The Great College Football Debate: The Michigan State Spartans

With Michigan Football just weeks away, the guys at Maize n Brew are getting a little antsy for the season to start. The only way around it? Argue about football. Argue a lot. Each of us have already gone through Michigan's 2009 Football Schedule with a fine tooth comb a single half-assed glance and come out with completely different opinions on games, wins, losses, and season outcomes. Take a look for yourself, here are Beauford's, MnB Dave's, and SCM's predictions.

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With the exception of Delaware State, every game is a bone of contention between us. Michigan State? You bet your ass. None of us can agree on it. So rather than duel it out with pistols at dawn or get our brawl on, fight club style, we engage in The Great College Football Debate. Five to six questions on the team in question. Five to six in-depth half-ass mediocre answers. You get content, we get to look like complete and total idiots geniuses in a few months. Sounds like a plan to us. We've already held The Great College Football Debate on Notre Dame, Iowa and Penn State, so now it's time to take a look at the fightin' Dantonios of Michigan State.

So, without further ado:

The Great Debate: The Michigan St. Spartans

1) Ringer: gone; Hoyer: gone. What's a realistic expectation of this offense that replaces a work horse running back and a marginal quarterback?

SCM: Several previews I've read on MSU seem to use the logic that unproven/inexperienced talent will be able to fill in any of the gaps losing Hoyer and Ringer have left. Never mind that Ringer tallied 390 carries last year... and we thought we rode Mike Hart hard in '06 (318 carries)??? Without a Clydesdale like Ringer to carry the offense or an experienced QB to lean on, I'm not sure exactly what Dantonio is going to do. Hoyer might have indeed been marginal, but replacing a senior QB is replacing a senior QB. Dantonio clearly is out of the Tressel-ball mold, but without a known commodity (at least early on) to move the sticks and burn the clock, will he have to open up the offense a bit? Methinks so. I think State will be nothing more than "meh" on offense, they do return 7 starters from the 8th ranked O in the league last season (IIRC), but if they continually put an excellent defense in bad situations while trying to find their "spark", it's going to burn them. MSU was fortunate to end up with the record they did last year despite being outgained by their opponents on average. Counting on the defense to let the offense catch-up-to-speed without any consequences is... well it's a mistake in logic I made leading up to last season.

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390 carries of this. Photo via pennlive.com

Maize n Brew Dave: I think the expectations for this offense need to toned down just based on the departures on the offensive line. MSU lost two starting linemen who combined for 26 starts last year. And it's not like last year's line was overpowering anyone to begin with. Ringer carried the ball 390 times but only rushed for a 4.2 average and 1637 or so yards. That's notsogood when you consider Shonn Green had 307 carries and rushed for more than 200 extra yards. Hell, Jahvid Best at Cal rushed for 1580 on 194 carries. Almost TWO HUNDRED fewer carries than Ringer. In the Big East, Donald Brown of Connecticut rushed for 2083 yards on 367 carries. What I'm getting at is that it seems no one had more carries and did less with them than Michigan State's offensive line. Face it, the only rusher in the NCAA's top 75 in yards per game with a lower yards per carry average was Josh Nesbitt of Georgia Tech. Why does that sound weird? Because Nesbitt's a Quarterback!

If Dantonio runs the same offense he did last year there's no way in hell MSU is able to replicate its offensive success this year. Ringer was a special player, seemingly solely based on his ability to run into a brick wall time after time and not get injured. To expect that kind of durability year after year from any group of running backs, let alone one back, is absurd. The ground game is going to take a big step back. That said, I'm not willing to write off the passing game. Brian Hoyer was "competent" the same way Anthony Morrelli was (i.e., not that good).

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Smile Cousins! via SBnation.com

Personally I think Cousins or Nichol (who was a 4 star Oklahoma commit) will be better than Hoyer from the first snap. Cousins has some game experience. Nichol has the big arm. And both of them have outstanding receivers to throw to. I think you'll see dramatic improvement out of the offense in the passing game which should soften the decline of the running game. All things considered, this should still be an Offense in that 6-8th range in the Big Ten. More big plays by the receivers but much fewer on the ground.

Beauford Bixel: This is one of those looming question marks with fangs that every fan dreads. As loath as I am to focus solely on the skill positions, replacing an all-Big Ten running back and a senior quarterback is never easy. Waiting in line behind Hoyer are, however, two quarterbacks who were at least somewhat highly touted and don't possess the "true freshman" status that sent Michigan into a Sparty-No!-esque tailspin last year. Keith Nichol was a 4-star out of Michigan who originally committed to Oklahoma before realizing he was buried on the depth chart. He transfered back to State, and ran the scout team last year while sitting out per NCAA rules. Kirk Cousins, another in-state product, enters the spring as the tentative starter having spent two years in the MSU system, although he was a 2-star to Scout with a smattering of MAC level offerings. Cousins does, however, possess a winning smile.

Replacing a senior quarterback is never good, but both of these options > Walk-on.

Andre Anderson appears to be the starting running back, but nobody is going to replace Javon Ringer's 390 carries on their own. State will likley employ a bevy of running backs to try to match Ringer's production. Anderson - another 2-star - is built to break big plays, and containing him will be a priority.

More of The Great Debate: the Michigan State Spartans after the jump....

2) D'Antonio has been a bit...gruff...when it comes to how he speaks and deals with Michigan. Adding fire to the rivalry? Or just being a dick?

SCM: Without sugar coating it, he's a dick. He handled the whole Mike Hart "little brother" thing like a petulant child and hasn't done anything to reverse that image since. State fans being comprised mostly of petulant children with raging inferiority complexes, I'm sure they love it. I would be willing to bet he also throws an "sc" in front of "UM" every time he mentions the school in correspondence. In a roundabout way he's added fire to the rivalry just in the aspect that he is an ass and it's certainly more fun to beat someone who's going to give you press conference gold afterward.

MnB Dave: Dantonio strikes me as a bit of a Mike Keenan, if you'll forgive crossing sports and the professional/amateur distinction. He's a harsh disciplinarian. He doesn't tolerate any BS. He's a good tactician. And he's pressed every right button to motivate his team and fan base over the last two years. He's not a particularly friendly guy to an outsider, but outsiders don't matter to him. What's important is his team. His school. And he knows that the most important thing to his school and his team is to beat Michigan consistently. As Michigan fans, we're not used to the backtalk coming from East Lansing. It's been a while since the Spartans have been a legitimate threat on the football field. So the constant white noise emitting from the Spartan fanbase has been easy to ignore. But Dantonio, to his credit, realizes that the fan base is insanely tired of the "we'll get ‘em next year" mentality of program since Saban left. And the only way you change that mentality is with a little bit of force from the top. So, yeah, maybe Dantonio's being a little bit of a dick, but that's what he has to be to bring MSU back to relevance in the Big Ten and national picture. And to do that, he's got to take Michigan down.

BB: I will cop to writing this question solely to get a response from SCM, which he provided with aplomb. I do think that D'Antonio is rather prickish when it comes to Michigan, and I think his comments about Mike Hart's height were completely bush league, but uh, yeah Hart did have a mouth on him too, so there's that.

3) Greg Jones remains one of my favorite players in the Big Ten. His defense returns a ton of starters. What's your primary concern vis a vis our offense vs. their defense?

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Greg Jones taking in the Citrus Bowl from field level. Photo via Collegefootballfansite.com

SCM: In the conference, MSU ranked 8th in total D and rushing D along with a 6th in pass D last season. So, uh, why exactly all of the hyperbole about the D heading into this season? Sure Greg Jones is talented, I have no qualms there. Yes they return 8 starters, but outside of the LBs, what scares you on that defense? My primary concern is making sure that we open up the middle of the field early on to get the rushing game going and prevent the Spartan D from simply throwing the kitchen sink at Forcier.

MnB Dave: Other than the linebackers, honestly, there's no one on the Spartan defense that really scares me. Oren Wilson at DT is good, but not spectacular. The same can be said for Trevor Anderson at DE. It's a decent returning pair, but you're also plugging in two new starters from your special teamers and limited back-ups into that line. What shocks me is that even as bad as Michigan was last year, its run defense was actually better than Michigan States'. Check out the numbers. I think MSU's run defense will improve a bit with the veteran ‘backers in the mix, but it's not a world beating defensive front. On the back end, the Spartans have two veteran corners, but some issues with their returning safeties (injuries, not being that good, etc...). I think deep coverage is going to be an issue this season as well. Bad safeties = nightmares. Trust me. I know this. With Michigan State's question mark next to Wilson, I think you'll see a lot of running away from Wilson and Anderson and towards the less experienced guys. I also think, as good as the linebackers are, you'll see a lot of the slot receiver on roll outs against the safeties. Once those safeties are up at the line, maybe lob some bombs deep. But the first priority is to gain yards against the unproven guys.

BB: The defense last year was good enough to win some ball games, but not quite experienced enough to lean too heavily on. That's why Ringer and Hoyer's ability to keep drives alive were paramount. This year, the defense is going to have to be a rock because this offense is likely to put them in some bad situations. Greg Jones is awesome, and when I look at this defensive unit, I see a lot of speed, which could make the read-option a non-option. They look to me to be a bit undersized (only one defensive lineman approaches 300 lbs, and sophomore DT Kevin Pickelman is 255 lbs.), and could be subjected to MINOR RAGE.

4) Given the track record for games played @ MSU, lay down some odds for what freaky occurrence will happen this year.

SCM: By freaky occurrence do you mean "cheating" ('01) or "horrifyingly blatant bad call" (Henne's "fumble" in '05)? Given the continuation of officials' inability to properly call a football game in this series (see Brandon Minor's "TD" last year) I think it's even money that something rage-inducing happens this year as well.

MnB Dave: Even money. You can't have a Michigan/Michigan State game without a referee doing something that makes pull your hair our.

BB: The absolutely horrendous officiating in this game has gone back and forth over the years, what with the "million-year second," the "forward pass fumble," and last year's "Minor-Pylon-TD." My guess is that a paraglider drops onto the field to disrupt play. Wait, that's already happened?

Anyway, it will be scored a touchdown for Purdue, who won't be involved in this game.

5) A lot of talk has been made of MSU snapping up in-state recruits. Address this.

SCM: I am not really concerned, I haven't seen many instances where U of M and MSU have been vying for the same coveted guy yet. Rodriguez gave perhaps the best quote on this topic: "To judge on that and give a perception that one school is dominating the state ... I don't know how much validity there is to that. I know the last couple years, the recruiting classes we've got what we've felt are the best players in the state. Our primary focus in recruiting starts in Michigan and expands in other areas of the Midwest and then south." The reporter followed with: "But there seems to be the perception that Michigan State is taking over the state in recruiting" Rodriguez responded "Last I checked, Mike Martin and Will Campbell were playing for Michigan. Depending on your agenda, whoever you talk to, whatever their agenda is will lead the conversation. I feel pretty good about our reputation in state." Huzzah. In other words, we've gotten the guys we've wanted to get out of the state of Michigan.

MnB Dave: Not that big a deal. Sure you'd like to nab all the top talent in-state every year, but that doesn't happen. Oh wait. It does. Anyone trumpeting the OMG MSU OWNZ0RS INSTATE!!1!!!1 isn't paying that much attention to who's being recruited. In the 2009 class, lessee... Michigan took the top player. Same in 2008. Same in 2007. It'll be the same in 2010 because Devin Gardner is pretty much a lock to be ranked as the top dual threat QB in the country. If there's an issue, MSU is snapping up a lot of guys to starter in East Lansing who would usually be depth guys at Michigan. That'll be something that needs to be addressed if Michigan's national presence doesn't allow them to recruit depth from across the country. Wait... it does? Never mind then.

It's not an issue.

BB: The bottom line here is that MSU has always grabbed some in-state recruits. Notice both their quarterbacks are in-state products, one a 4 star who committed to powerhouse Oklahoma before transfering. Michigan has, however, been able to nab the tippy-top talent from in-state while continuing to focus more on Florida and Texas. Campbell, Gardner, White, Martin - these are all players who have committed to Rodriguez during his tenure at Michigan. We'll always lose out on a Gholston every now and again (he appears to be headed to MSU, at any rate), but by and large, the tizzy about Michigan losing in-state recruits has been mostly fabricated by shaudenfraud-filled fans of opposing schools.

(If you're looking for other break downs, check out The Great College Football Debate on Notre Dame, Iowa and Penn State)

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