Michigan State S and Pennsylvania native Montae Nicholson on facing Penn State
East Lansing — Michigan State heads into the final week of this season ready for a break.
That happens when your bye comes in Week 2.
But that unenviable scenario is nothing compared to what currently stands on next season’s schedule.
As of now, Michigan State has no opponent for the opening week, an open date created when Alabama backed out of a two-game series that was set to begin this year. It’s been something athletic director Mark Hollis has been working on remedying for some time, and on Tuesday, coach Mark Dantonio indicated a solution might have been discovered.
“I think that’s been accomplished,” Dantonio said. “But I think they should be the ones to recognize that.”
They, of course, are Hollis and his staff, which is tasked with figuring how to avoid playing 12 straight games next season. As it stands, Michigan State opens with three straight home nonconference games — Sept. 9 against Bowling Green, Sept. 16 against Western Michigan and Sept. 23 against Notre Dame.
Simply switching those games is difficult because each of the three nonconference opponents has games scheduled for the opening week. The same can be said for all nine Big Ten opponents, making the possibility of opening with a conference game just as tough.
Hollis did not immediately return a request for an update on the scheduling situation, but it’s a good bet fixing the scheduling snafu is a high priority.
Dealing with a bye in Week 2 was hardly ideal, and that came about because of the Alabama situation coupled by Eastern Michigan opting out of a deal. Michigan State played Furman of the Football Championship Subdivision this season to replace Alabama, but was stuck with the open date in Week 2.
“The reality of the situation is we’ve got — after our first game this year, we had a bye,” Dantonio said. “So we’ve gone 11 straight weeks, 11 straight weeks as coaches and as a program, you know, grinding. It takes a toll on people mentally, physically, emotionally, but our guys have done a great job of handling that. But it’s tough, and it’s tough to respond and rebound after a loss, a tough loss, and, you know, in all situations.
“We’ve done that, and we will continue to do that, and I expect our guys to play very well going over to Penn State, and that’s the goal.”
There weren’t many changes to Michigan State’s depth chart for the final game — against Penn State — including the fact junior defensive tackle Malik McDowell was not listed. He hasn’t played the last two weeks after injuring his ankle against Illinois.
It also could be the last chance for fans to see McDowell in a Michigan State uniform, as leaving for the NFL is an option.
“We’ll see whether he practices or not and make a decision as the week goes on,” Dantonio said. “As far as those type discussions (on the NFL), those are internal and we’ll wait and see how the season plays out.”
When it comes to the quarterback situation, Dantonio admitted it was a tough call whether to go with fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor or look solely to the future with junior Damion Terry.
“We’ll make decisions based on how guys practice,” Dantonio said. “There is a little conflict there, yeah, because Tyler has done a great job, but there are no givens here, and Damion has a future here, too, so I think that you will see both those guys.”
Penn State will know
Penn State has a shot at playing in the Big Ten championship game next week, but needs some help from Ohio State. In addition to beating Michigan State, Penn State needs Michigan to lose. A Michigan win, and Penn State stays home next week.
What makes things interesting is the Michigan-Ohio State game is at noon Saturday with Michigan State-Penn State at 3:30.
“It’s going to be a discussion,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We just have to have a plan, so that’s something we started talking through, need to talk about it with the administration.
“We are going to address it with the team, but once again, however that game plays out, it’s going to have an impact on our future, but it can’t impact how we play.”