Maize n Preview! A Misinformed 2007 Michigan State Football Preview

Maize n Preview! A Misinformed 2007 Michigan State Football Preview

University: Michigan State University
Location: East Lansing, MI
Founded: 1855
All Time Football Record: 596-412-44
Team Name: Spartans
Conference: Big Ten
Number of National Championships: 3 (1952, 1965, 1966)
Number of Big Ten Championships: 6 (1953, 1965, 1966, 1978, 1987, 1990)
Last League Championship: 1990 (Big Ten Co-Champs)
First Season of Football: 1885 (0-1)
Last Season: 2006 (4-8) (1-7 In conference)
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio
Stadium: Spartan, capacity 75,005

Fine MSU Blogs: The Enlightened Spartan (who posted an excellent preview of his team on Hawkeye State).

A (Very) Little Insight Into The Michigan State Spartans

Last year Michigan State looked to be one of the upper tier members of the Big Ten. Drew Stanton was considered one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, the line was veteran, the defense had experience, and a schedule that should've gotten them into a bowl. It started well enough. Three straight wins over Idaho, Eastern Michigan, and a whupping of Pitt in Pittsburgh. Three quarters into the Notre Dame game the Spartans looked liek the team we expected them to be. Then the wheels came off. Of the season. Despite leading 31-14, State found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Spartans would manage only a single win against Northwestern the rest of the way, and they had to come from 35 down to do that. State lost its last four and finished 4-8 on the year.

Thankfully, mercifully John L. Smith was canned at the end of the year. Smith was one of the more repugnant coaches in the Big Ten if not all of college football, and I hold him personally responsible for burying this program. To MSU's credit they conducted a legitimate search and hired an up and coming coach in Mark Dantonio who was the Head Coach at Cincinnati. Dantonio is a respected coach who will help bring discipline and dignity back to this once proud program.

Fortunately, there is talent to work with. Uber-back Javon Ringer returns. I personally rank him as the second best back in the conference, and if he hadn't blown out his knee in the fifth game of the year would've been in the Mike Hart/PJ Hill 1,400 to 1,500 yard range. The defense won't be great, but it won't be ignored the same way it was under Smith. With 7 of MSU's top 10 tacklers back, despite losing five starters, this may actually be a stronger defense than last year. Offensively, the switch from a spread offense to a grind it out, run based offense should reap dividends for MSU's stable of productive backs. The switch should also serve to take a lot of pressure off the offensive line and Junior QB Brian Hoyer, who performed capably during Stanton's numerous absences.

It'll be a difficult year in East Lansing, but one that will improve as the season goes on. Expect a much more disciplined and competitive team on both sides of the ball.

Coaches

Put mildly, I was not not a fan of Smith's.

[Name Redacted II] - Came over from Louisville after playing his former school against his current school in a horrid display of greed. With his team in a bowl game [Name Redacted II] played Michigan State into an obscenely overextended contract. His team found out at HALFTIME OF THEIR BOWL GAME that he was leaving for MSU. Guess how that turned out.

Despite tremendous success in Conference USA coaching Louisville, [Name Redacted II] has never been able to duplicate it at MSU. During his tenure at MSU, he has managed only one winning season and one bowl game (which he lost).

A gifted offensive coach, Defense has seemed to be the forgotten child of the MSU football team. The corners especially seem to be ignored or beaten with reeds in lieu of coaching. [Name Redacted II]'s weaknesses center on his inability to get his very talented team to focus after the first 30 minutes of a game.

When he wasn't embarrassing the school with his team's on-field performance he was embarrassing it with his off-field press conferences. Yeah. Smith was a Grade A d-bag. But enough about him. The d-bag.

Replacing the d-bag is respected former Cincinnati head coach Mark Dantonio. Dantonio has some history at MSU, serving under Nick Saban as DB's coach from 1995-2000. His coaching pedigree ain't bad. He was The Sweatervest's Defensive Coordinator from 2000-2003 (which includes a National Championship in 2002) before taking the HC position at Cincinnati. In three years he guided the Bearcats to two bowl games (1-1) and proved his worth as a recruiter of solid talent. The 'Cats run defense was 2nd in the Big East last year, and you can expect similar effort out of MSU's defense, though the results make take a year or two to measure up.

In leaving Cinci, Dantonio stripped the coaching cupboard bare. He brought his OC and DC along with him, both of whom have solid coaching chops. This group should produce a substantially better and disciplined effort than either of MSU's previous two staffs.

Offense

After three mind numbing years running John L Smith's hopelessly over complicated spread offense, Dantonio is reinstating a power running offense. The simplification of the offense should provide immediate results by limiting the amount of thinking that has to go on outside the huddle. MSU was plagued by penalties, dropped passes, and mental errors (e.g., missed blocking assignments) all last year. This year, with a simplified playbook which (hopefully) will allow the Spartans to play to their strengths, expect scoring to be down a notch, but offensive consistency to finally reappear in East Lansing.

QB

Gone is four year starter and gum flapper Drew Stanton. Staton routinely drew praise in his four years at MSU for his strong arm and pro potential. Unfortunately, neither of those were apparent in any season he started. Naturally, based on a lack of production and high expectations he was drafted by the Lions in the second round, at least two rounds ahead of where he should've been taken on a talent based draft choice.


Stanton's most consistent play

Stepping in will be Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was a well regarded recruit out of high school with a strong arm. Hoyer only started one game last year but saw a considerable amount of playing time as a sophomore back up. He completed 56.9% of his passes for 863 yards on 82 completions and a 4/3 TD/INT ratio. I suspect a more traditional offense will be good for Hoyer, and if a pocket can hold up he should post decent numbers this year. Unfortunately, Hoyer had a miserable spring practice which caused some consternation among the Spartan following. However, even an average year from Hoyer will be an upgrade from Stanton's injuries and mental mistakes. 2007 recruit Nick Foles should be the primary backup by mid season.

RB

The true strength of the Spartan offense lies in the tailback position. Somehow, someway MSU always seems to have a stable of talented running backs with the builds of pile of wrecking balls. While not quite a wrecking ball, Junior Javon Ringer will lead the Spartan offense this year. Ringer is a fast tailback with show good cutback ability. Hampered by Smith's despise of the fullback position, Ringer was State's best offensive weapon anyway. This year supported by Dwanye Holmes and Jeff McPherson at fullback, Ringer should have a monster year.


Crafty and Quick, Especially When You Massage His Leg Like Idaho Did

Backing Ringer up will be pure wrecking ball Jehuu Caulcrick. Caulcrick is an armored car without brakes. Seriously. He's never missed a buffet in his life. And frankly, he scares the hell out of me. Caulcrick is not a change of pace back, he is a pure-bred up the gut, smash mouth running back. It usually takes two people to bring him down and a safety/corner is not going to be able to stop him one-on-one. The way defenses stopped him last year was to get to him before he got a head of steam up. However, if the O-Line protects him at all, he's going to be hard to bring down. I think MSU's tailbacks are easily on of the top three units in the Big Ten.

They'd better be. They'll be carrying the load this year.

Offensive Line

An area that should be a strength for the Spartans is the Offensive line. Michigan State returns 4/5ths of its line from last year. The final piece of the puzzle should be new Center John Masters, who started 3 games last year and is a Senior. Roland Martin and Pete Clifford man the Right and Left Guard spots surrounding Masters. Jesse Miller and Mike Gyetvia man the right and left tackle spots.

With this glut of upperclassmen on both sides of the line, you can expect the Spartans to run behind whichever side is healthier. Miller is the closest thing to a star on the line, but every member should be solid this year with the simplification of the offense. However, as ES points out, this group was so bad for so long it's hard to trust they'll improve. With the implementation of a power running game and stripped down passing game the O-line's numbers (rushing and sacks) will improve. There is also some depth as 7 of 10 lettermen return to the line.

WR/TE

The Spartans graduated their top three receivers last year. This is both a blessing and a curse. While the prior group was very, very talented, lets just say they weren't the sharpest knives in the block.  Dropped passes killed this group and subsequently got Stanton killed as well. This year the most talented returning receiver is tight end Kellen Davis. At 6-6 with excellent speed, Davis will probably emerge as Hoyer's top target over the course of the year. Tight Ends were featured prominently in Cinci's offense and I expect more of the same in East Lansing. If Davis can keep his head out of his ass, and refrain from the off-the-field behavior that got him suspended for 4 games last year, he'll be a key cog in this year's offense.

After Davis, there's not a lot of experience in the receiving corps. TJ Williams started 6 games last year and managed 25 receptions and 3 TDs. He's the only returning receiver with more than 20 catches last year. State's other starter will be Terry Love, who only caught 18 balls last year and didn't find the endzone. Love is likely to find himself as the third receiver relatively quickly when 3/4 star recruit Mark Dell takes over. Dell is a work in progress, but once he learns how to run a route, he's going to be dangerous.

The rest of receiving corps is long in the tooth and short on experience.

Defense

30 points a game. If you're an offense, it rules. If that's what you give up on defense, it sucks. Unfortunately, it was what the Spartans gave up per game. Not that all of it was the defense. Several Staton throws ended up in the wrong end zone, but that wasn't enough to skew the numbers. The MSU defense was terrible. Indiana scored 46. Northwestern put up 38. Minnesota put up 31. Yeah, not so good against the worst offenses in the league. Sadly, the defense woke up Penn State and Purdue, limiting them to 17 a piece. While managing to limit Penn State at the end of the season was admirable, the balance of the season was bad news.

The biggest problem was the lack of a pass rush. Michigan State managed only 9 sacks all conference season and 16 all season. Even though the rushing defense only allowed 133 a game, the pass defense gave up 231 and 58% completion percentage.  It probably also didn't help that MSU ran a 4-2-5 package 80% of the time, including obvious rushing downs.

This season Michigan State finally has a coach that take defense seriously. Last year Cinci gave up only 106 yards on the ground and only 202 in air. Dantonio is also switching MSU back to a standard 4-3-4, similar to what most of his players played in high school. Added to that is the stated goal of simplifying the defense scheme to allow the kids to make plays rather than pick their brains trying to figure out where they're supposed to be. Look for improvement out of State's defense as the year goes on.

DL

A lot of the Spartan's defensive problems the last few years can be traced to a lackluster line, comprised of underachieving talent with a nasty concentration problem. Last year was no exception. This year Michigan State returns two solid defensive ends, two passable tackles, and a bunch of question marks.

Senior Ervin Baldwin led the Spartan's pass rush last year, garnering a team high 4 sacks. Only now departed Clifton Ryan had more than 2 sacks. Opposite Baldwin is Justin Kershaw who managed 2 TFL and 26 tackles as a sophomore. After the two starters there's not much. Freshman Antonio Jeremiah will probably see some time at either DE or DT before the end of the season if not at the beginning of it. There are some questions about whether he's ready to contribute as a freshman, but the coaches think he will.


Ervin Baldwin Thinks That is Eeexceeelllent, Smithers

The space between Baldwin and Kershaw is a big question. Senior Ogemdi Nwagbuo has the best name on the team, and will likely start at DT this year along with Jonal Saint-Dic who has the second best name on the team. Saint-Dic. Heh heh. Both managed 23 stops last year, but only Saint-Dic managed to, er, penetrate the opposition, um, heh heh, deep enough, to score a pair of sacks. Double entendres are fun.

Once the starters are spent, there's not a lot to keep the opposition busy. Past Jeremiah, MSU's two deep is comprised of JUCO transfers and converted tight ends. If the starters stay healthy, the defense will be mid-Big Ten. If not, the linebackers and corners will be run ragged trying to stop running backs in the secondary or trying to cover wide receivers for 10 extra seconds a passing down.

LB

The Spartans return two starters, Kaleb Thornhill and SirDarean Adams who were 3 and 4 in tackles last year. They also return four of their top six linebackers, despite the loss of second leading tackler David Herron. Sophomore Andrew Hawken is penciled in at the final LB slot, but red shirt freshman Eric Gordon could challenge for that spot.

Last year this group played fairly well, all things considered. The switch to the 4-3 will take a lot of pressure off the Adams and Thornhill, and the added support should lead to solid years for the three starters and top two rotations.

DB

The strength of the defense lies in the defensive backfield. Junior Free Safety Otis Wiley leads the group and led the team last year in tackles with 94. The Spartans also have high hopes for returning strong safety Senior Nehemiah Warrick who is going into his second year at SS after transferring from JUCO. Backing them up will be Senior Travis Key who started one game last year and posted 42 tackles, 3 pass breakups, 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a pick. Not bad for a back up. The safety group is known for laying hard, hard hits. Warrick reportedly had a vicious spring and seems ready to level anyone who comes into his wheelhouse. If Dantonio can get a little better coverage out of these guys, its going to be a frightening unit.

The corners should be decent as well. Kendall Davis-Clark and Ross Weaver appear to have the CB slots locked down after good springs. Weaver's only a sophomore and shows tons of potential. Kendall is a competent DB, but failed to break up a pass all year while amassing 39 tackles. The deep ball still causes some consternation when these guys are on the field.

However, just about everyone is back. Weaver is the only starter this season without starting experience, and 6 of the top 8 return. In addition, there is loads of red shirt freshmen talent on the sidelines, with most of them hovering in the 6-0, 210 range. While the Spartans may not have a superstar in the backfield, everyone of them can play.

K/ST

Brett Swenson hit 15-of-19 field goals as a freshman last year and will return as the starter. He was fairly consistent last year, but a pair of misses cost MSU the Purdue game last year. Hopefully the summer allowed him to exorcise those demons. MSU will be breaking in a new punter this year, and it's anyones guess who will emerge from the morass to handle that job.

Return duties will be handled by committee at this point. Terry "Buddy" Love handled the punt return duties last year but was less than spectacular in that capacity. I expect one of the non-starting WRs to carry the mail on return duty. At this point, assuming Love won't return kick-offs or punts, Devin Thomas (Jr),Deon Curry (Jr), Ryan Allison (Jr), David Williams (rFr), and incoming freshmen B.J. Cunningham, Mark Dell and Chris D. Rucker will compete for the return spot.

The Season

It's going to be tough. MSU has a relatively easy slate in their first 6 games. However, the rest of the Big Ten schedule is a nightmare. I'm guessing the Spartans will start well, gain some confidence, get roughed up a bit mid season, and fight tooth and nail from then on. This isn't a team that will be in the conference crown race, but if everything comes together, they could make a bowl.

Best Case Season: 6-6, Bowl game. State can manage a bowl game if they're able to go 4-0 nonconference and pick up two conference wins. They can also do it by going 3-1 and picking up 3 conference wins. The former is more likely than the latter. State will likely beat Northwestern, leaving Indiana and possibly Iowa the remaining targets for those elusive conference wins. I think it'll be a tall order for this team, but it's definitely a possibility.

Worst Case Season: 2-10. I hate to write it, but if the wheels come off State could lose 10 in a row. Pitt has the potential to walk in and steal one at Spartan Stadium, and Notre Dame despite all the new faces should have the talent to be competitive. While Northwestern should be a victory, the Cats put 38 on the Spartans before falling apart. I wouldn't count on them to do that again. If Indiana remains as good as they looked last year a win there is a tall order as well. If it all goes wrong, two wins.

Maize n Brew's 2007 Michigan State Football Prediction: 4-8 (1-7)

Date Opponent Prediction
09/01 vs UAB is inexperienced and young. MSU should walk away from Spartan Stadium 1-0. But the Spartans will find a way to keep it interesting through the first two quarters before posting a double digit win. ES agrees with this assessment. 1-0.
09/08 vs A MAC game that reeks of a problem. BGSU returns 15 starters, and almost all of its skill position players. This is a MAC team on the rise and could be a problem for MSU. However, BGSU's D-line is brand new and Ringer will carry the mail for the Spartans. 2-0.
09/15 vs The Wannstashe comes to Lansing with a new quarterback. Pitt will run the ball well this, even with Wannstedt on the sideline. Pitt returns a fairly good offense, and a good defensive line. Even though the defensive backfield and linebackers are all new, passing isn't going to be MSU's strength. The game's a toss up, but I see MSU dropping one of their first four and I betting this is the one. 2-1.
09/22 at I still have no idea how MSU lost last year's game. Both teams are reloading but Notre Dame was hurt far worse by graduation than MSU. Ringer runs all over Notre Dame's defensive line and linebackers. 3-1.
09/29 at This one could get ugly. Wisconsin should be rolling at this point and I'm guessing there will still be plenty of questions on the MSU defensive line. 3-2.
10/06 vs This could be a really entertaining game. Northwestern will be better than people think and these games are always entertaining. State wins a close one. 4-2
10/13 vs Again, this will be more entertaining than you'd think. Indiana is returning one of the better QB/WR combos in the conference in Kellen Lewis and James Hardy. Their ENTIRE O-Line returns. It's not that I think MSU is so bad as to lose, it's that Indiana is finally a respectable member of the Big Ten. 4-3.
10/20 at It's a loss, but you'll start to see improvement out of both lines in this game. 4-4.
10/27 at The game where it all comes together. Iowa's strengths play into MSU's. The Spartans are going to surprise the hell out of someone and this game just oozes upset. Iowa's veil of invulnerability at home is long gone, and their brand new O-Line should allow State to make some plays on stud RB Albert Young. I want to pick them here, but it looks like too tall an order. 4-5.
11/3 vs State will play harder than it has all year in this game and be competitive down to the wire. But Michigan has too much firepower. I don't see State putting up enough points to hold Hart, Henne & Co. 4-6.
11/10 at Purdue should be in the midst of a decent year at this point. The Spartans will be on the road and coming down from a tough loss to their arch rivals. Curtis Painter should throw for 300+ behind a veteran O-Line. The Spartan DB's will keep this close and pick Painter once or twice, but Purdue's got too many veterans and too good an offense. 4-7.
11/17 at The final home game of the year against a team that could be vying for a BCS game. If PSU is out of the BCS race at this point, State can pull the upset if the Lion's concentration lags. However, I'm betting the BCS games are decided till the last day of Big Ten play. PSU will pull out a squeaker in a game I feel can go either way. 4-8.
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