Most observers looking at the Big Ten Legends Division see a three-horse race. Michigan and Northwestern (maybe less so) are supposed to challenge last year’s winner Nebraska for a spot in the Big Ten title game. But what this premise leaves out is the idea of Michigan State competing to win the division.
Michigan State, despite their six-loss 2012 season, is not that bad of a team and has the potential to be in the Legends Division picture at the end of the year.
The Spartans had tough luck that made their record show a much worse team than the one that was on the field. Michigan State lost five games by four points or fewer, and their only other loss was to BCS Champion Game losers Notre Dame. Michigan State could have been decent last ear with some better breaks and could be good this coming year if they get them.
Although their offense was atrocious last season and their passing game was offensive to fans with eyes, their defense did keep them in many games. Michigan State was ranked in the top-10 nationally in total defense and scoring defense last season, and allowed just three opponents to score over 20 points.
Despite losing William Gholston, the Spartans do return much of their defense, including senior linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen. The defense should once again be very good and that will mean Michigan State will be in almost every game.
Now, if the offense can be less terrible, the Spartans could win some of the close games they lost last year. Andrew Maxwell, who started last year, was awful. He completed under 53 percent of his passes, averaged only 5.2 yards per attempt and threw just 13 TDs compared to his nine picks. To be fair, Maxwell did not get much help from his poor receiving corps, who seemed to lead the country in dropped passes.
Also of note is the fact that star running back Le’veon Bell is gone from the offense after taking over 90 percent of the carries for Michigan State’s running backs last season. He will be missed, but at the same time, he is very much replaceable. The Spartans don’t have a clear starter yet, but they will likely have it figured out by the time conference play comes around.
It is very conceivable that Michigan State’s offense can improve to be at least average, as they will now have a more experienced Maxwell and a very strong returning offensive line.
So, if Michigan State has a better offensive line and another elite defense, maybe they will even get a few breaks to go their way this year, right?
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter at @alexdaleCFB