Joe Pasquali, our resident college football analyst, is back with some more of Big Ten team previews. We are about halfway through the conference and the best is yet to come. Can head coach Mark Dantonio lead Michigan State to another double-digit win season?
Back-to-back 11 win seasons have made the football world take notice of the happenings in East Lansing, a school that for a long time played little brother to their state rivals in Ann Arbor. There are expectations for the Spartans to get to the next level, but I don’t see it happening this season. A tough schedule and key losses on both sides of the ball make me think they will just fall short of the Big Ten title game. The battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy (UM v MSU) should decide the Legends division.
Kirk Cousins was one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and a great leader, replacing him will be the biggest obstacle in 2012 for Michigan State. Andrew Maxwell will take the reins for the Spartans, a junior who has had two years to study under Cousins. With only 57 career passes it doesn’t get much greener, but luckily he has a decent supporting cast. The offensive line was injury riddled last year, which means lots of younger players got experience. The line this year will be veteran and tough, a staple of Michigan State football. The star on offense will be running back LeVeon Bell who is primed for a huge year. The wide receiver core is absent of anyone who has caught a collegiate football before and could be a concern if defenses stock up against the rushing attack.
The story for Michigan State last year was their stellar defense. The unit was ranked 6th nationally in yards allowed and recorded 44 sacks (7th in the nation). A key loss up front will be 2nd round draft pick Jerel Worthy who was a force up front at defensive tackle. William Gholston (DE) is a freak and my pick for Big Ten defensive player of the year. Behind him are two of the nation’s best linebackers in Denicos Allen and Chris Norman, both pre-season all conference picks. The secondary has three returning starters with the lone new player at free safety in Kurtis Drummond.
Special Teams (A-)
Dan Conroy enters his third year as kicker for Michigan State after putting together two solid seasons. He ranks first all time at Michigan State in field goal percentage, making 82% of his career kicks (32-39). Mike Sadler returns to do the punting duties for the second year. As a redshirt freshman he averaged a very respectable 41.1 yards per punt.
Mike Dantonio is coming off of two great years at Michigan State and is bringing in some of the best defensive talent they have seen in East Lansing. This season will depend on offensive coordinator Dan Roushar and if he can get new QB Andrew Maxwell to lead his team to another Big Ten title game.
2012 Win/Loss Prediction: 9-3 (2nd in Legends)