MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
• 2012 finish: The Spartans finished 7-6 in '12 with a 3-5 record and fourth place in the Big Ten's Legends Division.
• Returning offensive starters (9): C/LG Jack Allen, WR Aaron Burbridge, RT Skyler Burkland, WR Bennie Fowler, LT Dan France, C Travis Jackson, QB Andrew Maxwell, WR Keith Mumphery, LG Blake Treadwell
• Projected starting offense: QB Andrew Maxwell (6-3, 209, Sr.); RB Nick Hill (5-8, 193, Jr.); WR Aaron Burbridge (6-1, 195, So.); WR Bennie Fowler (6-1, 212, Sr.); WR Keith Mumphery (6-0, 208, Jr.); TE Andrew Gleichert (6-5, 255, Jr.); LT Fou Fonoti (6-4, 298, Sr.); LG Blake Treadwell (6-3, 300, Sr.); C Travis Jackson (6-3, 280, Jr.); RG Dan France (6-6, 315, Sr.); RT Skyler Burkland (6-7, 315, Jr.)
• Returning defensive starters (7): LB Denicos Allen, LB Max Bullough, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Kurtis Drummond, DT Tyler Hoover, S Isaiah Lewis, DE Marcus Rush
• Projected starting defense: DE Shilique Calhoun (6-4, 248, So.); DT Tyler Hoover (6-7, 290, Sr.); DT James Kittredge (6-4, 275, Jr.); DE Marcus Rush (6-2, 250, Jr.); SLB Denicos Allen (5-11, 215, Sr.); MLB Max Bullough (6-3, 242, Sr.); STAR Taiwan Jones (6-3, 240, Jr.); CB Darqueze Dennard (5-11, 188, Sr.); SS Isiah Lewis (5-10, 200, Sr.); FS Kurtis Drummond (6-1, 196, Jr.); CB Trae Waynes (6-1, 178, Jr.)
• Returning specialists (1): P Mike Sadler (6-0, 185, Jr.)
• Key losses: RB Le’Veon Bell, TE Dion Sims, CB Johnny Adams, DE William Gholston, LB Chris Norman, NT Anthony Rashad White
• Top 5 additions: LB Jon Reschke (6-2, 230); LB Shane Jones (6-1, 225); OL Dennis Finley (6-6, 270); QB Damion Terry (6-4, 220); DB Jalyn Powell (6-2, 185)
• 2012 review: Last season was supposed to be "A" season for the Spartans. They started with a 17-13 victory over Boise State on national TV and then took care of Central Michigan on a rare road trip into the Mid-American Conference. The Spartans flopped against Notre Dame (20-3) and just never caught their breathe. Iowa tipped MSU 19-16 in two OTs at East Lansing, setting off a 1-4 stretch that ripped the heart out of MSU's season.
The Spartans pulled out of the downward spiral in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, scoring a thrilling 13-point second-half comeback 17-16 victory over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Spartans won back-to-back bowl games (they beat Georgia in triple overtime in the '12 Capital One Bowl) for the ?rst time since the 1989-90 seasons.
Iowa and Michigan State had similar 2012 seasons. The programs are similar in that each doesn't beat itself, neither is flashy on offense and usually depend on solid defense. Iowa lost five games by 16 points. The Spartans lost five games by 13 points. It doesn't make Iowa's 4-8 look any better, but the panic button hasn't been mashed in East Lansing because the Spartans did go to a bowl game and win.
• 2013 schedule: A30 -- Western Michigan; S7 -- South Florida; S14 -- Youngstown State; S21 -- at Notre Dame; S28 -- off week; O5 -- at Iowa (11 a.m. BTN or ESPN platform); O12 -- Indiana; O19 -- Purdue; O26 -- at Illinois; N2 -- Michigan; N9 -- off week; N16 -- at Nebraska; N23 -- at Northwestern; N30 -- Minnesota
• Key stretch: Because the season begins in August and ends on the last week of November, schools have 14 weeks to play 12 games. This gives everyone two off weeks. MSU might have the best spacing for its idle weeks. The Spartans start with four straight that concludes with a game at Notre Dame. They take a week off before traveling to Iowa for their Big Ten opener. Then in November, MSU plays host to Michigan, takes an idle week and then travels to Nebraska and Northwestern, two fellow Legends Division contenders. The Legends title could be clinched in those weeks. The Spartans' matchup with Notre Dame is the last until 2016. The current contract runs through 2032 and calls for four years on and two-year breaks, with the first coming in 2014-15. With ND's affiliation to the ACC, that might make scheduling trickier between the two schools.
• Trap game: This might be kind of a weird choice, but Indiana could sneak up and bite the Spartans. Here's the situation: The Spartans have a road trip to Iowa City before playing host to Indiana at Spartan Stadium. After that, it's Purdue and at Illinois, two decided "have-nots" this season according to many preseason publications, last year's results and new or shaky coaching situations. So, at Iowa going into Indiana. The "at Iowa" part is half the equation. The Hawkeyes stunned MSU in East Lansing last season, so there's a payback factor (that was Kirk Ferentz's 100th win, Iowa finished with six straight losses and so 101 is still waiting). Also, coach Kevin Wilson is doing things at Indiana. IU had a solid recruiting class for '13. And remember that one week the Hoosiers were in contention for the Leaders Division title last season? They were in it and needed to beat Wisconsin in Bloomington. The Badgers shut the door, 62-14. But, IU was there . . . for a second.
• Glass half-full: The '13 Spartans set up as the quintessential Mark Dantonio team. They return leader types on defense, and that in and of itself might be the biggest key. End Marcus Rush didn't get the pub that William Gholston got, but he has been quietly effective (7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks). Senior strongside linebacker Denicos Allen is a playmaker who's seen his role go from blitzing linebacker (11 sacks as a redshirt freshman two years ago) to more of a cover LB (just three sacks last year). He's potentially devastating. LB Max Bullough is a Big Ten middle linebacker's Big Ten middle linebacker, piling up 111 tackles last season. Senior strong safety Isaiah Lewis has been one of the Big Ten's leading safeties for the last three seasons. The Spartans' five B1G losses were by 1, 3, 2, 4 and 3 points. The Spartans drop Ohio State and Wisconsin from the schedule and get Indiana and Purdue. Even with a question mark at QB, '13 sets up well for MSU.
• Glass half-empty: Quarterback is a trouble spot. What team can say that and have serious conference championship ambitions? Senior Andrew Maxwell completed just 52.2 percent of his passes last season (234 of 446) with 13 TD passes and nine interceptions. Adding to the weirdness, sophomore Connor Cook completed 4 of 11 passes and threw a TD in the Spartans' 17-16 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl over TCU. Everything coming out of East Lansing this spring indicated a full-blown QB controversy. "I'd say pretty close,'' Cook said when asked where he thought he stood compared to Maxwell, a fifth-year senior. "Some of the (spring) practices, I would like to have back, (but) I felt I did well enough in the spring game to put myself up there." Cook has the big arm, but he doesn't have the level of trust that Maxwell has built with the coaching staff. Another element MSU's offense is looking for is the workhorse running back. The Spartans have made livings off Javon Ringer and Le'Veon Bell. Last season, Bell carried the ball 382 times for 1,793 yards and 12 TDs. Bell is a Steeler now, of course, and Dantonio, as of now, has Nick Hill, a 5-8, 193-pounder, as his main rusher. Two players who could get looks here: true freshman Gerald Holmes (6-1, 205) and redshirt freshman Riley Bullough (6-2, 232). Bullough is brother of Max and a converted linebacker. He made the move this spring and has embraced it. The 6-2, 232 pounds certainly say MSU running back.
• The Iowa angle: The MSU game sits in a similar spot as last season. Iowa will have kicked off its Big Ten schedule the previous week at Minnesota and then play host to the Spartans. The difference this year is Iowa has an off week after MSU. Last season, Iowa was off the week before traveling to East Lansing. It was MSU and then Penn State. Expect the Hawkeyes to drain the battery with an off week backing up Michigan State. Weird stat that probably means nothing: Iowa is 6-0-1 against the Spartans on its homecoming game. It will be homecoming in Iowa City that weekend.
Quotable: "As I said after the spring game, right now Andrew Maxwell is our quarterback and we're moving in that direction, but we've got to play well." — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, on senior QB Andrew Maxwell, who's battling sophomore Connor Cook.
|Passing Yards:||A. Maxwell||2606|
|Passing TDs:||A. Maxwell||13|
|Rushing Yards:||L. Bell||1793|
|Rushing TDs:||L. Bell||12|
|Receiving Yards:||B. Fowler||524|
|Receiving TDs:||B. Fowler||4|
|Offense (FBS Rank)|
|Passing Yards:||2729 (81)|
|Rushing Yards:||1942 (70)|
|Points per game:||20.0 (110)|
|Yards per game:||359.3 (97)|
|Field Goals:||23 (7)|
|Defense (FBS Rank)|
|Passing Yards:||2290 (7)|
|Rushing Yards:||1292 (7)|
|Points per game:||16.3 (9)|
|Yards per game:||275.5 (4)|
|Field Goals:||24 (123)|