Ten years ago, you would have never considered the Michigan State Spartans a football school nor even one that had a remote shot to win multiple Big Ten titles. However, after a multiple-decade drought, the Spartans are finally Rose Bowl champs and hungry for more.
Mark Dantonio has been the saving grace of this program and he has turned Michigan State from a Big Ten bottom dweller into a conference power. After the first 13-win season in school history and three 11-plus win seasons in four years, the Spartans are finally fighting for a national title.
Don’t look now, but Michigan State is likely the favorite to win another Big Ten championship in 2014 and make a serious run at the College Football Playoff. Undefeated season? Very possible.
Returning a ton of offensive talent, the Spartans will have no problem putting up points like they had at the beginning of the 2013 season. Now with a first-team All-Big Ten selection at QB in Connor Cook, Michigan State is in good hands.
Cook emerged last season as the team’s No. 1 guy, passing for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions after taking the reigns and keeping them following the team’s third game of the year.
The running game is in good shape as well as one of the conference’s leading rushers, Jeremy Langford, returns for his senior season with a lot to build on. The first-year starter rushed for an impressive 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2013 and was a nail in the opponents’ coffin with a late touchdown on multiple occasions. Guys like Gerald Holmes, Madre London, Delton Williams and Nick Hill will contribute as well.
For the first time in years, the receiving corps are deep for the Spartans. Top wide out Tony Lippett returns after posting 44 catches for 613 yards and two scores last season while the team also returns Macgarrett Kings Jr., 513 yards, Keith Mumphery, 299 yards, and Aaron Burbridge, 194 yards.
Ah, now it’s time to talk about one of the best defenses in the entire nation. Michigan State has consistently been a top-10 defense for the past few seasons and it’s due, in large part, to the success of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
The coach has led MSU to top rankings and has mustered up fear from opponents before and during every game. Michigan State’s secondary gave themselves the nickname “No Fly Zone” last season — and for good reason. Darqueze Dennard was one of the best cornerbacks in the country and the guy across the field from him, Trae Waynes, wasn’t too shabby, either.
While Dennard is now gone, Waynes returns to pick up where he left off along with safety Kurtis Drummond. The secondary isn’t rebuilding, just reloading.
Losing Max Bullough and Denicos Allen will hurt the linebacking corps, but Taiwan Jones‘ return and the emergence of Darien Harris and Ed Davis in spring camp make this year’s linebacking group look more athletic than ever.
Don’t forget about the very, very deep defensive line led by All-American Shilique Calhoun. The junior stud had 37 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks last season to go along with a couple defensive touchdowns. He will have help on the line in the forms of Marcus Rush, Lawrence Thomas and five-star freshman Malik McDowell.
Michigan State doesn’t exactly have a cakewalk of a schedule for the 2014 season. While it seems like the opening game of the season against Jacksonville State is a simple win, it is anything but that. Don’t sleep on the talented Gamecocks.
However, while the Spartans’ schedule isn’t easy, all the games on it are winnable.
While I think the Spartans could easily run the table and finish 12-0 in the regular season, I see them losing to Oregon in the second game of the season and finishing with an 11-1 regular season and appearance in the Big Ten title game once again.
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. You can also reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.