Michigan State hadn’t recorded a double-digit win season in four years before putting together one of college football’s most surprising seasons last year.
The Spartans posted 11 wins in 13 contests, including a 31-21 victory over Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl. They finished 7-2 in Big Ten matchups, one win shy of equaling Michigan and Ohio State for most divisional victories among Big Ten East programs.
The question that faces the Spartans heading into the 2022 season is a simple one: Was their 2021 season a fluke?
The sportsbooks certainly aren’t convinced that the Spartans, who host Western Michigan for their opener on Sept. 2, are here to stay as a legitimate contender for the Big Ten championship.
PointsBet, FanDuel, and DraftKings have all set the over/under for regular season wins at 7.5 for the Spartans. The money does appear to be coming in on the over, though. At DraftKings, a bettor has to risk $130 to win $100 on the team winning more than 7.5 games (-130), while an under bet costs $100 to win $110 (+110).
Dealing with high expectations
Third-year head coach Mel Tucker, who is earning $9.5 million per year and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year for 2021, recognizes what took place last season with the Spartans will not carry much weight for them this season.
“It was just really a step in the right direction,” said Tucker, reported the Chicago Tribune. “We did some good things, but nobody cares what you did last year.”
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PointsBet has odds of +2000 on Michigan State winning the Big Ten East Division. That places them fourth in likelihood of winning, behind heavy favorite Ohio State (-350), Michigan (+450), and Penn State (+900). FanDuel has less attractive odds of +1200 on Michigan State winning the division, while offering Ohio State at -300 to top arguably the toughest division in all of college football.
Looking for ground game leaders
As for winning the Big Ten championship — not just the division — PointsBet has long odds of +3300 on the Spartans to claim their first such title since 2015. FanDuel has slightly shorter odds of +2500, while pricing the Buckeyes at -210 to secure the conference title.
The Spartans enter this season without six of their starters on offense from last season, including running back Kenneth Walker III, who made the most of his one season at Michigan State after playing most of his college career at Wake Forest. Walker rushed for more than 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns and won the Doak Walker and Walter Camp awards a year ago.
The Spartans will look to transfer portal newcomers Jarek Broussard (Colorado) and Jalen Berger (Wisconsin) to fill the void left by Walker’s departure to the NFL.
Redshirt junior quarterback Payton Thorne, who set a single-season school record with 27 touchdown passes last year, is the leader of the Spartans’ offensive attack. He passed for 3,233 yards during the 2021 season, his first as Michigan State’s starting QB.
Photo: Nick King/USA TODAY