We start our five-day college football preview by looking at the Michigan State Spartans. Last season was disappointing for MSU as they went 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten. The defense was stellar, ranked #9 in the nation with 16.4 points allowed per game, but the offense left a ton to be desired as the team lost all five Big Ten games by a TOTAL of 13 points.
Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell was supposed to be a slight drop-off from graduating QB Kirk Cousins, but Maxwell played poorly in his first season as the starter. Maxwell completed only 52.5% of his passes with 2,606 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Le’Veon Bell did all he could for the Spartans, rushing for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns, but defenses could load up the box against him and dared MSU to pass, which they did poorly.
This year Mark Dantonio’s squad hopes to be improved on offense and a mostly returning defense can lead the Spartans towards the top of the Big Ten.
The biggest question mark for the second year in a row is the quarterback position. Maxwell comes in as the assumed starter, but Connor Cook, hero of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, has been pushing him all spring. Dantonio has yet to name his starter for the opening game against Western Michigan on Friday.
The team will have to replace two of its top offensive weapons in running back Le’Veon Bell and tight end Dion Sims. Two freshman running backs have made a case to be at the top of the depth chart according to Mark Dantonio. Gerald Holmes and Delton Williams have taken the lead in the wide-open race and have each been compared to Bell by Dantonio.
Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery led the team in receiving yards last season, but the group along with Maxwell will need to step up this season. Also look for Aaron Burbridge to be the next star receiver for the Spartans after a decent freshman season last year (29 receptions, 364 yards, 2 TD.) Junior DeAnthony Arnett should also have some clutch catches throughout the season.
The offensive line should be a strength for MSU this season, with a combined 82 starts among 6 players gives the Spartans a lot of hope heading into the season. Great play from the line will help the continued development of whoever ends up starting at quarterback and running back this season.
The Spartans were stellar on defense last season as one of the best groups in the country. William Gholston left the team early to enter the NFL Draft, but as talented as he was Gholston would often be lost in the shuffle at times.
MSU also lost cornerback Johnny Adams, but have a healthy Darqueze Dennard. Dennard has been praised by coach Dantonio to Spartan Magazine as one of the best DB’s he has ever coached:
I think the number is over 40 now (DB’s to the NFL.) I’ve kind of lost count…When I talk about my all-time team of DB’s, Darqueze is on the bus, he’s on that team.
Add in the return of senior linebacker and captain Max Bullough and the rest of the talented linebackers the Spartans have to offer, and this defense is stacked again heading into the season.
Michigan State starts the season at home against Western Michigan (August 30), South Florida (September 7) and Youngstown State (September 14) to hopefully determine who is the quarterback that will lead this team. The final, and biggest, non-conference game is on the road at Notre Dame and will be a major test for this young offense.
In the Big Ten schedule the Spartans do not play Ohio State or Wisconsin, but do have a difficult stretch with hosting Michigan (November 2), at Nebraska (November 16) and at Northwestern (November 23) before finishing the season at home against Minnesota.
This Spartan team is still chalked full of talent and could be one of the dark horse teams to challenge for the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl birth. Even after a down season the Spartans are still confident, but they know that the key to a successful season lies with the offense. Senior leader Max Bullough said it best: “I’d say we’re undefeated if they get 28 points a game.”
So what is your outcome on the season Spartan fans? Will they be able to get things in order and have a rebound season or will this be another flop? Let us know at DetroitSportsBloggers.com or on Facebook and Twitter.