2013 Michigan State football's 10 things to know: Stats vs. eyeballs

Gregory Shamus

With what should be one of the two or three best defenses in the country and a mostly easy home slate, Michigan State should easy place in the top 20 and win 8-9 games. The numbers suggest the ceiling could be much, much higher, but the eyeballs saw a little too much of last year's offense to buy it. For more Spartans, visit The Only Colors.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. I'm supposed to love this team

Michigan State is the kind of team a stat nerd dreams of calling underrated.

A ranking that exceeded the record last year? Check. The 7-6 Spartans came in at No. 15 in the year-end F/+ rankings, ahead of 9-4 Oregon State (No. 18), 10-4 Nebraska (No. 19), 11-2 Boise State (No. 21), 11-2 Clemson (No. 22), and 11-2 Louisville (No. 28). The Spartans looked every bit as out-of-place as Notre Dame (8-5 and No. 13) and Texas A&M (7-6 and No. 15) did in 2011, and 2012 worked out quite well for both of those teams, to say the least.

A ton of close losses? Check. State did win four games by one possession, but they also lost five by a combined 13 points.

A ton of experience? Check. Fifteen starters return. The quarterback's back, along with four of the top five receivers, seven offensive linemen with starting experience, six of the top eight defensive linemen, five of the top six linebackers, four of the top five defensive backs, and, for what it's worth, a pretty good punter.

Sustained success? Check. Mark Dantonio has done some pretty impressive things in his six years in East Lansing, inheriting a program that had crumbled to 4-8 and 72nd in 2006 and slowly but surely building a winner. The Spartans ranked between 39th and 46th each year and went 22-17 from 2007-09, then jumped to 25th and 11-2 in 2010, then jumped again to 11th and 11-3 in 2011. That they held mostly steady in the rankings despite having to rebuild a good portion of their offense last year typically says very good things about the team in the near future.

It's all there. From a numbers perspective, Michigan State has everything you need to become a sleeper top-10 team (or better) in 2013. But because I actually watched Michigan State play last year, I am struggling to move forward with the Spartan hype.

From a numbers perspective, it's all there.

Make no mistake: I love this defense. The Spartans ranked third in Def. F/+ last year -- theirs was the best non-SEC defense in the country -- and the linebacking corps and secondary could be incredible enough to offset the loss of a stud end. And I'm not even slightly worried about the loss of running back Le'Veon Bell. When your most impressive talent is the ability to take a beating, you can probably be replaced. The running back stable is potentially deep, and the Spartans should have a top-40 offensive line as well. There are a lot of pieces in place.

But to field a top-10 team, you have to be able to at least pretend to throw the ball, right? And my eyeballs can't shake the memory of last season's wretched attack. Without dramatic improvement in that single area, I don't see how this team could crack the top 10.

2. There's been a leap

Top 20, however? You bet. With decent recruiting, good development, and outstanding defensive coaching, Dantonio has built something impressive at State. Even despite all the close losses last year, the Spartans have still won 29 games in three seasons. Their best three-year stretch under John L. Smith: 18-18. Nick Saban: 23-13. George Perles: 22-12-2. Not since Duffy Daugherty was on his incredible 1960s run have the Spartans been this consistently good.

Dantonio has proven he can field a top-30 offense (No. 24 in Off. F/+ in 2010, No. 27 in 2009) and a top-five defense. You can win a lot of games with that mix, and Michigan State should continue to do just that. I'm just not sure the offense is up for the challenge in 2013.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 15
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
31-Aug Boise State 17-13 W 32.1 - 8.6 W
8-Sep at Central Michigan 41-7 W 30.6 - 12.1 W
15-Sep Notre Dame 3-20 L 12.2 - 14.0 L
22-Sep Eastern Michigan 23-7 W 22.8 - 9.5 W
29-Sep Ohio State 16-17 L 22.7 - 24.9 L
6-Oct at Indiana 31-27 W 21.5 - 20.1 W
13-Oct Iowa 16-19 L 18.0 - 16.7 W
20-Oct at Michigan 10-12 L 24.8 - 17.8 W
27-Oct at Wisconsin 16-13 W 24.5 - 8.4 W
3-Nov Nebraska 24-28 L 25.9 - 25.2 W
17-Nov Northwestern 20-23 L 28.0 - 20.4 W
24-Nov at Minnesota 26-10 W 29.6 - (-0.3) W
29-Dec vs. TCU 17-16 W 14.8 - 17.7 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 20.0 110 16.3 9
Adj. Points Per Game 23.7 101 15.0 2

3. The offense rallied, at least

It seemed like Michigan State had found the blueprint early on. The Spartans became the first BCS conference team in seven tries to beat Boise State in the opener, then crushed Central Michigan, with a pretty easy formula: defense plus timely offense. Against Boise State, Le'Veon Bell rushed an unsustainable 44 times for 210 yards (he caught six passes as well); against CMU, quarterback Andrew Maxwell completed 20 of 31 passes for 275 yards. State was an above-average offensive team and crippling defensive team. That works pretty well. But it wouldn't last.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 2 games): Michigan State 31.4, Opponent 10.4 (plus-21.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Michigan State 19.4, Opponent 17.0 (plus-2.4)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Michigan State 26.6, Opponent 14.3 (plus-12.3)

Maxwell completed 61 percent of his passes in the first two games, but he completed just 52 percent in his next five games. Bell erupted against Eastern Michigan (36 carries for 253 yards) but averaged just 3.8 yards per carry against Notre Dame, Ohio State, Indiana, and Iowa. State just had nothing working, but while the passing game never came around (in his last four games, Maxwell incredibly completed just 43 percent of his passes), Bell found his legs, averaging 34 carries per game and gaining 732 yards in the final four games.

State's offense improved down the stretch, but it was mostly due to a player who wisely elected to go pro. Running backs' legs only have so many carries in them, and State used a lot of Bell's last year. His meager explosiveness numbers don't portend a great pro career, but he still made a smart decision to start that journey before another 380-carry season in East Lansing.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 97 78 80 79
RUSHING 77 69 54 78
PASSING 86 85 102 78
Standard Downs 95 92 97
Passing Downs 58 58 57
Redzone 83 69 87
Q1 Rk 111 1st Down Rk 114
Q2 Rk 51 2nd Down Rk 42
Q3 Rk 90 3rd Down Rk 57
Q4 Rk 70

4. State should have … run more?

I had to check the data to make sure it was right. Despite Bell averaging 29 carries per game for the season, despite him carrying the ball more than any back in the country (only two other backs averaged even 25 carries: Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson and Wisconsin's Montee Ball), Michigan State's offense actually skewed slightly toward the pass. State ran a perfect 60 percent of the time on standard downs (exactly the national average) but actually passed 71 percent of the time on passing downs (four percent higher than average). Since they couldn't actually pass, on standard or passing downs, this wasn't the best use of resources.

How can those numbers be right? How could Bell grind and grind for a team that was almost pass-first? Easy: because there was no backup. Running backs Nick Hill, Larry Caper and Jeremy Langford combined for 48 carries all season, just four more than Bell had against Boise State alone. That's ridiculous.

It's also not a great show of confidence for this season's running backs. Hill and Langford return after averaging just 2.0 yards per carry last year, which means that youngsters -- be it redshirt freshman Nick Tompkins or any of a trio of true freshmen with solid recruiting rankings -- could see plenty of opportunity. In fact, addicted to the big guys, State has apparently named converted linebacker Riley Bullough its starter heading into the preseason.

No matter how the carries are divvied, it would be very good news to find State running more frequently, as crazy as that sounds. Because while the primary pieces of the passing game return -- quarterback Andrew Maxwell, receivers Keith Mumphery, Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett, and Aaron Burbridge -- they just weren't connected last season. Things change, but ... how much can they change in this regard?

Maxwell just had a terrible 2012. Despite throwing 70 percent of his charted passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, he managed an awful 53 percent completion rate. Adjusting his completion percentage to account for the types of passes he was throwing, his was the worst of any quarterback we charted last year. Yes, the receivers absolutely had a role to play in that (I didn't even know it was possible to have 66 dropped passes in 13 games), but again, he's got the same receivers this year. The emergence of somebody new to the rotation, like junior DeAnthony Arnett (upon whom quite a few expectations were heaped last year with disappointing results), would be incredibly welcome.

And hey, if backup quarterback Connor Cook wanted to have a ridiculously good August and overtake Maxwell, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world either.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Andrew Maxwell 6'3, 209 Sr. **** (5.9) 234 446 2,606 52.5% 13 9 21 4.5% 5.2
Connor Cook 6'4, 215 So. *** (5.7) 9 17 94 52.9% 1 1 1 5.6% 4.6
Tyler O'Connor 6'3, 212 RSFr. *** (5.7)






Damion Terry 6'4, 210 Fr. **** (5.8)






Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Le'Veon Bell RB 382 1,793 4.7 4.0 12 -14.1
Nick Hill RB 5'8, 193 Jr. *** (5.7) 21 48 2.3 4.1 1 -4.2
Larry Caper RB 18 108 6.0 5.6 0 +1.3
Andrew Maxwell QB 6'3, 209 Sr. **** (5.9) 16 55 3.4 2.2 0 -1.9
Jeremy Langford RB 6'0, 206 Jr. *** (5.6) 9 23 2.6 0.9 0 -2.6
Keith Mumphery WR 6'0, 208 Jr. *** (5.7) 6 38 6.3 2.8 0 +1.2
Riley Bullough RB 6'2, 232 RSFr. *** (5.7)





Nick Tompkins RB 5'9, 185 RSFr. *** (5.7)





Gerald Holmes RB 6'0, 205 Fr. *** (5.7)





Delton Williams RB 6'2, 225 Fr. *** (5.7)





R.J. Shelton RB 5'11, 185 Fr. *** (5.7)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Keith Mumphery WR-Z 6'0, 208 Jr. *** (5.7) 81 42 515 51.9% 6.4 18.5% 55.6% 6.4 57.5
Dion Sims TE 70 36 475 51.4% 6.8 16.0% 52.9% 7.0 53.0
Bennie Fowler WR-Z 6'1, 212 Sr. *** (5.6) 68 41 524 60.3% 7.7 15.5% 48.5% 7.5 58.5
Tony Lippett WR-X 6'3, 185 Jr. *** (5.5) 63 36 392 57.1% 6.2 14.4% 49.2% 6.0 43.7
Aaron Burbridge WR-F 6'1, 195 So. **** (5.9) 62 29 364 46.8% 5.9 14.2% 50.0% 5.7 40.6
Le'Veon Bell RB 50 32 167 64.0% 3.3 11.4% 54.0% 3.3 18.6
Larry Caper RB 12 6 52 50.0% 4.3 2.7% 0.0% 1.9 5.8
Lawrence Thomas FB/DT 6'3, 300 So. **** (5.9) 8 7 78 87.5% 9.8 1.8% 75.0% 9.3 8.7
Andre Sims, Jr. WR-Z 5'9, 185 So. *** (5.7) 6 3 23 50.0% 3.8 1.4% 33.3% 2.9 2.6
Paul Lang TE 6'5, 260 So. ** (5.4) 6 3 8 50.0% 1.3 1.4% 66.7% 1.3 0.9
DeAnthony Arnett WR-Z 5'11, 175 Jr. **** (5.9) 5 3 69 60.0% 13.8 1.1% 80.0% 12.6 7.7
Macgarrett Kings, Jr. WR-F 5'10, 185 So. *** (5.7) 5 4 25 80.0% 5.0 1.1% 60.0% 5.0 2.8
A.J. Troup WR-X 6'2, 205 So. NR








Monty Madaris WR-X 6'1, 199 RSFr. *** (5.7)








Josiah Price TE 6'4, 243 RSFr. *** (5.7)








Evan Jones TE 6'5, 248 RSFr. *** (5.6)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 106.6 2.96 3.49 34.9% 70.8% 13.6% 128.3 3.9% 4.9%
Rank 39 64 34 105 49 4 38 48 39
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Chris McDonald RG 39 career starts
Dan France RG 6'6, 315 Sr. *** (5.7) 24 career starts
Blake Treadwell LG 6'3, 300 Sr. **** (5.8) 16 career starts
Travis Jackson C 6'3, 280 Jr. *** (5.7) 15 career starts
Skyler Burkland RT 6'7, 315 Jr. NR 14 career starts
Fou Fonoti RT 6'4, 298 Sr. *** (5.7) 13 career starts
Jack Allen C 6'1, 295 So. *** (5.6) 12 career starts
Ethan Ruhland C 3 career starts
Donavon Clark LG 6'3, 299 So. *** (5.7) 2 career starts
Nick Klatt RG
Connor Kruse RG 6'4, 315 Jr. ** (5.4)
Michael Dennis RT 6'7, 307 Jr. ** (5.4)
Benny McGowan RG 6'3, 312 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Zach Higgins LG 6'4, 318 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Kodi Kieler C 6'5, 316 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Jack Conklin LT 6'6, 310 RSFr. NR
Dennis Finley OL 6'6, 285 Fr. *** (5.7)

5. An underrated line

State couldn't throw and catch very well, and Bell was more durable than actually effective for much of the season, but one couldn't really blame the line for the offense's struggles. The Spartans were top-40 in Adj. Line Yards and were particularly adept at keeping defenders out of the backfield. Bell didn't always get far up the field, but he was rarely caught behind the line. (And yes, his yards-after-contact ability probably helped in that regard.)

There was quite a bit of shuffling here, and thanks to the return of Fou Fonoti, State returns six players who have started at least 12 games in their career (despite losing three-year starting guard Chris McDonald). Bell's running style did State's line some favors, but the line should now be able to return the favor for this year's crops of runners.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 4 2 1 4
RUSHING 8 2 2 5
PASSING 9 1 1 4
Standard Downs 2 1 2
Passing Downs 16 7 23
Redzone 1 1 4
Q1 Rk 7 1st Down Rk 2
Q2 Rk 4 2nd Down Rk 2
Q3 Rk 1 3rd Down Rk 11
Q4 Rk 9

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 132.8 2.31 2.16 29.7% 59.1% 30.2% 82.9 3.8% 5.0%
Rank 2 4 9 3 14 1 91 90 90
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
William Gholston DE 13 41.0 6.9% 13 4.5 0 10 1 0
Marcus Rush DE 6'2, 250 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 28.5 4.8% 7.5 2 0 5 1 0
Anthony Rashad White NT 13 17.0 2.8% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Micajah Reynolds NT 6'5, 308 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 13.0 2.2% 2 1 0 1 1 0
James Kittredge NT 6'4, 275 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 12.0 2.0% 4.5 0 0 0 0 0
Tyler Hoover DT 6'7, 290 Sr. *** (5.7) 8 7.5 1.3% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Denzel Drone DE 6'2, 262 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 7.0 1.2% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Shilique Calhoun DE 6'4, 248 So. *** (5.5) 13 5.0 0.8% 2.5 1 0 2 0 0
Lawrence Thomas DT 6'3, 300 So. **** (5.9) 13 3.0 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Damon Knox NT 6'4, 273 So. *** (5.5) 2 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Clemons DT 6'3, 300 So. **** (5.8)

Joel Heath DE 6'6, 277 So. *** (5.6)

Jamal Lyles DE 6'3, 242 RSFr. **** (5.8)

Demetrius Cooper DE 6'5, 220 Fr. *** (5.7)







6. Depth vs. impact

Man oh man, was this a good defense last year. Michigan State couldn't rush the passer very well at all but made up for it by constantly slicing into the backfield against the run and by blanketing receivers with what might have been the country's best back seven. (It was top-five at worst.)

The biggest name on last year's defense wasn't necessarily the best; William Gholston was a five-star signee, the marquee recruit of the Dantonio era, and he certainly thrived last fall, combining 13 tackles for loss with 10 batted passes. But he was only a decent pass rusher. Granted, it's possible the State pass rush gets even worse without him, but the depth of this defense should be able to account for the loss of a single star.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Max Bullough MIKE 6'3, 242 Sr. **** (5.8) 13 81.0 13.5% 12.5 2.5 1 4 1 0
Denicos Allen SAM 5'11, 215 Sr. *** (5.6) 13 60.0 10.0% 10 3 1 3 1 1
Chris Norman STAR 13 39.0 6.5% 4 1 0 3 0 1
Taiwan Jones STAR 6'3, 240 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 28.5 4.8% 5.5 1 0 3 0 0
Jairus Jones STAR 6'1, 208 Sr. *** (5.6) 7 14.5 2.4% 0 0 0 0 1 1
Kyler Elsworth SAM 6'1, 222 Sr. NR 13 8.0 1.3% 3.5 2.5 0 2 0 1
TyQuan Hammock LB 10 3.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darien Harris SAM 6'0, 215 So. *** (5.7) 13 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ed Davis SAM 6'3, 220 So. *** (5.7) 13 2.5 0.4% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Pat Rhomberg MIKE 6'0, 225 So. NR






Matthew Eleweke SAM 6'3, 205 RSFr. NR
Jon Reschke LB 6'2, 229 Fr. **** (5.9)
Shane Jones LB 6'1, 220 Fr. **** (5.8)






7. Good luck running the ball

That said, there are plenty of stars still returning. The Spartans are loaded at tackle despite the loss of Anthony Rashad White; Micajah Reynolds and James Kittredge both return, and the combination of those two with Tyler Hoover and former four-star signees Lawrence Thomas and Brandon Clemons should keep State in the Adj. Line Yards top-10.

The tackles were so good at occupying blockers last season. There's no reason to think that will change in 2013, and that's great news for an incredible set of linebackers. Max Bullough and Denicos Allen combined for 22.5 tackles for loss, and only 5.5 of them were sacks. They can defend passing lanes and pursue ball-carriers as well as anyone in the country, and while Chris Norman is gone, Taiwan Jones was actually a better play-maker last season. Throw in Kyler Elsworth and a pair of four-star freshmen, and you've got an absolutely loaded corps of 'backers.

State was No. 2 in Rushing S&P+ last year (only Alabama was better), and I don't see why it would drop this fall.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Isaiah Lewis SS 5'10, 210 Sr. **** (5.8) 13 60.5 10.1% 1.5 0 2 6 0 0
Darqueze Dennard CB 5'11, 188 Sr. ** (5.4) 13 43.0 7.2% 3.5 0 3 7 0 0
Kurtis Drummond FS 6'1, 196 Jr. *** (5.6) 13 41.0 6.9% 4.5 0 2 4 1 1
Johnny Adams CB 12 29.0 4.8% 3 1 3 7 0 0
R.J. Williamson SS 6'0, 205 So. *** (5.7) 11 23.0 3.8% 1 0 2 4 1 1
Mitchell White CB 13 5.0 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Trae Waynes CB 6'1, 178 So. ** (5.4) 9 3.5 0.6% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Mylan Hicks CB 5'11, 191 Jr. *** (5.7) 8 3.0 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Arjen Colquhoun CB 6'1, 195 So. *** (5.7)
Chris Laneaux SS 5'11, 190 So. NR

Demetrious Cox FS 6'1, 199 RSFr. **** (5.8)
Ezra Robinson CB 6'0, 178 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Jermaine Edmondson CB 6'0, 175 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Mark Meyers FS 6'0, 181 RSFr. *** (5.5)

Gabe Augustin CB 5'8, 182 RSFr. NR
Jalyn Powell DB 6'1, 185 Fr. *** (5.7)

8. Terrible pass rush, unbelievable secondary

Michigan State ranked 91st in Adj. Sack Rate ... and first in Passing S&P+. What does that tell you about the Spartans' secondary? Losing all-conference cornerback Johnny Adams, now a Houston Texan (and, according to YouTube, a hell of a blues and gospel singer in the 1960s), hurts, but when you bring back another fantastic corner (Darqueze Dennard) and three stellar safeties, you can probably deal with that loss.

Considering the linebacking corps should be every bit as well-equipped to help in the passing game as it was last year, and considering the pass rush already wasn't that great, I again don't see why the Spartans should expect to slip much. This should once again be a top-five defense all around, which means the offense only needs to improve a little bit to make a large difference. (I'm just not sure it can.)

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Mike Sadler 6'0, 185 Jr. 79 43.3 6 21 31 65.8%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Kevin Muma 6'0, 199 Sr. 60 63.2 29 48.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Dan Conroy 25-25 13-17 76.5% 10-15 66.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Nick Hill KR 5'8, 193 Jr. 31 21.6 0
Le'Veon Bell KR 4 11.5 0
Andre Sims, Jr. PR 5'9, 185 So. 11 8.4 0
Nick Hill PR 5'8, 193 Jr. 8 8.9 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 50
Net Punting 33
Net Kickoffs 26
Touchback Pct 22
Field Goal Pct 64
Kick Returns Avg 93
Punt Returns Avg 58

9. Just like punters should choose terrible teams…

...a kicker should choose Michigan State, at least if the last two years are any indication. You'll get plenty of opportunities to create a highlight reel.

Michigan State has attempted 56 field goals over the last 27 games, and honestly, the prolific (and now graduated) Dan Conroy left a few points on the board last year. He missed a 42-yarder in a one-point loss to Ohio State, a 38-yarder in a two-point loss to Michigan, and a 37-yarder in a three-point loss to Northwestern. Still, that he was able to make 72 percent of his field goals despite almost half of them coming from at least 40 yards away is pretty impressive. Now we have to see if his replacement can keep up in that regard.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Western Michigan 96
7-Sep South Florida 67
14-Sep Youngstown State NR
21-Sep at Notre Dame 13
5-Oct at Iowa 44
12-Oct Indiana 62
19-Oct Purdue 80
26-Oct at Illinois 94
2-Nov Michigan 28
16-Nov at Nebraska 21
23-Nov at Northwestern 40
30-Nov Minnesota 72
Five-Year F/+ Rk 22
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 39
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +2 / +3.0
TO Luck/Game -0.4
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin** +1.1

10. 6-1 at home won't cut it

Michigan State doesn't have to have a great offense to win a ton of games in 2013. The Spartans avoid Ohio State (and, on the flip side, the Buckeyes avoid Michigan State, too) and get Michigan at home; two of the five road games are incredibly winnable, and none are a lost cause. With this defense and at least a decent special teams unit, the Spartans should once again finish in the F/+ top 20 and win at least nine games.

But to win more than nine, two things have to happen: the offense has to stabilize, and State can't slip up at home. The Spartans will be moderate to heavy favorites in six of seven home games, and they simply have to beat the rival Wolverines to achieve what the numbers keep trying to convince me they can achieve.

On paper, State looks so much like Notre Dame did a year ago, from the higher-than-expected ratings the year before, to the insanely good linebacking, to the significant question marks at quarterback. Notre Dame figured out answers and rolled to a 12-0 regular season.

It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Spartans could do the same. But I just don't think they will. Top 20? Definitely? Anything better? Probably not.

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