Every college football program goes through ups and down at different times. And like that old saying goes, most often “you are what your record says you are.”

It’s not always true, of course, but it’s close. Some program go through the same stuff year after year, at various levels of success or failure.

Michigan State has been an unusual exception to that the past few years. Their ups and downs haven’t been infinitesimal, they’ve been monumental. The Spartans have been on  a wild roller coaster ride unlike any other team in college football.

Let’s look back quickly before we look ahead. Here’s what Michigan State has done since 2015:

  • 2015: Went 12-2, and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the country at one point. Won the Big Ten East then beat Iowa in the Big Ten Championship Game. Made the College Football Playoff for the first time, but was beaten by Alabama 38-0 in the Cotton Bowl. It was a very successful season.
  • 2016: Went 3-9 and was the only team in the country to have its win total decrease by nine games. It was an epic nightmare from beginning to end.
  • 2017: Went 10-3, won the Holiday Bowl and was the only team in the country to increase their win total by seven  games or more.
  • 2018: Went 7-6 and had the one of the worst offenses in major college football. It was a miracle they even won seven games.

So all this up and down brings us to 2019, and Michigan State is still the most difficult team in the Big Ten to. Are they 10-3 or 12-2 good? Are they 7-6 again and another dumpster fire on offense? Could it be worse than 7 wins?

Sadly, I’d say all three of those are possibilities. That’s how hard it is to figure out what will actually happen.

Where in there is the line of demarcation that determines whether this will be a successful season? Maybe it’s easiest to start ruling things out from the bottom up.

For instance:

  • Anything that is six losses or worse: This would be a complete nightmare after last year’s struggles. Is it possible? Sure. In that two-tiered Big Ten East, it could happen that MSU loses to Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. And if an up-and-coming Indiana team comes to East Lansing and wins on Sept. 28, then the season will fall apart quickly. Crossover games at Northwestern and at Wisconsin won’t be easy either.
  • An eight-win regular season that included a win over Michigan or Ohio State: Ryan Day takes over for Urban Meyer at Ohio State, so winning there on Oct. 5 is possible. Beating your arch-rivals always means something good. But would one of those wins and eight overall be a success? Close, I’d say, but no. That would mean a few of the four losses probably were pretty ugly.
  • Ten wins or better with a shot at winning the Big Ten East: A total success, without question. Michigan State would like to think  they can win this division, mostly because of its top-flight defense. If the offense comes through and 10 wins happen, than it’s all good.
  • Winning the division and/or the conference. Duh. Of course, smashing success.

Now, what do I think will happen? There are plenty of people back, and I do think that the Michigan State defense will again be among the best in the country. But my eyeballs are still scarred from watching that Spartans offense last year and juggling the chair around in the offensive coaches room may not change a whole lot.

I’m only seeing seven wins this year, eight tops, because I see those four Big Ten road games as hard to win. I could see a home loss in there too, maybe Indiana or Arizona State. That’s not successful by any means.

I’m saying nine wins is the line that matters in determining success. A 9-3 season with a shot at double digits in a bowl, I would consider that a success. Eight or less though, that doesn’t cut it with me.