Note – This is the 2012 information. Please check the 2013 MSU page for a look at this season.
Can Michigan State Continue Inching Closer to the Top?
For so many years, Michigan State has been just an average program with above average talent. They’ve had countless disappointing seasons. Other than 1 year under Nick Saban in 1999, the Spartans have been mostly an underachieving program over the past 20+ years. It didn’t matter who the coach was – the Spartans couldn’t get the job done and achieve more than a 7 or 8 win season. The Bobby Williams era was a disaster. That disaster rubbed off on John L. Smith. But ever since then, things have been on the upswing.
Mark Dantonio is entering his 7th season as the head coach at Michigan State, after replacing the much maligned John L. Smith. He’s put up a 62-39 overall record, which includes a berth in the Big-10 Championship Game last season. The Spartans didn’t beat the Badgers in Indianapolis, but their second straight 11-win season sent a clear message across the Big-10 – Michigan State isn’t a middle of the pack program anymore.
There’s no denying that Dantonio has questionable ethics. His integrity is not exactly up there with what we thought of Joe Paterno pre-2011. In his tenure, he’s allowed a star football player to immediately return to the team after getting out of jail. And let’s just say he uses questionable tactics in recruiting players. Dantonio will never be mistaken for a great guy, but this is College Football. The truth is if you aren’t cheating or using questionable tactics to recruit players, you’re not committed to winning at a high level.
Unfortunately, this game has evolved into a crooked man’s game. We’re not saying Dantonio is crooked. There’s no evidence to suggest he’s ever paid a recruit. But he’s certainly not the Messiah. Despite what we think of Dantonio on a personal level, there’s no denying his ability to coach. Mark Dantonio is – without question – one of the best coaches in the Big-10. Michigan State is playing at a level they haven’t played at in many years.
The biggest difference between Dantonio and his predecessors is the Spartans aren’t losing games they shouldn’t. They’re taking care of business against the Minnesota’s and Indiana’s of the world. Their only losses over the past 2 seasons have been against Iowa, Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. There’s no shame in losing to those teams. The only problem with those losses is – save for the Wisconsin game – they’ve all been blowout defeats.
Michigan State’s program right now has evolved into what Iowa was in the earlier part of this century. They’re a team on the cusp of greatness, but now they become the hunted. Teams are going to be gunning for Michigan State now. Iowa learned the hard way that when you’re the hunted instead of the hunter, it’s a lot more difficult to win games. After Iowa’s run of 3 straight Top 10 finishes from 2002-2004, the Hawkeyes went through 3 straight average seasons and then had a disappointing 2010 season a few years later.
Michigan State needs to prove they can beat the top teams. If they don’t, they’ll never get to the next level. They’ll win 10-11 games for a few years and then drop back to the middle of the pack. Under Dantonio, the Spartans haven’t won many games against ranked opponents. They’ve been a team that takes care of business against inferior teams, but gets dominated most of the time against tough competition. Will 2012 be the year that the Spartans take that next step?
Spartans Loaded on Both Sides of the Ball
Michigan State ranked 6th nationally in total defense last year. The corps of that defense returns. The Spartans will be very difficult to move the football against. They are led by All-World Defensive End William Gholston. Gholston is as good of a pass rusher as anyone in the country. He’ll be a Top 10 pick in the NFL Draft next year – assuming he comes out early – for sure. Gholston is big, fast, and makes quarterbacks think twice about rolling out in his direction.
Gholston isn’t the only playmaker on the Spartan defense. Denicos Allen is one of the top returning linebackers in the Big-10. He had 18.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore last season. Allen is one of 3 returning starters at the linebacker position. Chris Norman and Max Bullough are rarely out of position and are big hitters with decent athleticism.
As good as the D-line and Linebacking corps appears to be, the secondary could be Michigan State’s biggest defensive strength. Johnny Adams is one of the most skilled cover corners in the Big-10. Dantonio has been tinkering around with playing him on both sides of the ball in order to take advantage of his athletic abilities. Expect to see him catching a few passes on both sides of the ball this fall.
The offense does need to replace some key players. Most notably, Kirk Cousins. Cousins has moved onto the NFL after being one of the top quarterbacks n the Big-10 the past few years. His replacement – Andrew Maxwell – has just as much talent as Cousins. He has the arm strength and leadership qualities any coach would want. But he does lack game experience despite being in the program for 4 years. If he makes good decisions, the Spartans offense will be tough.
The running game is in excellent shape, led by Le’Veon Bell and Larry Caper. Bell will get the bulk of the carries, but Caper is one of the best backups in the country and would start most places. Bell rushed for 948 yards last season but expect that number to rise well above 1,000 yards this year. The Spartans are replacing their quarterback and top 2 wide receivers, so much of their offensive success will rest on the legs of Le’Veon Bell.
Michigan State Football: 2012 Predictions
Michigan State plays a marginally difficult schedule that begins with perennial mid-major power Boise State. They also have a home game against the always overrated Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Their conference schedule isn’t light either. They face back-to-back brutal road tests in late October against Michigan and Wisconsin. Then they come home to face a solid Nebraska team before finishing up with a couple of cupcakes.
The Spartans will be favored in most games this year. However, there will be quite a few games where they are either the underdog or only a slim favorite. It’s going to take some amazing quarterback play out of Andrew Maxwell for the Spartans to pull of another 11-win season. But that’s certainly not out of the question.
Aug 31 vs Boise State – WIN
Sept 8 at Central Michigan – WIN
Sept 15 vs Notre Dame – WIN
Sept 22 vs Eastern Michigan – WIN
Sept 29 vs Ohio State – WIN
Oct 6 at Indiana – WIN
Oct 13 vs Iowa – WIN
Oct 20 at Michigan – LOSS
Oct 27 at Wisconsin – LOSS
Nov 3 vs Nebraska – WIN
Nov 17 vs Northwestern – WIN
Nov 24 at Minnesota – WIN
Dec 1 vs Wisconsin (champ game) – WIN
Overall Record: (11-2)
Big-10 Record: (6-2)
Games Favored: 11
Games Underdog: 2
Michigan State Spartans: Final Analysis
Michigan State has accomplished more in the past 2 years than they have in the past 20. And there’s no reason to expect anything to be different this year. Dantonio’s job is safe, and for good reason. He’s done some amazing things at Michigan State. But now it’s time for the program to take that final step and get to the Rose Bowl and potentially compete for a National Title.
The Spartans have the talent to compete for a National Title. But they also play a very difficult schedule. They play 2 quality teams in the non-conference and have arguably the toughest back-to-back road stretch (Michigan, Wisconsin) in the country. And we haven’t even mentioned the home games against Iowa and Ohio State – 2 programs the Spartans haven’t had a lot of success against over the past 20 years. All the pieces are in place for Michigan State except a proven quarterback. There’s a lot of pressure on Andrew Maxwell. How will he handle it?
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