What Are the Expectations, Ceilings, and Floors for both Michigan and Michigan State Football?

College Football In Michigan Is Back


College football in Michigan hasn’t been this exciting in many years.  Michigan State and Michigan haven’t been competitive in the Big Ten at the same time in a long time.  Off the backs of two disappointing 2020 seasons from both schools, both have started the 2021 season with a 5-0 record.  Michigan state is ranked number eleven in the country and Michigan is number nine.  So this begs multiple questions, such as what are the realistic expectations for both teams?  Can either team win the Big Ten East?

First thing is first, anyone who thinks either of these teams is going to the CFB playoffs needs to slow their roll.  There is a possibility due to the fact that so many highly ranked teams have lost already this year that it could happen, but it’s extremely unlikely, especially for Michigan State.  Despite State being the more impressive of the two teams given the fact that one year ago they were rebuilding and now they are undefeated, they have a very rough schedule to end the year. 

MSU’s inter-state showdown with Michigan is looming in the next couple of weeks on October 30, but even if they beat the maize and blue Wolverines they would need to topple a weakened, but by no means a bad, Ohio State team, who are currently ranked seventh in the nation.  To end the year they then have Penn State to deal with, who are currently ranked fourth in the nation and are considered to be one of the best teams in college football.  

Michigan could possibly make it to the playoffs, but they would need to topple both Michigan State and the Ohio State Buckeyes (who head coach Jim Harbaugh has yet to defeat in his tenure as head coach) in the midst of a growing sentiment that Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara may not have what it takes to get the job done against big-name teams.

The benefit Michigan State has of playing more high-caliber opponents is that the expectations are a little lower.  Originally, the expectations for the Spartans was to hopefully break even at 6-6 and continue their rebuild.  But the emergence of star running back Kenneth Walker III, star receiver Jayden Reed, and sophomore quarterback Peyton Thorne have propelled Michigan State to just outside the top ten teams in college football.  At this point, at least nine wins would probably be an adequate season for the Spartans.  Ten wins or beating Michigan would be defined as a highly successful season.  Make no mistake, the State has their problems, but these are goals that they are capable of.  Eight wins or less would be a failure for the State.

On the other hand, Michigan is in a more complicated situation.  Head coach Jim Harbaugh has been on the hot seat for a while and the former NFL head coach has been a major disappointment during his tenure.  His failures to beat arch-enemy Ohio State even once are a severe red flag, as is inability to consistently beat Michigan State.  If Michigan can’t beat Ohio State this year, then their season is a failure.  It doesn’t matter if that is your only loss, that sends the message that you are still second-class to the Buckeyes. 

If Harbaugh wants to show he’s finally, after all these years, built a true winner, then he has to beat Ohio State, and this is his best chance in recent memory to do it.  There’s no Justin Fields to overcome, no Dwayne Haskins, no Ezekiel Elliot.  This is the weakest Ohio State has been in some time, and if Michigan doesn’t capitalize on it, this season will be a failure.  If they lose to Michigan State as well, then it will only underline that they have won so many games because they have played so many bad teams.

Now, as for what each team is capable of in terms of both positive and negative accomplishments is similar.  Both teams are capable of winning eleven games, but that is seemingly unlikely, especially for Michigan State.  It’s difficult to see how State is going to manage to beat three top ten teams given all the holes they have on their roster, but it is possible that they could knock off two of them, most likely Michigan and Ohio State.  As for Michigan, this is very doable.  The reason their ceiling isn’t undefeated is because it’s clear Cade McNamara probably isn’t the guy, and like I’ve mentioned several times before Michigan has never beat Ohio State while Jim Harbaugh is the coach.  

As for the floor for both teams, a late season collapse for Michigan State could leave them with an eight win-season.  This would happen if they lose to Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and an unranked team who manages to upset them before they get to the heavy hitters.  That team would probably be Maryland, but it’s hard to tell with unranked teams.  As for Michigan, the floor is nine wins.  They simply have an easier schedule and it’s hard to envision them losing more than three of their remaining seven games due barring any injuries.

When all is said and done, the Michigan State vs. Michigan game is bigger this year than it has been in some time.  But it seems unlikely that either can win the Big Ten East.  Chances are that at least one of these Michigan or Michigan State teams can beat Ohio State, which would knock them out of the running.  But It would appear that Penn State, barring a loss to Iowa this weekend, has this thing in hand.  They don’t play Michigan, and Michigan State likely isn’t at their level yet.

So while both teams have improved greatly, this isn’t going to be the crowning season for either program.  Michigan has to make a decision, and it doesn’t appear that the future of the quarterback position is their starter right now.  Michigan State’s reemergence to relevancy is amazing, but there are a few too many holes to justify calling this team a sure-fire contender.