There’s no doubt that MSU’s loss to Wisconsin last weekend really hurt. You could see it in our player’s eyes. You could see it written all over the faces of our coaches. That’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. When you challenge for a championship and come up inches short, tears are appropriate. The hangover should be present. A mourning period should take place, however, it is time to move on.
Mark Dantonio has placed MSU in unfamiliar territory. He has brought back-to-back seasons with double digit wins to East Lansing. His team has played for a Big Ten Championship two years in a row. He will coach his team in a sunny location on New Year’s Day once again. Mark Dantonio has built a winner. He has built a team that is resilient. Furthermore, they are fun to watch.
Make no mistake about it, MSU will play in the championship game again next year; they are loaded. Look at the 2012 schedule and find one team that wants to line up and play against that Spartan defense. Give the schedule a second look and see whose coming to Spartan Stadium where MSU has gone undefeated the last two seasons. This team is set up to do incredible things.
Boise State Central Michigan
Notre Dame Indiana
Eastern Michigan Our Big Sisters
Ohio State Wisconsin
I could see them going 11-1, 10-2 again next year. Just for the record, I think 11-1 is more realistic. Michigan State’s defense is going to hammer Michigan in Ann Arbor. That makes it just that much sweeter… five wins in a row, an undefeated Michigan team, 105,000 dejected Wolverines, 10,000 elated Spartans watch as they haul the remnants of Michigan’s offense through the tunnel and off the field. I can’t wait. The schedule is finally in our favor. I don’t fear Bucky on the road either.
There is little doubt that MSU is going to have to rebuild in some key areas. They won’t be rebuilding where it counts the most, up front on the offensive line. Injuries should be little to no issue next year with MSU’s offensive front. Starters France, Jackson, McDonald and Fonoti all return next year. Treadwell and Burkland will return having been starters last season. Micajah Reynolds is another mammoth athlete that gives MSU a solid tackle on either side. Added to the playing group will be two freshman superstars in center Jack Allen (who will push Jackson) and Donovan Clark who can play both guard and tackle. Clark could be the best offensive lineman on the roster. Henry Conway will have something to say about the right tackle position and Michael Dennis is a player just waiting to be plugged in.
Michigan State is going to run the ball next year. They are going to need to keep Maxwell somewhat conservative early in the season and let him grow into the position. A dominant running game will just make him that much more comfortable and effective.
There will be a wholesale exchange at wide receiver next year as well. Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett will represent the playing group with extensive field experience while Juwan Caesar, Keith Mumphrey, Andre Sims and Aaron Burbridge vie for playing time. All of the aforementioned athletes are legitimate players and should give Michigan State multiple deep ball threats.
Sims, Hoebing and Lang will all see the field as blockers and receivers from the tight end position. Niko Palazetti will likely step in and take charge as the primary battering ram at fullback.
Headlining the deep and talented group at tailback is Le’Veon Bell. At 6’3” and an undisclosed weight, Bell is an NFL back that runs between the tackles. His counterparts, Baker, Caper and Hill are all capable Big Ten backs with NFL potential as well. I expect Bell and Baker to get equal carries next season. Caper will see the field again on third downs and Hill will likely become the primary return man. Depth is crucial at this position and 1000-yard backs are overrated. Three or four fresh running backs allow this group to stay and play healthy.
We have already talked a great deal about the Spartan defense. The losses of Pickelman, Worthy and Robinson are big, but there is ample talent waiting in the wings to absorb the blow. Michigan State returns both defensive ends (Rush, Gholston) and Anthony Rashad White at defensive tackle. Tyler Hoover could get some interior reps as well as Denzel Drone. Ramondo, Clemens, Scarpinato, Calhoun and Calero will all see time on the defensive line. Se’Von Pittman will be hard to keep off the field as a true freshman.
The linebackers are deep everywhere. Max Bullough and Denicos Allen are the stars of this group. Chris Norman is a difference maker as a flexible ‘backer that covers well when teams go three-wide. Taiwan Jones, Lawrence Thomas, Jeremy Gainer and Steve Gardiner provide tons of depth, but also allow MSU to line up with multiple defensive sets. Could MSU go more 3-4? We’ll just have to see how things go this spring. It wouldn’t surprise me with all the depth at linebacker.
The secondary will be both experienced and deep. Jairus Jones will likely replace Trenton Robinson. Isaiah Lewis will man the other safety position. Both of these guys are solid and should improve greatly before next fall. Corners Johnny Adams and Darquese Dennard complete the defensive backfield. Both return having made huge plays and are full time starters. Hicks, Drummond and Williamson provide depth at safety. Corners White, Colquhoun and Langford will all see the field next season as well.
The future is bright for this MSU team. A Big Ten Championship and a P4RB is a realistic theme for the 2012 season. Michigan State needs to shed the Big Ten Championship hangover and represent the Spartan Nation well in Tampa. A win over Georgia would open a lot of eyes. It would give the Spartans a favorable preseason 2012 rank. It could also set them up well to finish strong with some higher profile recruits that have MSU on their short list. A victory against Georgia would do a lot to heal the wounds of last weekend. It would also be another first for the Dantonio era. It is time for a bowl game win.