Yes, the Badgers go to Oregon State, but Corvallis is where football goes to die. The other three games—UNI, USU and UTEP—will be about as far down on the national scale as they are in the alphabet. Sure, Wisconsin's going to run up the score on all of these teams, but come on—even South Florida hung 52 points on UTEP last year. 

So it'll be how it was last year, with Wisconsin blowing teams out—and hanging out where they started in the polls. Wisconsin came into 2011 at 10th place, and after a non-conference slate where the Badgers won by an average of 40 points (48.5 to 8.5 was the average score), they had risen...all the way to seventh place.

This time around, if Wisconsin cracks the Top 10 by the end of Week 4 it'll probably only be because of losses in front of them. 

 

Oh, and Michigan State is really good

The reason people aren't higher on Michigan State is that there's some uncertainty about their new personnel, especially on offense. Plus, Le'Veon Bell only ("only") ran for 948 yards last year, and while MSU returns nearly its entire offensive line, those guys struggled at times last year.

We're still talking about Andrew Maxwell, a former four-star and Elite 11 QB recruit who's entering his fourth year in the program, and he had the starting role sewn up as soon as Kirk Cousins cleaned out his locker. Maxwell is going to be good. It's Bell's offense, to be sure, but anyone expecting a liability at QB needs to get their head examined.

And then the defense. Good heavens, the defense. There are no weaknesses, and the strengths are plenty. As long as Will Gholston keeps his head on straight, he'll be a household name by October. Denicos Allen should terrify opposing defensive coordinators with his versatility and pass rush, and best of luck to anyone who wants to throw at cornerback Johnny Adams.

The Boise State game in particular is going to elevate the national presence of Michigan State, who, despite winning 11 games in each of the last two years, hasn't established itself as a big-name team. A lot of that has to do with a lack of big-time wins on TV with everyone watching.

People will be watching the Boise game, and they'll realize one thing: the best team in a loaded Legends Division is right there in East Lansing.

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