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1. This is how it's supposed to work
Mark Dantonio has pretty much ruined it for all other coaches taking on rebuilding jobs. Rebuilding is a very difficult thing, often frought with fits and starts, surges and stumbles. But while there have been a couple of setbacks in Dantonio's seven years in East Lansing, they have been minimal and rather easy to explain. Dantonio's tenure at State has been as smooth and forward-moving as you'll ever see.
When Dantonio took over for John L. Smith, State had fallen apart. The Spartans were 4-8 and 72nd in the F/+ rankings in 2006, their worst season in probably 15 years. This program is rarely elite but even more rarely bad. In the 14 seasons between 1992 and 2005, MSU had won between five and eight games 12 times, once going over (10-2 in 1999, Nick Saban's last year) and once going under (4-8 in 2002, Bobby Williams' last year).
While the record has fluctuated a bit, State has only regressed in the F/+ rankings twice in Dantonio's seven seasons, and those have been tiny stumbles. The Spartans improved from 72nd to 39th in 2007, stayed at 39th in 2008, slipped to 46th in 2009, surged to 25th in 2010, surged again to 11th in 2011, and slipped to 15th in 2012. Five one-possession losses led to a 7-6 record in 2012, but it was clear that the pieces were still in place for a strong season in 2013.
It was just hard to fathom "strong" meaning "13-1, sixth in F/+, third in the polls."
2. Never disagree with the numbers ... EVER
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). [...] 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. [...] Sustained success? Check. [...] 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. [...]
[T]o 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.
For the first month of the season, I felt good about my half-skepticism. The defense was even better than I imagined, but the offense was horrid. Along with a handful of pass interference penalties, a dud offense cost the Spartans in a 17-13 loss to Notre Dame, and it threatened to cost them if not for defensive touchdowns in the first two games.
But the offense came around. And when it did, this was every bit the top-10 team the numbers suggested it could be, and then some.
The Spartans continued the trend of teams seemingly ranked too highly by F/+ one year, then living up to the stats the next year. Notre Dame went 8-5 in 2011 but ranked 13th, ahead of 10-4 Georgia, 11-2 Arkansas, etc. Texas A&M went 7-6 and fired its coach but ranked 15th. The next year, the Irish and Aggies finished 23-3 and ranked seventh and third, respectively. Michigan State and Oklahoma State were 2012's biggest "What?" standouts; MSU went 7-6 but ranked 15th while OSU went 8-5 and ranked 12th. In 2013, they were sixth and eighth, respectively, with a 23-4 record.
(In 2013, the "What?" standouts weren't as obvious, but it's worth pointing out that USC and Arizona each lost four games while ranking 11th and 13th, respectively. So 2014's unexpected surges might come out West.)
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 13-1 | Adj. Record: 12-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 6|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|30-Aug||Western Michigan||117||26-13||W||13.0 - 8.8||W|
|7-Sep||South Florida||99||21-6||W||18.8 - 7.8||W|
|14-Sep||Youngstown State||N/A||55-17||W||35.7 - 10.5||W|
|21-Sep||at Notre Dame||26||13-17||L||16.4 - 11.1||W|
|5-Oct||at Iowa||29||26-14||W||32.3 - 15.5||W||12.5|
|12-Oct||Indiana||56||42-28||W||26.3 - 16.3||W||13.7|
|19-Oct||Purdue||114||14-0||W||15.2 - 20.3||L||10.5|
|26-Oct||at Illinois||71||42-3||W||35.4 - 7.7||W||11.0|
|2-Nov||Michigan||37||29-6||W||25.2 - 6.8||W||13.5|
|16-Nov||at Nebraska||39||41-28||W||23.7 - 31.4||L||8.6|
|23-Nov||at Northwestern||59||30-6||W||36.6 - 18.0||W||10.4|
|30-Nov||Minnesota||55||14-3||W||30.2 - 12.4||W||15.0|
|7-Dec||vs. Ohio State||9||34-24||W||31.4 - 20.1||W||11.7|
|1-Jan||vs. Stanford||3||24-20||W||32.6 - 13.3||W||11.9|
|Points Per Game||29.4||63||13.2||3|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.6||76||14.3||1|
3. Winning ugly, then just winning
Basically, State's offense was a horror show in September. The Spartans averaged a combined 3.8 yards per play and 272 yards per game in their first three games against FBS defenses while the defense carried it on its back. Against WMU and USF, the defense scored four of the team's six touchdowns. That's magnificent and embarrassing at the same time.
September offensive ineptitude turned into October competence, however, followed by November brilliance.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): State 21.0, Opponent 9.6 (plus-11.4)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 6 games): State 26.4, Opponent 16.3 (plus-10.1)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): State 32.7, Opponent 16.0 (plus-16.7)
The defense was allowed to take the foot off of the accelerator a bit, and by December, this was one of the two or three best teams in the country.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.6%||73||Succ. Rt. +||90.7||91|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||25.8||4||Def. FP+||108.4||2|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||59||Redzone S&P+||97.7||73|
|Q1 Rk||107||1st Down Rk||99|
|Q2 Rk||46||2nd Down Rk||85|
|Q3 Rk||78||3rd Down Rk||30|
4. Field position and finishing drives
Once the offense stopped getting outscored by the defense and actually began moving the ball a bit, its primary strengths came in what it didn't do. The Spartans didn't handcuff their defense with bad field position, and they didn't blow as many opportunities to score.
Regarding the former: Michigan State had by quite a bit the best field position in the country in 2013. The Spartans were in the top five on both sides of the ball, averaging a start at the 33.5 on offense (fifth) and 25.8 on defense (fourth). A lot of that was the result of a brutally efficient defense and turnovers, but the offense played its role, moving the chains and, again, after a ridiculously awful start, avoiding horrible turnovers. The defense probably isn't going to be quite as dominant in 2014, but it will be good, and the offense's primary job will once again be setting the table nicely.
Regarding the latter: Michigan State asked Dan Conroy to attempt 32 field goals in 2012. Field goals are basically admissions of failure; on average, an FBS offense averaged around four points per trip inside the opponent's 40, and settling for field goals means you're losing ground more often than not. (Granted, field goals mean more when your defense is allowing so few points, but it's still a losing proposition, as evidenced by State's awful close-game record in 2012.)
In 2013, State was still in the upper echelon of field goal attempts -- the Spartans' 22 attempts ranked 34th in the country -- but they averaged 4.3 points per trip inside the 40. That's not great, but it's at least average, and it's still an improvement.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Connor Cook||6'4, 218||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||223||380||2755||22||6||58.7%||16||4.0%||6.6|
|Tyler O'Connor||6'3, 219||So.||3 stars (5.7)||9||14||90||0||0||64.3%||0||0.0%||6.4|
|Damion Terry||6'3, 230||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
5. I was there
As part of my Big Ten road trip piece last September, I happened to be in the stands for State's win over USF. IT was even worse than I expected.
When the game actually starts, it is a caricature. It is what you'd imagine if you were jokingly talking about how awful this game would be. "The State defense will probably outscore the offense again." "USF will probably complete, like, 30 percent of its passes and go nowhere with them." "[Random Michigan State QB] will probably suffer an egregiously ridiculous turnover." "There will be, like, 200 or fewer yards of offense in the first half."
The less said about the actual game, the better, though I will note that State fans are very earnest, if scarred. There was no Bronx in their cheers following the rare good offensive play, even though they had to know a silly mistake was forthcoming. With each increasingly hilarious miscue, the meltdowns around us became louder. My favorite victim was a couple of rows ahead of us; he went through each stage of fan madness, from "WE CAN'T EVEN FIND A KICKER WHO CAN MAKE A CHIP SHOT" to "TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS. I WASTED TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS ON THESE SEATS. THIS TEAM OWES ME MONEY." But when fortunes improved for the team (a 7-6 halftime lead turned into a 21-6 coast with, yes, two defensive touchdowns to one offensive touchdown), he was puffing his chest and looking around, trying to make semi-cocky "I knew we were going to be all right, and I bet you feel stupid for doubting them" eye contact with those around him. Fans are great.
Connor Cook was the administrator of the game's egregiously ridiculous turnover. After a 19-yard rush by Riley Bullough both lit up the crowd and moved State into USF territory with the game scoreless in the first quarter, Cook basically tripped over the midfield logo and lost a fumble. It was a lowlight, but it was also indicative of a performance that saw him go 6-for-11 for 32 yards (25 net yards in 12 attempts including this "sack") and get benched on a couple of different occasions. Cook started, but three quarterbacks played a decent amount, and none of them looked even reasonably decent.
I was continuously reliving this game as I watched Cook complete 24 of 40 passes for 304 yards and three scores against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
Improvement happens. Players learn and grow, obviously. But the dichotomy of September Connor and December Connor was stunning. In his first three games against FBS opponents, Cook completed 28 of 59 passes (47 percent). But State coaches stuck with him, and in his last four, which included games against Ohio State and Stanford, he completed 72 of 119 (61 percent). He had a nearly four-to-one TD-to-INT ratio, and he proved wonderfully adept at rollouts, which kept linebackers more honest than they had to be early in the year. He showed just enough mobility and just enough efficiency to help State move the ball and set up the defense. And I didn't even remotely see it coming.
|Jeremy Langford||RB||6'0, 206||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||292||1422||18||4.9||3.8||43.2%|
|Nick Hill||RB||5'8, 198||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||67||344||1||5.1||4.1||38.8%|
|Connor Cook||QB||6'4, 218||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||53||213||1||4.0||2.6||35.8%|
|Delton Williams||RB||6'1, 232||So.||3 stars (5.7)||38||238||1||6.3||7.2||36.8%|
|R.J. Shelton||RB||5'11, 200||So.||3 stars (5.7)||21||153||2||7.3||7.8||47.6%|
|Tyler O'Connor||QB||6'3, 219||So.||3 stars (5.7)||8||24||0||3.0||2.0||37.5%|
|Nick Tompkins||RB||5'9, 185||So.||3 stars (5.7)||6||16||0||2.7||1.4||16.7%|
|Aaron Burbridge||WR||6'1, 203||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||4||62||0||15.5||15.2||75.0%|
|Gerald Holmes||RB||6'0, 216||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Madre London||RB||6'1, 210||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Macgarrett Kings, Jr.||WR-F||5'10, 186||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||70||42||509||60.0%||17.0%||39.1%||7.3||-18||7.4||56.8|
|Tony Lippett||WR-X||6'3, 191||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||66||44||613||66.7%||16.0%||46.8%||9.3||89||8.9||68.4|
|Aaron Burbridge||WR-X||6'1, 203||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||51||22||194||43.1%||12.4%||49.0%||3.8||-139||3.9||21.7|
|Jeremy Langford||RB||6'0, 206||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||34||28||157||82.4%||8.3%||38.2%||4.6||-145||4.2||17.5|
|Keith Mumphery||WR-Z||6'0, 212||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||29||18||299||62.1%||7.0%||50.0%||10.3||77||8.6||33.4|
|Josiah Price||TE||6'4, 244||So.||3 stars (5.7)||23||17||210||73.9%||5.6%||38.1%||9.1||18||8.1||23.4|
|Andrew Gleichert||TE||6'5, 264||Sr.||NR||12||6||49||50.0%||2.9%||100.0%||4.1||-34||3.9||5.5|
|Trevon Pendleton||FB||5'11, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||9||8||127||88.9%||2.2%||55.6%||14.1||44||14.1||14.2|
|Andre Sims, Jr.||WR-F||5'9, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||8||7||55||87.5%||1.9%||75.0%||6.9||-18||5.9||6.1|
|Jamal Lyles||TE||6'3, 250||So.||4 stars (5.8)||8||5||58||62.5%||1.9%||60.0%||7.3||-3||7.4||6.5|
|Nick Hill||RB||5'8, 198||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||7||3||22||42.9%||1.7%||14.3%||3.1||-24||2.6||2.5|
|R.J. Shelton||WR-Z||5'11, 200||So.||3 stars (5.7)||6||4||6||66.7%||1.5%||50.0%||1.0||-42||1.7||0.7|
|Delton Williams||RB||6'1, 232||So.||3 stars (5.7)||4||2||13||50.0%||1.0%||50.0%||3.3||-15||3.4||1.5|
|DeAnthony Arnett||WR-H||5'11, 189||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||2||1||7||50.0%||0.5%||0.0%||3.5||-7||1.6||0.8|
|Mack Macksood||WR-F||5'11, 197||So.||NR|
|Trey Kilgore||WR-Z||6'1, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Blake Treadwell||LG||30||2nd All-Big Ten|
|Jack Allen||C||6'1, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||24|
|Travis Jackson||LG||6'3, 286||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||17|
|Jack Conklin||LT||6'6, 330||So.||NR||13|
|Donavon Clark||RT||6'3, 310||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||6|
|Kodi Kieler||RT||6'5, 309||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Connor Kruse||RG||6'4, 317||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0|
|Zach Higgins||LG||6'4, 315||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Benny McGowan||RG||6'3, 319||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Dennis Finley||LT||6'6, 307||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Miguel Machado||OL||6'6, 280||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Brian Allen||C||6'2, 285||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
6. Short yardage and blitzes
There is talent in State's supporting cast.
Jeremy Langford is a strong and durable back, and he's backed up by an experienced Nick Hill and a pair of sophomores (Delton Williams and R.J. Shelton) who showed explosive potential in minimal carries.
And of the 13 players targeted by at least six passes in 2013, 12 return, including explosive senior Tony Lippett, who served as one of basically three No. 1 targets. And really, State's offense was more explosive than efficient in 2013, even though the opposite might have been as or more effective for the defense. Cook and the offense bailed themselves out of passing-downs jams more than one would expect (and also found themselves in a ton of passing downs).
The biggest question mark for the offense, when it comes to whether it can sustain the gains of the final few games or regress again, probably comes up front, where three two- or three-year starters (including all-conference guard Blake Treadwell) are gone. The line wasn't particularly great last fall, but it was basically good at two things: short-yardage run conversion (with help from the powerful Langford) and passing-downs blitz pickup (with help from rollouts). If it can maintain competence in these two areas, the offense will be fine. Not great, but fine.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||29.1%||1||Succ. Rt. +||142.9||1|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||33.5||5||Off. FP+||104.5||17|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.4||7||Redzone S&P+||123.8||7|
|Q1 Rk||4||1st Down Rk||3|
|Q2 Rk||12||2nd Down Rk||4|
|Q3 Rk||1||3rd Down Rk||2|
7. Maybe big plays don't matter as much as we think
Michigan State has, to a degree, helped to change the way I look at effective football. Because yards per play is easily the most effective, descriptive box score stat, we have tended to value efficiency over all else when discussing college football. Avoid big plays and win. And to be sure, this has a lot of basis in reality. Just look at the number of teams that go as far into bend-don't-break mode as possible and win games.
But there's some nuance that we've been missing. The number of big plays does matter. The size of the big plays? Not as much.
More on big plays
More on big plays
Michigan State quite clearly had one of the best defenses in the country in 2013. It might have been the best. The Spartans lingered close to the line of scrimmage and challenged opponents to make plays they couldn't make.
Michigan State packs the line of scrimmage with everyone on the team, rarely lining a defensive player deeper than eight yards off the ball and channeling the offense into constricted space. [...]
All in all, the Spartans are designed to be strong against everything college offenses are good at and vulnerable only to plays which college offenses rarely execute with consistency. They invite deep sideline fade routes into minuscule windows. "By all means, waste a down!" They encourage drives based on hitting short out routes or back shoulder hitches with limited yards after catch, or deep throws on well leveraged safeties. They clamp down on the run and option games and swallow up the quick hitting inside routes that all collegiate quarterbacks can throw.
As we see above, when they allowed a big play, it was quite large -- MSU was 74th in IsoPPP+, an opponent-adjusted measure of the magnitude of successful plays. And on passing downs, the big plays were enormous. It's just that there were almost none of them. State wasn't worried about giving up a 40-yard gain instead of a 15-yard gain; the Spartans were simply focused on beating you far more frequently than you beat them.
This sounds simple and logical. Everybody should do it! But to pull off State's defensive approach, the opposite of bend-don't-break in every way, you have to have incredible cornerbacks, an oustanding defensive line, and linebackers who don't miss tackles very often. A lot of teams probably want to do this but can't because they can't identify, land, and develop defensive talent like Dantonio and coordinator Pat Narduzzi can.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Shilique Calhoun||DE||6'4, 257||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||28.5||4.6%||14.0||7.5||1||0||2||2|
|Marcus Rush||DE||6'2, 255||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||21.5||3.5%||7.5||5.0||0||3||1||0|
|Damon Knox||NT||6'4, 275||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||15.5||2.5%||2.5||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|James Kittredge||DT||6'4, 295||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Lawrence Thomas||DE||6'3, 294||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Brandon Clemons||NT||6'3, 295||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Joel Heath||DT||6'6, 289||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Evan Jones||DE||6'5, 249||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|David Fennell||DT||6'2, 272||So.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Demetrius Cooper||DE||6'5, 239||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Noah Jones||NT||6'3, 285||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Tyler Topolinski||DE||6'3, 242||RSFr.||NR|
|Malik McDowell||DE||6'6, 292||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)|
|Enoch Smith, Jr.||DT||6'2, 275||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Craig Evans||DT||6'3, 305||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Taiwan Jones||MIKE||6'3, 252||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||14||52.5||8.5%||7.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ed Davis||SAM||6'3, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||14||12.5||2.0%||4.0||4.0||0||0||0||0|
|Darien Harris||STAR||6'0, 228||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||14||8.0||1.3%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Mylan Hicks||STAR||5'11, 199||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||14||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Riley Bullough||SAM||6'2, 233||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jon Reschke||MIKE||6'2, 232||RSFr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|Shane Jones||SAM||6'1, 238||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Chris Frey||STAR||6'1, 223||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Byron Bullough||LB||6'2, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
8. This defense isn't going to sink very far...
...but it will almost certainly sink.
State's 2013 defense was the perfect combination of talent, experience and system. The Spartans had a line that could get to the passer with minimal blitzing (and when they did blitz, it was incredibly effective), they had the most sure-tackling set of linebackers in the game, and they had probably the best cornerback in college football in Darqueze Dennard.
Now Dennard, two of the three primary linebackers, and three of the top four tackles are gone. There is all sorts of talent and potential in the new batch of defenders, but it is, to a certain degree, a new batch.
With this core group of talent, State ranked fifth (plus-17.9 percent), third (plus-20.8 percent), and second (plus-25.3 percent) in Def. F/+ over the last three years. There is more than enough proven talent here to lead a likely top-10, or even top-five, defense: ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, Taiwan Jones (who moves to middle linebacker to replace Max Bullough), safety Kurtis Drummond, corner Trae Waynes, etc. And State has recruited increasingly well on the defensive side of the ball recently, which makes sense. With Narduzzi still calling the shots and Dantonio leading the way, State's defense is going to be very good. It just probably won't be as good as last year.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kurtis Drummond||FS||6'1, 200||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||14||70.0||11.3%||3.5||0||4||6||1||0|
|Trae Waynes||CB||6'1, 183||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||14||42.5||6.9%||1.5||0||3||5||0||0|
|R.J. Williamson||SS||6'0, 215||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||14||30.5||4.9%||3||0||1||2||0||0|
|Mark Meyers||FS||6'0, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||14||7.5||1.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jermaine Edmondson||CB||6'0, 178||So.||3 stars (5.5)||13||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Demetrious Cox||FS||6'1, 200||So.||4 stars (5.8)||14||4.5||0.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Arjen Colquhoun||CB||6'1, 193||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||10||3.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darian Hicks||CB||5'10, 181||So.||3 stars (5.6)||14||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ezra Robinson||CB||6'0, 178||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jalyn Powell||SS||5'11, 206||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Justin Williams||CB||6'1, 175||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Montae Nicholson||DB||6'2, 202||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|T.J. Harrell||S||6'1, 210||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Vayante Copeland||CB||6'0, 186||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
9. Beware defensive injuries
Maybe there are healing powers in the MSU Dairy Store ice cream, but State got pretty lucky from an injuries standpoint last season. Of the 14 players who averaged at least 1.0 tackles per game in 2013, only three missed a game with injury. Starting tackle Tyler Hoover missed three games with a calf injury, starting safety Isaiah Lewis missed the Youngstown State game, and second-string linebacker Jairus Jones played in only four games because of an MCL injury.
Hoover's injury could have been costly if State hadn't had such strong depth up front, but otherwise this was about as injury-free a season as you could hope to have. The problem is that the odds of being mostly injury-free for two straight years are not great. State could have all the depth in the world and could be ready to account for any injury that takes place -- hell, it's not hard to imagine that being true when you look at the list of potential options above -- but we won't know that until or unless the Spartans have to prove it. They got away with basically playing six linemen, four linebackers, and five defensive backs in 2013. They'll probably have to cast the net wider this time around.
|Mike Sadler||6'0, 170||Sr.||76||42.5||9||19||33||68.4%|
|Michael Geiger||5'8, 186||So.||36-38||7-8||87.5%||8-8||100.0%|
|R.J. Shelton||KR||5'11, 200||So.||9||22.1||0|
|Nick Hill||KR||5'8, 197||Sr.||5||19.0||0|
|Macgarrett Kings Jr.||PR||5'10, 186||Jr.||20||10.3||0|
|Andre Sims Jr.||PR||5'9, 193||Jr.||15||8.6||0|
|Special Teams F/+||29|
|Field Goal Efficiency||26|
|Punt Return Efficiency||91|
|Kick Return Efficiency||38|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||55|
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|29-Nov||at Penn State||37|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||19.3% (16)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||26|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||13 / 9.1|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||12 (7, 5)|
10. Ohio State comes to East Lansing
From the devastating defense, to the out-of-nowhere offensive competence, to the Rose Bowl bid, to Rich Homie Quan, Michigan State's 2013 season was one of the most unique and memorable in the program's history.
State was perhaps a smidge lucky when it came to injuries and turnovers, but they only won one game by single digits; the offense stepped up when it needed to, the defense was stunning, and this was just a really damn good team.
It won't be as good in 2014. The offense line is a question mark, and the defense must replace just enough breakthrough talent that, while it will be excellent, it probably won't be transcendent.
And that might be just fine. Granted, State's probably not winning in Eugene on September 6, but when it comes to winning the Big Ten, three of the four most highly projected opponents on the schedule come to East Lansing; that includes Ohio State on November 8. Granted, the schedule isn't without its trickiness -- two huge home games (Michigan, Ohio State) are sandwiched by two tricky road games against explosive (and flawed) opponents (Indiana, Maryland). The slate isn't easy, but if State is still a top-15 team, it's manageable. And if they stifle the Buckeyes, they could reach the Big Ten title game again.
Turnarounds aren't supposed to work this well, but one has in East Lansing.