Football is finally back folks. We can put 2012 and all of its heartbreak behind us. We’re never going to talk about the five losses by a combined 13 points ever ever again starting now. The slew of talented juniors that left early you’re dead to me. All the dropped balls, defensive breakdowns in key moments, and overall disappointment are a thing of the past. We never talk about them again.
This is a big season for the Spartans. We reigned over our state for four years, established ourselves as a force in the Big Ten, and ran our mouth all the way. Now that Ohio State is back to being a legitimate powerhouse and UofM appears to be “back” it’s time to put up or shut up. Despite last year’s performance (ok no more starting now) there is a lot of hope this year. Don’t look now, but there is even a way we could sneak into the Rose Bowl this year. I’ll get to that later.
On offense, it all comes down to the growth of Andrew Maxwell. Can he progress from the clearly uncomfortable, skittish quarterback he was last year? He has the physical tools but it’s the mental aspect that I question. He never seemed to get into any sort of rhythm last year. Every drop back seemed rushed, throws seemed forced, and his decision making was question worthy. Is he a better option than Connor Cook? Cook looked ready to play from the second he starting taking snaps as he led the Spartans to a scoring drive late in the bowl last year. Granted, I’m judging his entire future by the 11 pass attempts he had against TCU but he just looked like a better quarterback overall. He’s bigger, plays with more confidence and appeared to have the same in-game arm strength that Maxwell had. I’m quietly hoping that Cook takes the job back as Dantonio said he will get reps in the first game of the season. Regardless of who keeps the job though, we need…we NEED better play from our quarterbacks. Period.
The receiving core reminds of our core from 2008. Remember when BJ Cunningham had stone hands and couldn’t catch a cold in a blizzard? Remember when Keshawn Martin was undersized and irrelevant as a freshman? Remember when Keith Nichol was a quarterback! Those guys were all young and took their lumps before becoming an absolutely dominant core as they grew together. I get the same feeling from our current guys. Burrbridge had a string of good games in the middle of the year and scored a touchdown against TCU in the bowl. Bennie Fowler is a senior and is sure to step up his game. If Mumphery, Lippett, and the rest of the gang can cut down on drops (sooo many drops..) our passing game can take a big step forward.
Personally, I have no clue what to expect from the running game. Bell had 382 carries last year. For all you non-stats junkies that’s akin to putting 100,000 miles on a lease car the first year you own it. His atlas-like workload will be split up between a bunch of unproven youngins. It’s between two position changers: former WR Jeremy Langford and former LB Riley Bullough. I have my doubts but, then again, Javon Ringer, Edwin Baker, and LeVeon Bell were all relatively unknown and/or unheralded prospects who succeeded under Dantonio. The man knows how to run the ball is what I’m saying.
Defense is where we rest our hats. It is where we go from being a mediocre team to a possible Rose Bowl sneak in (it’s coming). Our D-line has three seniors in the rotation including Marcus Rush who’s on the preseason watch list for the Ted Hendricks award (Best Defensive End in the nation) and on top of that have a, hopefully, secret weapon in Lawrence Thomas behind them. Thomas was a 5-star recruit that has been buried in the depth chart by NFL worthy upperclassman (Jerel Worthy, William Gholston) since his arrival. I’ve been praying for hours every night quietly hoping that he can find his rhythm this year and fill the pass rush/crazy man hole left by Gholston.
Our linebackers are studs across the board. We have three guys that can start for any other team in the Big Ten. Bullough, Allen, and Jones with Kyler Elsworth in the mix is one of the best defensive units in the Big Ten…nay…the nation…nay the UNIVERSE!!
Behind that wrecking crew is another two seniors in Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis. Dennard was our best corner last year despite Johnny Adams being ranked as the best corner in the nation during the preseason. Lewis brings the boom with every hit he makes.
All in all, our defense is a monster again. They play a rough, bully like style that is good enough to carry an offense full of questions. But enough about the players. Here’s why I think we can make the Rose Bowl.
We caught the EASIEST possible schedule we could have had. We don’t play Ohio State, Wisconsin, or Penn State and we play Michigan at home. We should go into the Michigan game with at least 7 wins…here’s how the rest goes.
There are a lot of IF’s in this scenario. But look me in the eye and tell me they aren’t plausible when you’re done reading.
IF Ohio State runs the table (which they will because they are an SEC team trapped in the Big Ten) they WILL make the Big Ten Champinship. They WILL beat whoever comes out of the Legends division which means they WILL make the national championship. This means that the Big Ten Rose Bowl representative will come from the Legends division.
IF we beat Notre Dame we can go into the UofM game at 8-0 and probably face an 8-0 Michigan team. Even if we go into that game at 7-1 this game is huuuuuggeeee because both teams should be undefeated in the Big Ten. So IF we beat Michigan we will have one game on them AND a tiebreaker. Consider them taken care of as far as the Rose Bowl is concerned.
IF Nebraska beats us, they are most likely going to lose @Michigan and @Penn State. There’s their two losses. Regardless, this is an important and very winnable game for us.
That means an upstart Northwestern team would be in our way. Fortunately they might have the hardest schedule in the conference facing, OSU, Wisconsin, UofM, Nebraska and us. No way they survive that with less than two losses.
So in conclusion, IF Ohio State goes undefeated (99% chance of occurring), IF we beat UofM (I’ll give this the ol’ coin toss odds even though we’re at home, 50%), IF Nebraska loses to 2 of 3 against us, UofM and Penn State (50%), AND Northwestern keeps doing Northwestern things (100%) , Michigan State will make the Rose bowl.
Phew….I’m exhausted. And excited. And slightly delirious.
Surprisingly enough the game I’m most worried about is playing @Iowa. Those bastards always seem to get us when we least expect it.
There’s so much hope and subsequent disappointment being a Spartan fan. One Rose Bowl would make the whole thing worthwhile though. Till then beating Michigan (nearly) every year will have to suffice.
 Not really. I understand you have to get your money when you can. I hope they all find great success in the NFL.
 As “back” as a perennially overranked team who thinks they’re nationally loved and feared but in reality is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things can be “back”. Sorry I’m just bitter that Michigan hasn’t held a candle to our achievements the past five years yet they are “back” every time they crush a middling Big Ten team but we get no credit for having beat a great Georgia team two years ago AND had another bowl win last year AND made the first Big Ten Championship game AND have had a slew of NFL draft picks over the past few years. Frustrating is the life of a die hard Spartan.
 Lippett looked tiny last year. Hopefully he’s put on some weight and become the slot receiving threat we anticipated getting when he transferred from Tennessee last year.
 I think the passing game will be more prominent this year so there won’t be 380 carries to divvy up.
 I’ve still never forgiven him for roughing the punter at the end of the Big Ten Championship game two years ago. If he can lead us to the Rose Bowl this year all will be forgotten though.
 I just got goosebumps. Or are they fearbumps? Nope, definitely goosebumps because Ann Arbor is a whore.