10 Questions Michigan State Football Must Answer This Offseason
10 Offseason Questions for Michigan State
The Michigan State Spartans are coming off of their best football season in a quarter century. By all accounts, it's a great time to be a Spartan. Michigan State went 13-1, handed Urban Meyer his first loss as Ohio State's head coach en route to a Big Ten Championship, and put the cherry on top with a 24-20 win over Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl Game.
But they’re not done yet. Michigan State has great aspirations for next season. When asked if he thought his team had a realistic chance at a national championship next year, head coach Mark Dantonio said, "That's our plan. Our plan is to keep winning. Our plan is that we're one game away. I said 'why not us' a couple weeks ago. I think we can compete with anybody in this country."
Heading into next season, the Spartan faithful actually have a lot to be happy about. Despite losing senior captains Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard and Blake Treadwell, a lot of key components are back. It looks like defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is staying put for now, and he has done a phenomenal job of building a deep bench to replace lost starters on defense.
Offensively, quarterback Connor Cook, running back Jeremy Langford and every meaningful receiver is returning. Of the 18 Spartans who caught a pass last year, 17 are underclassmen.
That’s not to say everything is peachy in East Lansing. There are some questions to be answered this offseason, and here are the 10 biggest.
10. Who Will Step Up As A Leader In 2014?
Not only will Michigan State miss the defensive prowess of departing captains Bullough and Dennard, but they will definitely miss the leadership. A big question mark with the Spartans is that all-important intangible – leadership. Who will step up? Defensively, end Shalique Calhoun (will be a fourth-year junior) has already expressed a desire to fill that void. Calhoun was a second-team All-American and named the national defensive player of the year by the College Football Performance Awards last year. Offensively, the Spartans will look to Cook to continue his rise and help bring motivation to an ever-improving unit.
9. How Will They Replace Graduating Linemen?
MSU’s run game, while perhaps a bit unsung, was a hero of this championship season. Langford will lose both of his starting offensive guards, and if the offense is going to continue to improve and come with a balanced attack, suitable replacements are needed. Both starting defensive tackles are gone as well, but once again, the depth of their defensive roster will make the transition a bit easier there.
8. Will Connor Cook Maintain His Confidence?
Connor Cook’s performance this year could absolutely have been characterized as steadily improving week-to-week. Even at the Rose Bowl, where he threw for 332 yards and was named offensive MVP, he had a truly horrendous pick-six that, at the time, looked like doomsday for the Spartans. He has said himself that he has a lot he’d like to work on this offseason, namely pocket presence, learning when to run, how to break down defensive schemes, and how to be more vocal. Cook entered 2013 as the No. 2 QB and even after winning the job, was still benched late in the Spartans’ one loss to Notre Dame in favor of Andrew Maxwell. Such back and forth no doubt weighed on his confidence, and it showed visibly on the field.
7. Who Will Replace Darqueze Dennard In The Secondary?
How will the No Fly Zone operate without the Jim Thorpe Award winner? Despite losing a great player, the secondary will be just fine. Narduzzi has done an outstanding job of keeping the bench stocked on defense. Cornerback Trae Waynes had a great year, racking up 50 tackles and three interceptions. He’ll be promoted to No. 1 corner next season and should do his mentor proud.
6. Pat Narduzzi Is Staying, Right?
The Broyles Award winner for the nation’s top assistant coach has interviewed for several head coaching positions already, including the jobs at both Connecticut and Louisville. Luckily for Spartan nation, neither opportunity panned out, and all signs point to the defensive genius coming back, at least for one more year.
5. How Will They Prepare For The Competitive Big Ten East Division?
Michigan State will be a part of the new Big Ten East next year, a division that includes perennial powerhouses Ohio State and Michigan as well as conference newcomers Rutgers and Maryland, both of whom played in bowl games this year. State will have to prepare to face Oregon in the second game of the year, and then they face the daunting task of competing in a competitive conference schedule with two new teams on the docket.
4. Do They Have A Quarterback Controversy?
Maxwell is graduating, of course, but Michigan State has a young man named Damion Terry on the roster at QB as well. His name was solidly in the mix for the starting job in early 2013 until illness and a thumb injury convinced the coaching staff that a red shirt was a good idea. As far as anyone knows, the job is Cook's to lose, especially after ending the season with not one but two MVP performances. But Terry is legit. The 6-foot-3, 222 pound mobile QB completed 10-of-14 passes for 240 yards and three TDs against the first team defense back in a preseason scrimmage.
3. What Spots Still Need To Be Filled Through Recruiting?
As of Jan. 9, Michigan State had 19 commits to the 2014 recruiting class. There is space for 3-4 additional scholarships, so what are the needs? According to the Detroit Free Press, the Spartans are looking at Malik McDowell, a defensive end out of Southfield and ranked by Rivals.com as the top prospect in the state of Michigan. Other targets include Daniel Cage – defensive end from Cincinnati, Darious Crawley – wide receiver from Houston, and Michael O’Connor – quarterback from Bradenton, FL.
2. How Will They Fill The Holes At The Linebacker Position?
The Spartans are losing both Bullough and Denicos Allen to graduation. Both were all-conference, multi-year starters. Rose Bowl hero Kyler Ellsworth is gone as well. Bullough’s younger brother Riley is coming up through the ranks, and the Spartans have some other young guys that will need to step up. With the depth there and great coaching, it does seem that the holes will fill with relative ease.
1. How Will They Handle Success?
Michigan State just won its first Rose Bowl since 1988. With success comes great pride, but also great challenges. The expectations and pressure are higher, and keeping players humble is critical. Dantonio said, “Success, once you’ve tasted it a little bit you want to keep it.” Hopefully for the Spartans, success will translate into motivation, rather than lethargy.