2011 Record: 11-3 (7-1 in Big Ten)
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (44-22 at MSU, 62-39 All-Time)
Four Year Win Trend: 9.25 wins and 4 losses overall; 6 wins and 2 losses in conference
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Outback Bowl: beat Georgia 33-30 in 3OT
Stat to Cheer: had 45 sacks and 106 Tackles for Loss in 2011 (1st in B1G)
Stat to Fear: converted 38.61% on third downs (10th in B1G)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 5; Defense: 8; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: DE William Gholston (70 tackles, 5 sacks), LB Max Bullough (89 tackles, 3.5 sacks), LB Denicos Allen (83 tackles, 11 sacks), LB Chris Norman (76 tackles, 2 sacks), S Isaiah Lewis (74 tackles, 4 INT), CB Johnny Adams (51 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 INT), DE Marcus Rush (58 tackles, 4 sacks), CB Darqueze Dennard (43 tackles, 3 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB Le'Veon Bell (948 yds rush, 13 TD), OT Fou Fonoti, OT Dan France, OG Chris McDonald
Inside Scoop with Shaw Lane Spartans:
CFBZ: Pat Narduzzi has done a great job building up the Spartans defense. Most college fans know who William Gholston is, who are the other players to watch on this defense?
Shaw Lane Spartans: Honestly there are so many to choose from it's ridiculous. This is as fine a defense as has played in East Lansing since I started watching MSU football back in the mid-90s. Max Bullough is the latest in a line of Spartan Bulloughs. At MLB he was tasked with replacing Greg Jones senior leadership as a sophomore and more than rose to the challenge matching not only his production, but Jones' ability to call the right defense on the field.
Isaiah Lewis and Johnny Adams will both be All Big Ten in the secondary this year. Johnny Adams might be one of the best corners in the Big Ten maybe even the nation. Isaiah Lewis was all Big Ten last year as a sophomore. 8 of the 11 starters will be juniors or less this year so MSU is set for some time to come on defense. An underrated pick would also be the other half of MSU's defensive end team, Marcus Rush. As a redshirt freshman last year Rush recorded 52 tackles and 4 sacks to Gholston's 67 tackles and five sacks.
CFBZ: Michigan State loses a lot of talent at receiver. Who needs to step up at that position?
Shaw Lane Spartans: The obvious candidates are Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett. Fowler has shown enormous potential while on the field, but spent all of 2011 injured. Lippett was our second string corner last year and makes the move back over to Offense this year. Keith Mumphery was the talk of the Spring practice season and has certainly got the jump on everyone else because Mumphery and Maxwell have been scout teammates for three years.
MSU brings in a very talented class of 2012 at Wide Receiver. MacGarrett Kings has the inside track for being the Keshawn Martin replacement. He has all of the Keshawn quicks. Monty Madaris was an after signing day commitment and might well come in as MSU's most game-ready receiver. Aaron Burbridge came in as MSU's highest ranked commit and has all of the moves to shake his guy loose. Transfer DeAnthony Arnett was another top 150 recruit in high school and could factor for playing time. Kyle Kerrick was an early enrollee so he has a whole Spring Season under his belt. Any of these guys could make an impact immediately, the guy most likely to out of the freshman is the one who can run block, Fowler, Lippett and Mumphery are not known for their run blocking and that's something MSU wideouts did really well last year.
CFBZ: What needs to happen for the Spartans to win the Big Ten?
Shaw Lane Spartans: For the Spartans to win the Big Ten, Andrew Maxwell needs to play football at a level closer to 2011 Kirk Cousins than 2009 Kirk Cousins. The only real major question mark going into the season is "Who is Andrew Maxwell and just how good is he at this here football game anyway?". MSU also replaces their three starting Wide Receivers and two starting Tight Ends. In short, MSU has an entirely new passing game this year. There's a chance this is a strength immediately against Boise State, but more likely they'll need time to gel on the field.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Shaw Lane Spartans: It's time for the Spartans to set their eyes on Pasadena. MSU fans are not far enough removed from the sting of John L to be unappreciative of a 9-3 season, but in East Lansing the Spartan faithful believe that the Rose Bowl is more than just rhetoric this year. The Legends division features three strong teams in MSU, UM and Nebraska, but each has a hole. The winner likely plays Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game although Purdue is a darkhorse pick to win the Leaders division.
I like MSU to go to the Rose Bowl at 11-2 this year. It's a homer pick, but last year Wisconsin's offense was a machine and MSU managed to slow them down enough to squeak out a win they shouldn't have gotten and lose a game they statistically won everywhere but the scoreboard. MSU returns 3/4ths of those units and while the passing game is a question mark, run offense, run defense and pass defense should improve. That should be enough to win out a Legends division where UM has huge question marks on defensive line and Nebraska has a halfback playing quarterback. Wisconsin will still be good, but no one will replace Russell Wilson and that will be enough to seal the win for MSU in the Big Ten title game this year.
After three years with differing levels of success, the Spartans under Mark Dantonio broke through in 2010 with an eleven win season. Despite winning eleven games they had a bitter taste left in their mouth after a blowout loss to Alabama. Last year the Spartans again won eleven games but did get the bowl game monkey off their back (they had previously been 0-4 under Dantonio in bowl games) with a win in the Outback bowl. The next challenge is to win the Big Ten Championship Game and head out to the Rose Bowl.
The Spartans have some replacing to do on the offensive side of the football. Three year starter Kirk Cousins is gone and he takes his top two receivers and his tight end with him. Le'Veon Bell does return and he will be asked to tote a heavy load. As a sophomore, Bell was relied on more and more as the season progressed and almost broke through the 1000 yard plateau. Bell is a known commodity. What is unknown is QB Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell threw 26 passes last year but the only conference game he played in was a 55-3 blowout win over Indiana. Maxwell has been in he system for three years so he's familiar with the system but he did miss some time in the spring including the spring game. The Spartans season could ride on the junior and how successful he is this season.
On defense, the Spartans are loaded and this could be Pat Narduzzi's best defense yet. Narduzzi took over in 2007 but it's been the last two years where the defense has really come together. Last years defense was top ten in the Nation is scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense (and just missed out on passing defense ranking eleventh in the country). The Spartans returns eight of their top nine tacklers (losing DB Trenton Robinson) and return the majority of their league leading 45 sacks. Jerel Worthy will be tough to replace at DT but this Spartans defense should be the best in the league and it will be one of the major reasons they will compete for the conference championship.
The B1G will come down to Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin unless Taylor Martinez goes bananas. The defense can get Michigan State far this year but with their schedule the offense is going to have to carry it's own weight. Out of the three teams, Michigan State has the toughest schedule (at Michigan and at Wisconsin plus Ohio State and Nebraska). Can Mark Dantonio take the next step with the Spartans in 2012?
2012 Prediction: 10-2
Top 25 Countdown
#12 Michigan State
#14 Kansas State
#16 Virginia Tech
#17 Boise State
#19 Ohio State
#23 Oklahoma State
Previous 2012 Previews: