Previewin' the B1G: Michigan State

By Kyle Rowland on July 27, 2014 at 6:00a
Mark Dantonio has Michigan State thinking big things in 2014.

Michigan State is coming off a 13-win season that included a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl triumph. Victories over Ohio State and Stanford were landmark wins for a program that consistently deals with skepticism. Even with three seasons of double-digit win totals in the past four years, there are still questions about the Spartans sustaining their success.

If first impressions are meaningful, Michigan State could be on tap for another special season. Ten starters return and quarterback Connor Cook, a hero of 2013, continued to progress in the spring. If key defensive pieces are replaced, a playoff berth could be within reach.

The “little brother” tag applied to the Spartans in relation to in-state rival Michigan has disappeared – Michigan State is 5-1 against the Wolverines since 2008 – big wins have been ingrained into the culture and Mark Dantonio’s provided stability.

At the Rose Bowl celebration ceremony, Dantonio warned that the job still isn’t finished and the biggest impediment standing in Michigan State’s way is itself.

“Once you get complacent and think it’s OK where you’re at and you’re satisfied, that’s when other people pass you up,” senior safety Kurtis Drummond said this spring. “If you’re always looking at something you can improve on and just remain humble and hungry and never forget where you came from, it’s going to always push you to go after whatever you want to achieve.”

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent
8/29 Jacksonville State
9/6 @ Oregon
9/20 Eastern Michigan
9/27 Wyoming
10/4 Nebraska
10/11 @ Purdue
10/18 @ Indiana
10/25 Michigan
11/8 Ohio State
11/15 @ Maryland
11/22 Rutgers
11/29 @ Penn State

Cook went one step further, saying the team is tired of talking about the Rose Bowl. The game is in the past and Michigan State is focused on the future – a day where loftier expectations are realized.

A good barometer on program success is how many donor dollars are pouring in. They’re printing money in Michigan State’s athletic department. A north end zone expansion and new recruiting lounge have spruced up Spartan Stadium. The 50,000-square-foot facility will act as Michigan State’s recruiting nerve center for Saturdays.

“A building like this will make a huge difference,” Dantonio said.

If the Spartans don’t beat themselves in 2014, defeats could come because of the losses on defense. Michigan State must replace the core of its vaunted defense. Gone are Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Darqueze Dennard. All three were All-Big Ten players. Fellow all-conference selections Isaiah Lewis (strong safety) and Blake Treadwell (offensive line) also departed.

But it’s not like the Spartans are devoid of talent. The defensive line is one of the most talented in the Big Ten, with Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush as bookends. The biggest question mark on defense is the linebacker corps, where Taiwan Jones is the lone returning starter.

Offensively, the belief is Michigan State is poised to breakout. Even in a 13-1 season, points did not pile up. Michigan State used a Tresselball approach, relying on the defense to slow down opponents and then capitalizing on opportunities on offense. After all, three members of the staff – Dantonio, Jim Bollman and Mike Tressel – have direct connections to Jim Tressel. 

The emergence of Connor Cook was one of the surprises of 2013. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. And he didn’t even become the starter till late September.

“I like the position we are in right now just because we have established our identity and we know what we have and we know we have proved to everyone what we can do on offense,” Cook said. “That’s exciting as a quarterback, especially only losing one receiver and three offensive linemen and with guys that can step up and fill right in. So, really, the sky is the limit for us as an offense.”

The limit will be tested throughout the season, with games against Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State. One loss could derail the Spartans’ grand goals. But in a new world where Michigan State’s shed its schizophrenic past, an abundance of prosperity could be on the horizon.  


Comments Show All Comments

Colerainbuck's picture

This is great for the conference! I don't see it helping w/ their recruiting yet though and that is where I see the problem. I think we all agree they do a great job of developing talent and turn 2-3 star athletes into great players. But, I feel they need to also take some of this success and start using it to get some better talent level for depth.

Look forward to seeing them grow and help w/ the B1G turn around.

+1 HS
CC's picture

That will change as Michigan continues to decline.

Kingbuck12's picture

With those loses on the defensive side, i just dont see them beating Oregon. And who do they have on offense thats going to beat you?  I predict 3 loses. 


+1 HS
cdub4's picture
+1 HS
sharks's picture

Also Langford.  

If Sparty can plug some guys in on D (and they always do) , they could be one of the best squads in the country.  Oregon is not winning that game.

A man got to have a code...

-1 HS
Chip's picture

I completely disagree.  There is a reason Oregon is heavily favored by Vegas, and it's because they look much, much better than MSU on paper.

+2 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

Oregon gets the media love because they score tons of points.  But - they also have problems with teams that play physical (Stanford).  The Ducks are a fast and finesse style team, and I don't think they can stand up to a full 60 minutes of taking turns landing punches.  I like Sparty here.  Would be very nice to see Sparty beat the Ducks and help give the B1G some needed national recognition.

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

-1 HS
rock flag and eagle's picture

I don't know.  The best one can say about Jeremy Langford is that he is a workhorse and durable.  In terms of how he compares to other backs, according to ESPN stats for qualified RBs (any RB with at least 6.25 carries per game) Langford ranked 125th in the country.  He only averaged 4.87 yards/carry.  He isn't explosive or elusive.  And, he may have a tough time replicating even those modest stats from last season as MSU must replace 3 OL starters. 

BeijingBucks's picture

yeah that 'sky's the limit' caught my eye.  they can't afford the offensively regress because the D will certainly not be better (compared to the Bucks whose back D arguably can't be worse).  They lost their great CB/safety/LB cohesion so will need to do more than just 'get by' on their offence.

I feel for their fans, anxiety has to be high going into every game.  welcome to the other side kids, now you are exPECTed to win.  except against the bucks and oregon

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

~~Can Michigan State sustain its recent string of success and dash Ohio State's Big Ten championship hopes again?

Yes, I think the can, but will they? THAT is the question. If OSU's defense improves as much as I'm hoping, it's going to be one hellava game in E. Lansing.

 Frankly, I'm hoping that they beat Oregon. I'm generally not a "conference cheerleader," but the B1G needs some quality OOC wins heading into this inaugural season of the playoff. For all of the OSU fans that say, "WE need TTUN to get better to improve our entire conference," I say HA! MSU is filling that role nicely. They are our new nemesis. TTUN can keep on sucking for all I give a sh*t.



+1 HS
sivaDavis's picture

@Indiana, @Purdue, @Maryland.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

M Man's picture

I wish I could think of a reason to predict Spartan failures this year.  I can't.  Does anybody now want to argue that the strength of the rightly-vaunted Spartan defense is not named "Gholston," or "Bullough," or "Darqueze," or "Calhoun"?  The strength of the Spartan defense is the craziest and hardest-working motherfucker on the team; "Narduzzi."  And "Narduzzi" is returning as an eighth-year senior.

It's interesting; this preview didn't mention one of the quiet underperformers on the MSU offense who could be scary-good; WR Aaron Burbridge.  When he was recruited by MSU out of its feeder-school Farmington Hills Harrison, he was the regarded as the biggest football talent in the state (albeit under a cloud of academic concerns which may have made Michigan a non-player in his recruitment).  Michigan did get Burbridge's teammates Devin Funchess and Mario Ojemudia.  (What a h.s. team!)

+4 HS
Chip's picture

MSU will continue to field excellent defenses until the QB and WR play in the conference improves.  It's not like Narduzzi is coming up with schemes that are revolutionary.  He relies on a suicidally aggressive defensive scheme with press coverage and constant double A-gap blitzes.  It works for three reasons:

1. The QBs in the conference just haven't been good enough to read the defense quickly and accurately deliver long balls.

2. The league has recently been really down on elite, physical WRs.  

3. The officials just aren't going to call pass interference on every play.  When they actually call it every time MSU commits it, well, see the Notre Dame last year.

I would have loved to see MSU try their scheme against a team like Clemson.  I think it would've gotten ugly.  

+1 HS
M Man's picture

I think these are some excellent points.  +1.

But... Stanford.  (You might rightly say that Stanford, despite its recent Andrew Luck tradition, doesn't qualify as a 3-vertical beast offense.  Okay.  What I hope is that a fifth-year Devin Gardner, with targets like Funchess, Darboh, Canteen, Chesson, and -- by October -- Butt, might come close to the vertical-competence you require.)

+2 HS
Ahh Saturday's picture

“Once you get complacent and think it’s OK where you’re at and you’re satisfied, that’s when other people pass you up,” senior safety Kurtis Drummond said this spring. “If you’re always looking at something you can improve on and just remain humble and hungry and never forget where you came from, it’s going to always push you to go after whatever you want to achieve.”

This is exactly the blue-collar attitude you want your players to bring into each season, a bunch of three-star recruits with a chip on their shoulder who are willing to go out and earn their respect each week, and it is what will make MSU a tough team to beat again this year. Contrast that attitude with the vapid Brady Hoke mantra of "we just have to play Michigan football" and you can see what a difference a coach can make to a team.  Kudos to Dantonio and Narduzzi for the job they've done building that attitude and a winning football culture in E. Lansing.

Horvath22's picture

OSU undefeated Big Ten champion.

MSU one loss (to OSU).

Big Ten could have two teams in the playoff.

-2 HS
MikeTheBuckeye's picture

No way would 2 B1G teams make it to the 4-team playoff, especially if one of them has a loss. There are 5 conferences. The odds of having 2 teams make it from the same conference are not likely, unless maybe that conference is the SEC. Also, Michigan State will have more than 1 loss (Oregon, Ohio State).

-1 HS
Colby3333's picture

Can Michigan State sustain its recent string of success and dash Ohio State's Big Ten championship hopes again?

Yes.  If the OSU coaching staff doesn't figure out what to do in adverse situations when the game is not put away and a call needs to be made to seal the deal.  

+2 HS
MikeTheBuckeye's picture

It's hard to imagine Oregon's offense, lead by stud Marcus Mariota, will be slowed too much by a rebuilding Michigan State defense. I understand the Spartans always end up reloading on that side of the ball and Tessell Ball has proven to be Oregon's kryptonite but I just don't see it happening. Last year would have been a different story if the Spartans and Ducks met in the Rose Bowl but it's a new season with a new team. I just pray I'm wrong.

-2 HS
Groveport Heisman's picture

Oregon returns all 5 OL and a fully healthy potential Heisman QB. If MSU is going to even stay in that game up in Eugene it is going to have to find a way to put up at least 40 points. Wouldnt surprise me one bit if that Oregon team leads the Nation in offense..yards and points.

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

-1 HS
Meatchicken's picture

Should be a great game.  I think Sparty's O improves over last year about as much as their D falls off, which makes them a pretty tough team again.  I don't know anything about Oregon's D, but Sparty's O may be able to keep Oregon's O off the field just enough for the win.

I've always been a B1G rooter vs. OOC - now more than ever with the promised SOS emphasis for playoff selection.

Buckabroad's picture

MSU has excellent coaching with great success at developing players. I fully expect themto maintain their success and win bowl games. I think Ohio State, however, is stronger ...

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

aerobuck's picture

death to Tresselball.

BTBuckeye's picture

I can't wait to watch that back to back combo of MSU vs UM and OSU. FEEL THE HATE!!!! I love college football.