While it is unlikely they will unseat prohibitive favorite Ohio State, the Spartans could be a factor if the Buckeyes unexpectedly falter.
In fact, a look at the schedule indicates that Michigan State could enter a showdown came against the likely National Championship contenders sporting a 7-0 or 6-1 record depending upon their opener on the road against California.
An upset of the Buckeyes won't be easy or even feasible unless the four major keys to the Spartans season are operating on all cylinders.
QUARTERBACK: Brian Hoyer, a fifth-year senior, might not be as talented as some of the other top signal callers in the Big Ten. He doesn't have Juice Williams legs or Curtis Painter's arm, but Hoyer is entering his second year in Mark Dantonio's pro-set system and his final collegiate season with high hopes of playing in the NFL, likely as a backup.
If he can avoid the mistakes (preventing turnovers are a key in the Spartans ball control offense) AND do more than just manage the offense by making some big plays, MSU will be in business.
While young, all have shown the ability to make plays and the Spartans have an "x" factor in exciting, but virtually unknown true freshman Keshawn Martin.
KEY: If Hoyer makes plays and avoids the big turnover, MSU could contend.
RUNNING BACK: Javon Ringer is being called the top returning senior running back in the nation by many NFL scouts. Now with former running mate Jehuu Caulcrick gone to graduation, Ringer will get the workload and the spotlight as the Spartans' feature back.
He won't have to worry about splitting carries, as none of the Spartans backups have shown the ability to be a true compliment - at least not yet.
If Ringer can rush for between 1,300 and 1,500 yards, avoid injury and make plays in the passing game out of the backfield, the Spartans will be able to dominate time of possession and keep the ball away from opponents. Look for hard-charging redshirt freshman Ashton Leggett to emerge as the possible top reserve behind Ringer.
KEY: Ringer needs to be a true threat both in the rushing game and passing game. If he is, the Spartans will be dangerous.
LINEBACKER: Sophomore Greg Jones was named freshman All-America by Scout.com a season ago. With inexperienced players in Adam Decker (MIKE) and first time linebacker Ryan Allison (WILL) in the LB mix, Jones will be counted on not just to make plays, but to know the system, allowing him to read, react and disrupt.
Jones has the talent to play football at the next level and this is the year he could stamp himself among some of the outstanding players to play the linebacking position at Michigan State.
KEY: If Jones is the disruptive, pass rushing, playmaking outside linebacker he can be, Michigan State will give opposing offenses fits because head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will put Jones in position to make plays.
LEFT TACKLE: 6-foot-6, 305-pound Rocco Cironi will man the critical left tackle position for Michigan State.
No offense can go without a solid left tackle protecting his right-handed quarterback's blind side. This position is absolutely critical for the Spartans and Cironi is a first-year starter at the position.
There was some thought that right tackle Jesse Miller might move over to the left side, but Cironi has been solid in spring practice. Still, facing the conferences best pass rushers would be a challenge for the most experienced of tackles, Cironi will receive the acid test in his first season at the position.
KEY: If Cironi can negate the Big Ten's pass rushing specialists while keeping penalties to a minimum, MSU's offense won't get short circuited at key junctures.
For MSU to contend, they'll need all four key positions to be productive and effective, if any of the four fail, it'll be like a four-cylinder engine with only three or less of the cylinders firing.
GSN believes that MSU will either roar to the top or sputter into the middle of the pack of the Big Ten due in large part to the contributions of these four key contributors.