Because of their disastrous finish to 2010, the Spartans flew under the radar a bit coming into 2011. We had them at #15 in our Pre-Season Preview but Phil Steele had them at #28. Coming into 2011, the Spartans had the third most offensive production, in the Big Ten, returning from 2010. It played out that way on the field as the Spartans finished 4th in the Big Ten in Total Offense and third in Scoring Offense. The offense was a big part for the Spartans success in 2011 but what made the difference this year was their improvement on defense. The Spartans had a decrease of 4 point per game allowed and gave up 76.4 yards less per game. After a loss to Notre Dame, an experienced offense and an improved defense led them to back-to-back-to-back wins over Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. They finished off the season at 10-2 but fell to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game on the strength of a very iffy roughing the punter call against the Spartans. After coming from behind to beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl, the Spartans finished the season at 11-3 and ranked #11 in our final poll. We caught up with our friends from the Michigan State based blog A Beautiful Day for Football to get their take on the 2011 season and catch a brief glimpse of what's in store for 2012.
CFBZ: Michigan State had a really good year and beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl to close it out strong. What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
SpartanBDF: It's so difficult to capture how I feel about this season succinctly. Any year where you knock off the Wolverines, go 7-1 in the Big Ten with a road schedule that included games at OSU, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern in conference and cap that all off by winning your bowl game over a very young and talented Georgia team is a great year.
Yet, MSU could have done better. They were a running into the kicker penalty away from going to the Rose Bowl. Their losses in the regular season were by 18 and 21 respectively so when they lost, they lost big. I think the only thing I can say is that at the end of the year I think 11-3 with a bowl win represents where MSU was. They were a good team that showed flashes of greatness and flashes of the Michigan State that used to be. As a whole there was much more good than bad.
CFBZ: If you could have a "do over" for any game which would it be?
SpartanBDF: I'm going to cheat and take two. The first is obviously Wisconsin, but really we only need to take back one play in that game. The video (below) is heavily MSU slanted, I still think this is a penalty. But that punt was run back to the 7. I think MSU scores the go ahead touchdown with a minute to go.
After that, I think it would be the Nebraska game. The last team to go undefeated in the Big Ten was the 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes, even if MSU had lost the title game at 11-1(8-0) that would have been a hell of a feather to have in our collective cap.
CFBZ: Going into 2012, Michigan State loses a three-year starter in Kirk Cousins. Who is waiting in the wings to replace him?
SpartanBDF: Andrew Maxwell will be Kirk Cousins replacement in 2012. He played well in relief this year going 18 of 26 for 171 and a TD. He also played against Florida Atlantic, Youngstown State, Central Michigan and Indiana. Not exactly the powerhouses of college football. Maxwell won the Elite 11 Award for "Most Accurate Passer" when he attended the camp his Senior Year of HS.
The rumors thus far are that his arm is superior to Cousins but that understandably there will be a drop-off in decision making ability. His spring game performance in 2011 would support that theory. He went 9 of 21 for 120 yards and a TD. That TD was a 38 yard throw between two defenders. It's hard to tell though, our Defense was pretty damn good last year and our Offensive Line was not.
In summary, the talent is there, but it is completely untested.
CFBZ: Edwin Baker and Jerel Worthy are going pro early. Did they make the right decision and who will replace them?
SpartanBDF: Jerel Worthy absolutely made the right call. He is showing up as a 1st-2nd round tweener on most draft boards and I don't honestly know that another year would have improved his draft stock. Part of what makes Worthy so unbelievably good is his ability to time the snap. I don't see that improving. He has the size and the quicks, The risk far outweighs the reward for him. My only concern would be that a bad combine showing could push him into the late second or early third round in which case this doesn't look like such a good move.
For Worthy he'll be replaced by a platoon of guys who are 6'3" and 275. There are literally four, so I'm not really sure who will get the nod. Based on size and athleticism alone, I'm going to go with Damon Knox who will be a redshirt freshman next year. Watch out for James Kittredge though a four-star Vandy transfer.
As right as the call was for Worthy, it was equally as wrong for Baker. Baker started the season as MSU's #1 back and by season's end was well behind Le'Veon Bell. He only had six carries in the Outback Bowl to quantify it. There are some rumors that Baker leaving might have been best for all parties involved. The interesting thing about Baker is that of all of MSU's running backs he has the best potential to play in the league. He's solid, quick and runs to where his hole is supposed to be. Unfortunately, he fumbles enough (4) and even when his hole isn't there, he runs there anyway. He will not get drafted unless he gets a combine invite and surprises.
Baker will be replaced in 2012 with either Larry Caper, the 2011 Third Down Back, or Nick Hill, the 2011 Kick Returner/Speedster. Both will be looking to fill the gap at the RB2 position.
CFBZ: Looking at 2012, which players are you most looking forward to watching?
SpartanBDF: Well obviously William Gholston, he came to the Outback Bowl to eat, and he ate like he was at Old Country Buffet. Gholston recorded 5 TFLs, 2 sacks and a Fumble Recovery. Expect to see Le'Veon Bell improve in the offseason, if for no other reason than MSU returns four Offensive Line starters and may have the luxury of moving Fou Fonoti from Right Tackle to Left Guard to replace the departed Joel Foreman. At WR, MSU will be taking in transfer DeAnthony Arnett. Arnett is expected to receive a hardship waiver which would allow him to play in 2012. This equates to MSU getting the top WR prospect in the midwest in 2010 and 2011.
2012 will be a year of growing pain for the Spartans, it'll be interesting to see how they react.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Big 12- Kansas Jayhawks