Maize n' Brew mercilessly drifts through yet another preview; this one long overdue. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Michigan State Spartans
Explanation and indemnifications found: here
The Michigan State Spartans enter this season with high expectations tempered with the knowledge that a workhorse running back and a marginal but experienced quarterback need replacing.
Javon Ringer was a good back who probably isn't irreplaceable. His numbers - detailed below - are largely a matter of increased work load.
Hoyer was pretty inconsistent during his senior season with a 9/9 TD to INT ratio. That, uh, that isn't so good (of course, when you're dealing with a Threet/Sheridan situation, anything looks good, so don't rush to judge).
On the positive side, the defense returns 8 starters including the vast majority of defensive backs, and every starting linebacker. That defense had better be good; they're going to be carrying an offense that may take some time to get their act together. Another plus for the Spartans is their special teams which return kicker Brett Swenson and punter Aaron Bates. Space emperor, he is not, but Bates is a very good punter.
More Previewin' Dead Ahead; Click Below
|9/05||Montana State||12:00 PM|
|9/12||Central Michigan||12:00 PM|
|9/19||@ Notre Dame||3:30 PM|
|10/10||@ Illinois||12:00 PM|
|10/31||@ Minnesota||8:00 PM|
Michigan State opens the season fairly tamely with a pair of OOC patsies, and follows with Notre Dame. Much like the Michigan schedule, Notre Dame will be this team's first test, and will serve as a good barometer for how the season will play out. Important to note that despite last year's 9 win season, the Spartans still lost to the four best teams on the schedule; Cal, Ohio State, Penn State, and Georgia. This year they duck Ohio State and pick up Illinois.
One thing the media will harp on that is off base:
I alluded to this in the front section of this preview, but the departure of Ringer might not be as devastating as many are predicting. Javon Ringer put up some monster numbers last year, mostly due to a workload that averaged just over 30 (30!) carries a game. The rushing attack as a whole, however, averaged just 130 yards per game - good for 77th in the country. For a one-time Heisman candidate (early in the season last year there was some talk, IIRC), 130 YPG is pretty weak. Ringer's numbers are largely a matter of attempts being super inflated. Iowa's Greene - the other workhorse back - had only 23 attempts per game. Ringer, for all his accolades, only averaged just over 4 yards per attempt - 18th in the conference in terms of rushing. On the one hand, this could be construed to be a positive for the Spartans. While they are replacing a workhorse senior, they're not exactly replacing Berry Sanders. Durability is certainly a trait that is admirable in a running back, and I'm not saying that Ringer wasn't any good. Rather, I think his numbers are a result of his increased workload, not a truly stellar rushing attack. The bevy of backs they expect to suck up the work load should be able to replicate the 4.2 yards per attempt that Ringer averaged. Who are those backs? Glad you asked.
Senior Back A.J. Jimmerson
Ashton Leggett, Andre Anderson, and AJ Jimmerson are the primary candidates fighting it out for playing time, and I expect all three to get significant carries throughout the season as they fill Ringer's void. Leggett was a two star to Scout from Muskegon, MI and at 5'11" 235, he's a big boy. Recruited as a fullback, I would expect him to see some time at the goal line and in short yardage situations. On the other side of the coin, Andre Anderson is a fleet footed Sophomore of the 190 lbs. variety capable of breaking off big plays. The change of pace should be effective for the Spartans as D'Antonio continues to use the clock management and down-and-distance strategies learned under Tressel. AJ Jimmerson rounds out the trio, but by no means should be considered lacking. A 4-star prospect out of Missouri, he looks to be a strong, balanced back.
One thing the media will completely ignore that is integral to this team's success:
With all the focus on the replacement of the two starters, and a defense that returns 8 starts, one of whom is linebacker/deathbringer Greg Jones, there are two facets that I believe are being overlooked. First, the wide receiver position actually returns quite a bit of talent, headed up by Mark Dell. Dell led the conference last year in yards per catch at just under 19. He's a big-play target that will bail out his fledgling QB. The other two returning starters, Blair White and BJ Cunningham had 84 receptions between the two of them. Add into the mix preseason all-conference tight end Charlie Gantt, and the receiving options are very good, and very deep.
However, the offense isn't without a trouble spot looming that has nothing to do with quarterback or running back. The entire right side of the offensive line is being replaced, which could have Nichol or Cousins running for their lives.
Most important contributors on each side of the ball:
Offensively, it's going to be whichever quarterback slides into the roll of starter. D'Antonio, for the time being, has said that his quarterbacks, Oklahoma Transfer Keith Nichol and in-state talent Kirk Cousins, will platoon at the position. It's been said a million times, but if Michigan State wants to be successful they'd better pick one of these guys to be the starter, and make sure he's confident enough to not look over his shoulder every time he throws a pick. Platooning QB's can be a very dangerous game to play in terms of the quarterback's psyche. Cousins offers perhaps more of a pocket presence, but Nichol is dangerous on the run. A 4-star out of MI-Inkster (Lowell - not Inkster. Corrected in comments - B2), I predict that Nichol will be getting the majority of snaps by season's end by virtue of more upside, and his ability to make plays with his legs should things break down.
Defensively, I cannot say enough about Greg Jones, linebacker, humanitarian, and all around nice guy. He destroys the run, rarely getting sucked into blocks, and he'll be playing exclusively in the middle this year. Last year he was a first team all conference player. This year he's been named to preseason watch lists for three national awards: Butkus Award (top collegiate linebacker), Lombardi Award (college lineman of the year) and the Lott Trophy (defensive player of the year).
Area that scares you as Michigan Wolverines:
Mark Dell and his big-play ability scares me. Last year, the defense was good on a down-to-down basis, but very susceptible to the big play. The Spartans return one of the biggest play makers in the conference.
Area that makes you salivate as the Michigan Wolverines:
The Wolverines get Michigan State relatively early in the schedule. There is a good possibility that State will still be gelling on offense, and struggling to put points on the board. The new QB/RB tandem will be interesting to watch. Additionally, while the defense does return 8 starters, we had one of our more successful days offensively against the Spartans last year. I just hope our offense is clicking by the time we make the trip to East Lansing (a long shot, perhaps).
Random factor that you think will come into play this season:
First road game remains a mystery under Rodriguez. For Carr, it certainly meant death. It is a rivalry game under the lights (maybe) with a true freshman QB. I smell trouble.
While some have predicted a 10-win season for the Spartans (I'm looking at you, Chengelis [note, a link was provided, but is now behind a paywall. - B2]) I don't see it happening. In fact, I look at this Michigan State team and see more question marks than Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa. Again, Michigan State has improved, but seems unable to get over the hump to beat teams that are truly in the top-tier either in conference or out.
Final Big Ten Standing: