MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
2012 Record: 7-6, 5-3 Big Ten. Fourth in Legends Division.
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio, seventh year at Michigan State (51-28).
Offensive Starters Returning: 8
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
Have you ever heard the phrase, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades?”
That’s how the 2012 season went for the Michigan State Spartans.
Last season, Michigan State was 7-6 overall, but five of those losses were by four points or less and grand total of 13 points which includes a 17-16 loss to Ohio State, a 19-16 setback to Iowa in double overtime, a 12-10 defeat to in-state rival Michigan, a 28-24 loss to Nebraska, and a 23-20 nailbiter to Northwestern.
On the flip side, the Spartans also won four games by four points or less with wins over Boise State (17-13), Indiana (31-27), Wisconsin (16-13) in overtime, and TCU (17-16) in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
So either way you look at it, Michigan State could’ve gone 11-1 at best, or 3-9 at worst.
“I think there’s a sense of resolve on our football team right now,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. “Our games were extremely close so it wasn’t like we were out of games.”
In the past six seasons under Dantonio, the Spartans have won more Big Ten games (27, and if Ohio State didn’t vacate the entire 2010 season, the Buckeye total would’ve been 32) than any other conference team since 2008, including a share of the Big Ten Championship in 2010 and the Big Ten Legends Division title in 2011.
Since Dantonio landed in East Lansing after the 2006 season to replace John L. Smith, the Spartans have appeared in a school-record six consecutive bowl games and their 29 wins the last three years is the winningest-stretch in school history.
Although Michigan State has achieved a fair amount of success under Dantonio, the 2012 season was a disappointment. With 15 starters returning, the Spartans have enough pieces to contend in the Legends Division of the Big Ten this season.
On the offensive side of the ball, Michigan State returns nine starters from last season’s youthful group that featured just one starting senior. The Spartans welcome back seven starters and 11 players with starting experience on defense.
Senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell returns after throwing for 2,606 yards on 234-of-446 (52.5%) passing with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, as does two of his top receivers with senior Bennie Fowler (41 rec., 542 yards, 4 TDs) and junior Keith Mumphery (42 rec., 515 yards, 1 TD).
The question remains, who will tote the rock now that Le’Veon Bell and his 1,844 yards with 12 touchdowns has left for the NFL?
According to Michigan State’s preseason depth chart, redshirt freshman Riley Bullough is at the top of the list, though junior Nick Hill is the Spartans’ top returning rusher after netting just 48 yards in 21 carries last season.
With the lack of experience at the running back position, that slot may be won by incoming freshman Gerald Holmes, a three-star prospect from Carman-Ainsworth High School in Flint, Mich. Not a highly recruited prospect with just three scholarship offers, Holmes does have the size at 6-foot, 212-pounds, to play right way in the Big Ten.
Along with Maxwell, Fowler, Mumphrey and sophomore wide receiver Aaron Burbridge, four more starters return on the offensive line led by senior left guard Blake Treadwell.
The defense returns eight starters that includes the top three tacklers from a year ago with senior middle linebacker Max Bullough, senior strong safety Isaiah Lewis and senior strongside linebacker Denicos Allen. Bullough led the team with 111 total tackles and 10 tackles for loss. Lewis was second with 80 stops and was also second on the Spartan squad with six pass breakups. Allen was third on the team in tackles (79), sacks (3.0) and tackles for loss (7.0).
If there are any question marks on the defensive side of the ball, it comes from the front four that must replace two starters, one of which was second-team All-Big Ten selection DE William Gholston.
Along with the linebacking corps, the secondary should be strong with three starters back that includes senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who led the team with three interceptions in 2012.
Conclusion and Prediction:
Last season, Michigan State was ninth in the NCAA in scoring defense (16.3 ppg) and fourth in total defense (274.4 ypg), which also led the Big Ten in both statistical categories. But the Spartans were also 108th in the NCAA in scoring offense (20.0 ppg) and 95th in total offense (359.3 ypg), placing the Green & White tenth and ninth in the Big Ten in those stats, respectfully.
Michigan State had a very balanced offense in 2012 with 492 rushing attempts and 465 passing attempts. But without a proven running back, expect the Spartans to air it out more this season.
If the offense improves as I expect and Dantonio’s defense is sold as usual, plus with a favorable conference schedule by not having to play Ohio State or Wisconsin, I predict that Michigan State will end up 9-3 overall and 6-2 in conference play.
The Spartans toughest stretch of the season is when MSU takes on Nebraska on Nov. 16 and Northwestern on Nov. 30, both on the road. If MSU can win at home against rival Michigan on Nov. 2 at home, their biggest contest on the slate, Sparty could be playing in the Big Ten championship game if they can do well away from East Lansing.