30 Teams in 30 days: #9 Michigan State University Spartans

Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (44-22, entering his 6th season)

The Story: “Before Mark Dantonio arrived in East Lansing…” It is just about time to put that saying to rest.  It may be difficult to believe, but Michigan State has now reached a bowl game in five straight seasons. John L. Smith failed to reach more than one, as did Bobby Williams before him.  Nick Saban never reached five straight at MSU, nor did George Perles. Of course, Perles was at the helm the last time MSU went to and won a Rose Bowl. We will stop right there, since most MSU fans would like to forget everything post Duffy Daughtery in the 1970s.  Bottom line, Spartan football has been pretty much irrelevant for the past few decades, but after two straight 11-win seasons, Michigan State is ready to not only solidify themselves with a Big 10 title, but also put themselves into the BCS picture.

The Glaring Stat: 202. The numbers of receptions by last years top 4 receivers. All graduated.

The Outlook: We have MSU extremely high in our rankings, but this is a team that could easily find themselves on the back end of the Top 25 with a few hiccups along the way. The conference schedule is difficult, with trips to both Ann Arbor and Madison, while hosting Ohio State to open the B1G season. Throw-in a season opener against Boise State and a visit from the Irish, and MSU has one of the more difficult schedules in the country.

The last several seasons, MSU has had several huge question marks with the exception of two positions, QB and WR. But 3-year starter and record holder Kirk Cousins and BJ Cunningham are both gone to the NFL, along with Keshawn Martin. Andrew Maxwell takes over signal calling duties, and a bevvy of hopefuls will try to replace the 202 receptions mentioned above. Word is that Maxwell has a ton of more physical talent than Kirk Cousins ever had. He’s bigger, stronger, throws farther, has more elusiveness, but has only thrown the ball 51 times the last 2 years. While the coaches have confidence in Maxwell, the questions about whether or not he can do it on the field are yet to be answered. The same goes for Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett, who have protypical size and speed at the WR position. They are replacing to guys that broke all kinds of records while at MSU.  Dion Sims is the only returning pass-catcher with significant experience, and the TE might become Maxwell’s favorite target early on because of his speed and athleticism. But the offense intends to rely much more on the run this year, with 3 starters returning on the offensive line, and 4 players in all with starting experience. That is a change from last year, that really only saw 1 starter coming back. The secret weapon of the offense is no longer a secret weapon. That is Le’Veon Bell. The junior will handle the bulk of the load, and since everyone has thrown him in the Heisman darkhorse discussion, you can be sure that all eyes will be focused on him on Saturdays.   He took over starting duties about halfway through last season and finished just shy of 1000 yards, but with an average of 5.2 yards per carry. He’s big, powerful, and fast. The Spartans will lean on him early and often until the questionable passing game finds their groove.

The success of the Spartans will fall to the defense. This is a unit that finished 6th in the nation a year ago. Teams will struggle to run on Michigan State, as their top defensive ends both return, as do all 3 linebackers.  There is incredible depth in the front 7, including 5-star redshirt Lawrence Thomas, who bulked up and moved to DE and will back up Will Gholston, who just might be the best defensive end in the conference this year. But while teams focus on trying to double-team Gholston, they will need to seek out “the Waterboy,” linebacker Denicos Allen.  Gholston is getting all the attention in preseason, but Allen led the team in tackles-for-a-loss with 18.5 and 11 sacks.  Johnny Adams is considered one of the best cover corners in the entire nation, and leads a secondary that is returning 3 of last years 4 starters.

The Schedule:
Aug 31, Boise State
Sep. 8 @Central Michigan
Sep. 15 Notre Dame
Sep. 22 Eastern Michigan
Sep. 29 Ohio State
Oct. 6 @Indiana
Oct 13 Iowa
Oct. 20 @Michigan
Oct. 27 @Wisconsin
Nov. 3 Nebraska
Nov. 17 Northwestern
Nov. 24 @Minnesota
Dec. 1 Big 10 Title Game

MSU needs to sweep its non-conference schedule. One loss would hurt their chances of a BCS bowl consideration, much like it did last year. Is the idea of National Title Game too crazy? Not at all. This is a team that had one bad loss at Nebraska during a murderous stretch of games, and lost by 3 in the Big 10 Title game. The key would be the back-to-back stretches against Michigan and Wisconsin. Beating Michigan on the road is much more likely, and that would be their 5th straight win against their rivals. I struggle to see a win in Madison, which has usually been a house of horrors for the Spartans, regardless of team or coach. But the rest of the schedule plays to their advantage, especially having the rival Irish in Spartan Stadium and Boise having a depleted roster from a year ago. But there might be another hiccup along the way. A third straight season of 11 wins might have to come via another bowl game win.

The record: 10-2

  • Gerold Dayne

    On the banks of the Red Cedar,
    There’s a school that’s known to all;
    Its specialty is winning,
    And those Spartans play good ball;
    Spartan teams are never beaten,
    All through the game they fight;
    Fight for the only colors:
    Green and White.

    Go right through for MSU,
    Watch the points keep growing,
    Spartan teams are bound to win,
    They’re fighting with a vim!
    Rah! Rah! Rah!
    See their team is weakening,
    We’re going to win this game,
    Fight! Fight! Rah! Team, Fight!
    Victory for MSU!

  • Oskie

    NAILED IT!

  • http://www.thevictoryformation.com Watsonian

    The Schedule:
    Aug 31, Boise State
    Sep. 8 @Central Michigan
    Sep. 15 Notre Dame
    Sep. 22 Eastern Michigan
    Sep. 29 Ohio State
    Oct. 6 @Indiana
    Oct 13 Iowa
    Oct. 20 @Michigan
    Oct. 27 @Wisconsin
    Nov. 3 Nebraska
    Nov. 17 Northwestern
    Nov. 24 @Minnesota
    Dec. 1 Big 10 Title Game

    WORD

  • http://www.thevictoryformation.com Watsonian

    I’ll be honest. My expectations with Maxwell are pretty high. He was a highly touted recruit a few years ago. And he’s had 3 years to sit and learn.

  • Oskie

    Le’Veon is a beast

  • http://www.thevictoryformation.com Watsonian

    Le’Veon is a beast

    Yes, he is. And most people don’t know that because he only started half the season. This year though? He might get 30 carries a game.

  • Oskie

    i say 20-25 touches. caper and bell will be worked in.

  • Oskie

    i mean hill

  • http://www.thevictoryformation.com Watsonian

    i mean hill

    Shhhh, that’s the secret weapon.

  • knightwhosaysni

    Type your comment here

  • knightwhosaysni

    Don’t sleep on Michigan State.

  • http://Bigten.com Mr. Big Ten

    The Spartans are 8-4, at best. They’ll be able to run the ball and that’s about it.

  • K Rock

    Msu will be 11-1. Uof M will be 7-5 0r 8-4 at best.

  • Trey

    7-5. Homer.

  • http://thevictoryformation.com Dave K

    you ranked them here, doofus