Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 30 Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State Spartans

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Fall is quickly approaching and that means football season is around the corner for the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans have made a bowl in every season under head coach Mark Dantonio, making it six straight in 2012.

However, even though they made it to a postseason bowl game appearance, the Spartans had an extremely lackluster 2012 season, especially considering their high expectations. Finishing the prior two seasons with 10-plus wins, a conference title and a division title, the Spartans had the bar raised to an all-time high just to whiff and finish the season at a mediocre 7-6.

Although they won their second consecutive bowl game under Dantonio in 2012, the team looked as if they had no fight in them all season long, losing five of their six games by four or less points.

Let’s take a look at how they stack up in 2013.

KEY PLAYERS

Returning quarterbacks are always a good thing for any team looking to crack the top-25. The Spartans’ biggest key this year is quarterback play, and returning Andrew Maxwell from an under-performing 2012 season will be interesting for the Spartans.

While many returning quarterbacks are trusted to get the job done, Maxwell was a very timid player last season and that led to many losses in crunch time and one of the worst offenses in college football. He is the one guy the Spartans need to step up to the plate and deliver.

The receiving corps are also returning to the team. Not losing one key receiver will be huge for Michigan State because of the possibility of a quarterback change mid-season. Sophomore Aaron Burbridge showed that he has what it takes to be the next big thing in East Lansing with a solid freshman season.

Defense is what carries this team. Max Bullough will be manning the middle of the defense once again and the senior linebacker will certainly be one of the best in the country at his position.

OFFENSE

As I stated earlier, the offense is not something to be proud of. This team struggled mightily to get the offense off the ground in 2012, averaging just 20 points a game — a big reason for their five close losses.

Maxwell is going to need a 3,000-plus yard season and a monumentally higher completion percentage in 2013 in order for this offense to be successful. He also needs confidence — something he lacked last season. If he under-performs again, Dantonio will have no problem replacing him with freshman Damion Terry.

Burbridge returning to the group of receivers is huge. Also returning are Keith Mumphery, Tony Lippett, Bennie Fowler and a guy that I think could be a breakout receiver: DeAnthony Arnett. All of these guys combined for 151 receptions and 1,864 yards to go along with nine touchdowns.

Losing star running back Le’Veon Bell will be a huge blow. He had over 1,700 rushing yards last season and basically carried the run game. The best returning running back is Nick Hill who only had 48 yards on 21 carries.

DEFENSE

The defense will be great once again this season for the Spartans. Seemingly each season the defense has gotten better and better under Dantonio, and there’s one reason for this — they don’t rebuild, they reload.

Breeding top young talent on the defensive side of the ball is huge, and that’s what MSU is known for. Returning linebackers Taiwan Jones, Denicos Allen and Bullough will prove to be huge. Losing just three key defenders from the ninth best defense in the nation a season ago is basically nothing and the team who allowed just 16.3 points per game in 2012 will be even better.

Try scoring on this team with a handful of Big Ten all-first team players. Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis will anchor the secondary as two of the best cornerbacks and safeties in the conference, respectively.

SCHEDULE

The Spartans’ first game is just under a month away, and they’re surely chomping at the bit to get back on the field and prove doubters wrong. They’re looking for another 10-plus win season and their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988.

Here are their toughest games: at Notre Dame Fighting Irish, vs. Michigan Wolverines, at Nebraska Cornhuskers and at Northwestern Wildcats.

The schedule isn’t the most difficult, not having to face the Wisconsin Badgers nor the Ohio State Buckeyes, but a couple slip-ups could land them at .500 or below once again. However, I believe this team is much stronger than the one from a year ago. They will finish at a healthy 9-3.

Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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