this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
Bryan Fuller / MGoBlog
Michigan entered the season with an ostensibly high-powered “Big Three” – Caris LeVert had superstar potential and a dazzling arsenal of offensive skills; Derrick Walton was an aggressive, tough, and relentlessly driving point guard; Zak Irvin was a reliable artillery piece with plenty of room to grow. In hindsight, all fell short of expectations in their own way: Caris suffered under the burden of being an alpha dog, Derrick was perpetually nagged by a toe injury, and Zak’s shot abandoned him without an offsetting improvement elsewhere.
Eventually, injuries whittled the Wolverines down to just one of their three musketeers – Irvin. With all three, Zak often took an overly deferential role; without his running mates beside him and with Michigan’s season locked in firmly as a disappointment, he thrived and expanded his game, finding success with the ball in his hands and providing one of the brightest spots of a largely wasted year.
* * *
A Rocky Position Switch
Judging Zak by his aggregate body of work as a sophomore provides a much different picture than evaluating his strengths near the end of the year. On the whole, he averaged 14.4 points, 1.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 45 / 35 / 69 (2P% / 3P% / FT%) – solid, albeit inefficient numbers. With his move from the four to the three, he assumed a much larger responsibility in Michigan’s offense: operating from the left side of the floor opened up dribble handoffs into the middle of the lane (as well as other opportunities driving with his dominant right hand) and offered a bigger role than the one he occupied in end-of-the-rotation minutes as a freshman.
He didn’t adjust well, especially at first. More so than most former threes in Beilein’s system, he still remained one-dimensional much like he was two years ago – though considerably less efficient. His playmaking – which was missing for the first several months of the season – was sorely needed after turf toe sapped Derrick Walton’s explosiveness and Michigan’s offense eventually contorted to put a nearly impossible amount of pressure on Caris LeVert to generate quality looks. Between uncertainty at the four and five spots (Kam Chatman, while playing, utterly wrecked Michigan’s spacing and the cast of inexperienced posts struggled to replicate Jordan Morgan’s pick-and-roll prowess), it was a mess – a stark departure from the two seasons prior.
Here’s how Zak compared to all of Michigan’s other starting three men (starting after Beilein’s messy first year):
Though it’s tough to compare a sophomore to some of Michigan’s better players in recent memory, Irvin was a five-star and did have an impressive and encouraging freshman season – one that suggested a possible breakout season as a sophomore. It didn’t happen. The two things that stand out most are his low assist rate and free throw rate (and percentage).
2011 Tim Hardaway and 2013 Nik Stauskas weren’t relied on to create offense because of the excellent passing of Darius Morris and Trey Burke, respectively – Zak wasn’t able to provide his teammates with enough quality looks and Michigan desperately needed that. Irvin’s low free throw rate is disappointing for a different reason: after a freshman year as Just a Shooter™, a natural development track and much more playing time might have made Irvin into a player who could attack the basket. Like his passing, his ability to drive and score improved over the course of the season, but on the whole, it was lacking. Because of his less effective outside shooting, a reliable way to score – from the free throw stripe – would have been ideal, but Irvin only averaged 2.4 free throw attempts in 36.2 minutes per game.
Even with the late surge, Irvin was too one-dimensional. In hindsight, expecting a Stauskasesque leap from spot-up shooter to all-around offensive menace was probably too much. Fortunately Zak did diversify his game and flashed signs of a well-rounded game on the offensive end, but Michigan’s season was effectively over at that point.
[Hit the JUMP for the rest of the analysis]
Took some time and did another unhealthy and obsessive Harbaugh wallpaper. This time I noticed that one of his press-conference photos had him giving a relatively Godfather-like stare, so I ran with it. I hope you enjoy another off-season wallpaper effort. As always, constructive criticism and/or suggestions are welcome. Go Blue!
Fans Guide to the 2015 Spring Football Game Presented by PNC Bank
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The 2015 Spring Football Game presented by PNC Bank will be held at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, April 4, at noon EDT. The spring game is free and open to the public.
The gates to the Big House will open at 10 a.m., as events will surround the football team's final spring practice. The Big Ten Network will televise the annual spring game starting at 12 p.m. In addition, the football game will be broadcast on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit.
The typical prohibited items list applies for the spring game and all activities at Michigan Stadium.
Following is a list of everything fans need to know about the annual spring game and activities:
Parking: The lots around Michigan Stadium owned and operated by the University of Michigan will be free and open to the public starting at 7 a.m.; however, availability in these lots is extremely limited. Pioneer High School will be charging $20 for cars and $50 for RVs on Saturday.
ADA Parking: A limited number of parking spots for guests with mobility impairments will be available (free of charge) in the parking area east of the William Davidson Player Development Center and can be accessed off of Stadium Blvd. A State-Issued Disability Parking Placard will be required in order to gain admittance into this area of the parking lot and it will open at7 a.m.
Gates, Restrooms and Concessions: The Michigan Stadium gates will open at 10 a.m. Most restrooms will be open and concessions will be available at several locations throughout the stadium. Please see the nearest Michigan Stadium Event Team Member for assistance on game day.
MDen Stores: The MDen stores located inside Michigan Stadium will be open for fans to purchase official Michigan merchandise. The stores are located in the north end zone, the south end zone just inside Gate 4 and the southwest corner inside Crisler Center.
Beneficiaries: Beginning in 2015, the Michigan Spring Game will be leveraged to raise both awareness and donations for the Trail to the Victors Big House 5K Race Beneficiaries. The 2015 race beneficiaries include Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels, Ann Arbor YMCA, Dance Marathon, 826 Michigan, Project Healthy Schools and Special Olympics of Michigan. The beneficiaries will be located on the south stadium concourse between Gates 2 and 4 during the Spring Game to share information about their respective organizations. There are several ways you can show your support for these local organizations. Please visit http://www.mgoblue.com/bighouse5k/ to volunteer for race day, make a donation or register to run!
Radio Broadcast: The Michigan/IMG Sports Network will broadcast the 2015 spring football game held at Michigan Stadium. Jim Brandstatter, Dan Dierdorf and Doug Karsch will be on-hand to provide play-by-play, analysis and reports on the Wolverines. The broadcast can be heard on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit. In addition, fans can listen online at MGoBlue.com. Coverage will begin at 11:45 a.m. and end at approximately 2:45 p.m.
The spring game will be broadcast on the following radio affiliates: Alma (WFYC 1280 AM), Ann Arbor (WTKA 1050 AM), Detroit (WXYT 97.1 FM), Grand Rapids (WOOD 1300 AM), Muskegon (WOOD 106.9 FM) and Toledo (WLQR 106.5 FM). The game will also be broadcast on Sirius XM Radio -- channels 93 (Sirius) and 195 (XM).
Big Ten Network Broadcast: Matt Shepard (play-by-play), former Wolverine defensive back Marcus Ray (analyst) and Sue Ann Robak (field reporter) will broadcast Michigan's spring game live on the Big Ten Network (BTN). The network will come on the air at noon and run until the completion of the scrimmage at 2:30 p.m.
Michigan Football Highlights and Interviews: The athletic department will have a complete highlight package and interviews with head coach Jim Harbaugh and players available on MGoBlue.com following the conclusion of the spring game.
PNC Bank Kick for Cash: The athletic department will randomly select one fan to attempt field goals with the chance to win a PNC gift card up to $300. The fan will have the opportunity to kick from three different spots -- a 10-, 20- or 30-yard kick -- with varying prizes for each of the three distances.
Towsley Museum: The Towsley Football Museum located inside Schembechler Hall will be open to fans from 9 a.m. to noon. The museum chronicles the history and passion of Michigan football.
Golf Course Sidewalk Sale: Be sure to stop by the University of Michigan Golf Course before or after the Spring Game on April 4 for the spring sidewalk sale. Running 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., everything in the shop will be at least 15% off with some items up to 40% off. In addition, a large selection of hats will be available for only $5! This is your chance to get your hands on brand new gear at great prices.
Spring football. For the average joe fan, it's the final drop of Michigan Athletics they'll taste until the Fall now that Basketball season ended earlier than we would have liked and Hockey.....sigh, don't get me started.
Spring football culminates in the annual spring game (or in last year's case, the Spring Stretchy and Punting Exhibition).
But it always wasn't like that. For many, many years Michigan played a Blue-White game every single season up until Lloyd Carr first starting messing with it in 2000 when one of the squads were spotted a 17-0 lead to begin the game...
Being the insane statistics and numbers fan that I am, I have been doing a lot of research using the Google Newspaper archives to look the history of the Michigan Spring Game.
While the Google News archives are not complete by any stretch since there are many, many years and months missing from the Michigan Daily archives, I found a pretty decent chunck of information. Not just from the Daily, but the Toledo Blade and other newspapers from around the state of Michigan that covered Michigan Football at the time.The building of this list of spring game scores will only continue until it's 100% complete. I am already planning several trips to Bentley Library to research spring game info in addition to information on several other sports in my quest to build a SuperGuide for all Varsity sports at Michigan.
The only other instance that I know of a school documenting their spring game history is Nebraska, who has scores going back to 1950.
Confirmed spring game dates and scores throughout history
|Date||Winning Team||Losing Team||Score||Source|
|1991||Cancelled due to field conditions||Source|
|1996||Cancelled due to field conditions||Source|
|4/17/1999||No Score Kept||Source|
|4/13/2002||No Score Kept||Source|
|2003||Cancelled due to field conditions||Source|
|4/10/2004||No Score Kept||Source|
|4/16/2005||No Score Kept||Source|
|4/10/2006||No Score Kept||Source|
|4/12/2008||No Score Kept (Held at Saline HS)||Source|
|4/11/2009||No Score Kept||*|
|4/13/2013||No Score Kept||*|
|4/5/2014||No Score Kept||*|
Italics- Yes, score was displayed on the scoreboards. It was artificial and in no way an actual game.
*These weren't that long ago so do I really need to source this? I was there.
Yesterday, I posted the eight teams you should root for the most in this year’s Sweet 16. With games starting tonight, here’s the next eight. As a reminder, the top eight teams you should root for, in order, are Wichita State, Oklahoma, Arizona, Gonzaga, North Carolina State, Utah, Xavier, and Notre Dame.
Caution: hot takes.
9. North Carolina
“I have horrible taste in blazers blah blah blah”
I really don’t know what to say about this North Carolina team. I don’t like it, I don’t dislike it; I don’t think they’ve been particularly impressive, but on the other hand, they haven’t exactly been underwhelming either. As a team, they can’t shoot worth a lick, but the Heels feature a seemingly endless army of tall, variably athletic guys with overlapping skill sets. Recruiting guru approval only carried Carolina so far – there’s ridiculous Thad Matta-like consternation over the state of the program in recent years. Marcus Paige, the Heels’ go-to guy and only reliable shooter, hasn’t fulfilled All-American promise, and the rest of the team is still very young.
It’s perfectly fair to say that UNC acquitted themselves well this year despite failing to meet some of the loftiest annual expectations of any program in the country. Being among college basketball loyalty has its pluses and minuses: UNC has the facilities, financial resources, and recruiting cachet to remain forever stocked with talent – though this group seems starkly lacking in that there’s not a surefire NBA player in the whole bunch – but there’s the looming expectation that they have to remain extremely competitive in the ACC and must contend for Final Fours and National Championships.
Carolina finished 24-11 and fifth in the league, and although they managed a surprise run to the ACC Tournament final (where they lost to Notre Dame), they weren’t in the hunt for the regular season conference crown and were swept by their hated rival Duke, who has the future lottery picks and number one seed that Carolina envies. It’s tough.
Still, it’s not easy to feel bad for them. They’re still a four-seed and their front line of bouncy junior center Brice Johnson, burly sophomore power forward Kennedy Meeks (who is battling a knee injury), and lanky freshman swingman Justin Jackson will provide an interesting matchup against Wisconsin, though I think the Badgers have an advantage in each individual matchup. UNC isn’t a realistic Final Four contender – they’d need to beat Wisconsin and Arizona, a tall task for a teams that are far more well-rounded than UNC is.
Whatever. They’re nine.
The Monstars Kentucky
Karl-Anthony Towns is a national treasure and my goodness that young man can play some basketball.
[30 for 30 voice]
What if I told you, that in college basketball’s greatest bastion, in an era of increasing selfishness and commercialization, there was a group of young men who put aside their egos and banded together to play basketball The Right Way, with tenacious defense, egalitarian offense, and a desire to win, first and foremost, without any thought of personal gain.
That’s Kentucky. I’m not sure if they’re better than the Anthony Davis – Michael Kidd-Gilchrist Cats back in 2012 (who received the top overall seed and romped to a national title), but this iteration of Cal’s Wildcats are four games away from the first undefeated season in almost 40 years. They have future NBA stars – Karl-Anthony Towns, in addition to being a funny and kinda weird dude, should be the top overall pick in my opinion, and junior (junior!) center Willie Cauley-Stein projects to be a plus-plus defender and rim protector at the next level. On average, they play about 23 minutes per regulation game, because they’re backed up by more freakishly huge, athletic, and imposing big guys.
Because it’s Kentucky – home to college basketball’s answer to Alabama and Florida State’s football fanbases – and because the team is guided by John Calipari, a shameless self-promoter who inspires precious little confidence in he and his program’s ethical legitimacy, for reasons both fair and unfair, people don’t like Kentucky. That’s fine. That’s why I have them way down at #9.
BUT LOOK AT THE PLAYERS. The rotation is just stupidly deep and talented: UK’s two best guards (arguably, but in my opinion) are Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, and they each come off the bench behind the Harrison twins, who were top ten prospects two years ago. Trey Lyles is 6’10 and slightly miscast as a small forward – he does play some power forward – but any offensive speed bumps are rendered inconsequential by Kentucky’s otherworldly defense. This team is insanely fun to watch and if these guys were coached by almost anyone else, they’d be celebrated.
It’s Kentucky and it’s Coach Cal though, so a legitimately fun and possibly historical outfit is side-eyed with suspicion. Instead of focusing on the negatives, let’s focus on the positives: these guys all came in with insane high school accolades and they eventually fit together as a team and fulfill whatever hokey platitudes about teamwork you’d like to throw out there. And they’re so damn good.
That’s my case for bumping up UK from the cellar of these rankings. I’ll be completely honest, the fanbase is spoiled rotten and Cal rubs me the wrong way too (even if I think exploiting the one-and-done loophole is good business and admirable in its own way). If they go undefeated, we’ll have to revisit this, but they’re a buzzsaw and we don’t get to watch teams play at this level in college basketball very often.
This is the second result for “Bo Ryan incredulous” on Google image search.
“But Alex, they’re in the Big Ten too! Conference camaraderie, right?” “You said yourself that this wasn’t a typical Wisconsin team in that they’re actually fun to watch on offense!” “I’d rather these guys win than say, Michigan State.” “I actually don’t mind Wisconsin.”
You know what, straw men? You’re wrong. Despite everything, it’s still Wisconsin – the Trohl Center; Bo Ryan’s ceaseless badgering (hah) of the refs; defense that borders on dirty until one of their generic white dudes sticks his foot under yours on a jump shot and then, you know what, it’s just straight up dirty; it’s Josh Gasser’s bank shot in Crisler, it’s Ben Brust’s heave in Madison, it’s everything that’s regressive and problematic about college hoops! (I actually don’t believe that last part, but I was on a roll).
I’ve never been a huge participant in the Great Conference Wars of college athletics, to be quite honest. I think that the SEC hivemind that stumps for their hated rivals in out-of-conference football games is absurdly warped and stupid. I think that, you know what, even if there’s tangible benefits to a team winning, I just might not like that team. That’s it. Wisconsin’s current team isn’t all that bad – Bronson Koenig has been an awesome surprise, Frank Kaminsky is obviously the dude, and Nigel Hayes is talented and endearing. But this Wisconsin team carries the ghost of all of their predecessors and the less enjoyable things that come with them. More than anything though, I don’t like Wisconsin because they’re good. It’s not really that much more complicated than that.
* * *
I do find myself in a quandary however. After each Badger win, this CBS guy Jon Rothstein tweets, verbatim, “Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan.” While I do enjoy that Bo Ryan is juxtaposed with each of those horrible things, it’s tired and roundly mocked on Twitter after Wisconsin victories. If Rothstein’s right though, what happens if we topple the great undead tax collector? Death and taxes would be vanquished forever!
Now, that sounds good, but let’s pause for a minute. If the unholy triumvirate of death, taxes, and Bo Ryan were to be defeated, we’d have immortality, 100% of our earnings, and no more Wisconsin in the tournament. Immortality sounds great, but it really would probably be the shittiest thing ever; taxes are an unfortunate necessity and our civilization would collapse completely without them. So, yeah, we need Bo Ryan to keep winning. And if Wisconsin manages to hoist the first national championship trophy in a decade-and-a-half for the Big Ten, so help me, I’m gonna stick another needle in my Bucky Badger voodoo doll.
This riff probably didn’t make any sense, and I’m sorry for that. Go Heels.
12. West Virginia
♫ Country Roads, take me home ♫
Since WVU is probably going to play Kentucky’s game and, in the process, try to debase the beauty of the game of basketball as much as they possibly can, I’m not really a fan. Perhaps I’m too aestheticist, but for the love of all that’s good and pure about hoops, I can’t stand West Virginia’s brand of basketball. Play physical defense and dare the ref to give you five fouls; run offense that can most generously be described as “rudimentary” and just chase offensive rebounds; and, really, play the most extreme form of defense possible – the Mountaineers are first nationally in forcing turnovers and worst nationally in allowing free throws. Get a steal or hack the shit out of someone. It’s ugly. It’s not fun. It’s West Virginia hoops! Bob Huggins just told his team to run Beilein’s offense when he got there because he didn’t want to install his own. I’m not a fan of Huggins, but that’s not really here nor there.
And, really, since they’re almost definitely going to lose to Kentucky, it’s not worth our time to discuss them much further.
Life’s not fair.
Firstly, UCLA probably should not have made the tournament in the first place. They were rewarded for testing themselves with a murderer’s row of a schedule, but only tallied one truly great win – over Utah at home. Colorado State and Temple, for example, probably should have gotten in ahead of the Bruins, and that UCLA missed out on playing one of the First Four games in Dayton was a complete joke. Their wins in the tournament don’t validate their inclusion – the committee had to work with the data available at the time and made the incorrect choice.
Beyond that though, UCLA was the beneficiary of the biggest officiating controversy of the tournament thus far. They led SMU comfortably in the 6 / 11 game in the Round of 64 before falling apart in the second half and the Mustangs led the Bruins by seven points with a minute and a half there. In all fairness, SMU completely collapsed down the stretch, but the game winning “three” – screenshotted above – came as a result of an incredibly dubious goaltending call. SMU’s Yanick Moreira went up for the rebound on a ball that was clearly off the mark by about a foot. The Mustangs bungled the subsequent possession and wound up losing by one, 60-59.
UCLA then dispatched 14-seed UAB easily in the Round of 32, setting up a rematch of the infamous “Adam Morrison crying” game with Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen.
They’re the worst team left in the field, per Kenpom, and quite frankly, they shouldn’t be here because of multiple reasons. Sorry, UCLA, but we’re going to hold that against you. Hopefully the Bulldogs exact Morrison’s revenge.
NO. THIS IS WRONG. NO. NOOOOOOOOOOO.
I was on the floor of the Georgia Dome for Michigan’s tragic defeat in the National Championship two years ago so it should really go without saying that I absolutely, unequivocally hate Louisville for that. That block was clean, dammit. The happiness in the picture above inversely correlated with my misery that fateful April night and I probably won’t be able to stop wondering what could have been if a few more possessions had gone our way.
That said, there’s more to hate about Louisville! I mentioned West Virginia’s brutish style above and Louisville is much of the same, except they have the recruiting ability to aspire to be something greater than that. Right now, Louisville might actually surpass the Mountaineers as the ugliest team left in the tournament – their offense is a mess without any spacing and each game of theirs seems to devolve into a 1980’s Big East bar fight. Montrezl Harrell is an exciting player who can dunk about as well as anybody in college basketball, but even he falls in love with terrible mid-range or three-point shots. Chris Jones, the most baffling and frustrating player on the team was kicked off the squad about a month ago.
On top of that, Rick Pitino’s often a grating figure – consider this wholly unnecessary attack towards a college kid in a press conference in response to a wholly reasonable question -- Papa John’s pizza sucks, and Louisville is and forever will be the little brother to Kentucky. Between their style and the championship game two years ago, watching Louisville’s been excruciating on more than one level. The Cards were fortunate to receive a lifeboat from the ACC after the dissolution of the Big East (and a brief purgatorial stay in the American Conference) and, unfortunately, between Pitino and conference relevance, Louisville doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.
Between the loss two years ago, Louisville’s brand of bully-ball, and Rick Pitino, it’s easy not to like Louisville.
15. Michigan State
January February IZZO April May June July August September October November December
Chances are, as a Michigan fan, you probably don’t like Michigan State. It’s alright – I don’t either (although I should note that there are plenty of amazing MSU fans that I interact with on Twitter on a regular basis. I know some of y’all are reading this so just know that it’s nothing personal – strictly business). And, to be quite frank, Michigan State’s success is bad for business, as far as Michigan’s concerned.
Predictably, the national media focused on East Lansing and fawned over Tom Izzo like he was the reincarnation of Dr. James Naismith himself – and the worst part is, you can’t really argue. Michigan State has become one of the premier programs in college basketball because of the Spartans’ success in March. It’s hard to admit, but it’s true. And it makes it even easier to resent them and pull hard against them, no matter the opponent.
As for the whole “Big Ten solidarity” thing: again, IT’S BAD FOR MICHIGAN IF MICHIGAN STATE MAKES A FINAL FOUR OR WINS A NATIONAL TITLE. Beilein and Izzo will be locked in some head-to-head recruiting battles over the next few cycles; highly-touted prospects will come down to a choice between Michigan and Michigan State. It’s not good for Michigan if MSU continues their surprise run through this NCAA Tournament, not even close.
And, of course, a lot of things really go without saying, but hey, why not go through one of them anyways. Let’s consider Michigan State’s fabled “Little Sister” chant as, well, somewhat microcosmic, a clever commentary on what happens when the hegemonic gaze is refocused back at the one who gazes… hah no, it’s just a terribly uncreative, reactionary chant that reeks of misogyny and an inferiority complex. “It’s an isolated thing,” you say. Not when the whole student section chants it. Way to go, guys. Hearing that at Crisler after they punked us at our own place made my blood boil. State absolutely hates us and they’re under our skin, definitely, especially considering their recent run of football dominance.
Of course, there are plenty of great Spartan fans out there, and for them, I wish nothing but the best – save for a humbling loss at the hands of my Oklahoma Sooners. And for all the recent sports success in East Lansing, it’s only natural to become anxious – when will something go wrong? Not this year, as State exceeded every expectation and made the Sweet Sixteen… so let’s just hope they won’t go any further.
Duke’s last. It’s a principle thing.
With Michigan State's 2015 spring depth chart up, thought it would be useful to do an early preview of our 8th most important rival. Living in state I see a lot more info about MSU than OSU so it's easier for me to follow. Also doing the research and writeups such as this helps me get a better understanding of the players and strengths/weaknesses so hopefully it is of use to you as well.
Outside of the MSU player legal issues, I will try to write this without much snark although difficult to do. Also let me say that despite being annoying in taking offense to something as small as the wind blowing in from Ann Arbor towards EL, one has to respect the job Mark Dantonio has done in not only building a football program essentially from the ground up post Bobby Williams/John L Smith in an Alvarez way, but changing the mentality and culture from within. Those of us over the age of 30 grew up in an era of LOL Sparty No football, and unfortunately that is now gone. At some point it will return but from this set of eyes not until Dantonio retires and MSU jumps on the always scary coaching carousel.
Overall Look 2015
Like all teams (well maybe aside from OSU and TCU) MSU has some holes to fill in 2015 but in general returns the normal loaded with upperclassmen team, which now has a winning culture, and top notch coaching. The loss of Narduzzi as DC is an obvious question mark but both coaches replacing him in the DC role have been with Dantonio for a decade plus. There will be no surprises here.
On offense, MSU was bolstered by the return of RS SR Connor Cook who stayed in school rather than applying for the NFL draft where most had him mocked 1st-2nd round in a draft lacking pro style QBs. The team returns a veteran and talented OL. High profile losses were at the skill positions, namely WR and RB - specifically Langford and Lippett. However the teams strengths (QB/OL) tend to mitigate those losses - a great OL can bolster decent running backs, and an NFL quality QB can bolster decent WRs. At support skill positions the starting TE looks to be excellent and a fifth year senior returns at fullback. There are some legal troubles facing the offense as presumed starting RB Delton Williams has a gun charge and starter MacGarrett Kings has a second alcohol offense in under a year. The former situation seems more serious as it was a gun charge on a campus that does not allow them so I assume the penalty goes right to the top of campus and not solely in Dantonio's (more lenient) hands. This might be a situation that goes right to the top of the MSU food chain as a campus incident rather than a football player incident; we'll see. I fully expect Kings back - he has not been suspended despite a 2nd alcohol offense in a short period and while he may be suspended in the future for a bit, outside of running a lot of stadium stairs I don't expect much more. "He is a playmaker" after all.
On defense, MSU returns quite possibly the best front 7 in the conference. It is loaded with veterans and like on offense the surprise return of 5th year SR Shilique Calhoun bolstered the ranks. Unlike Cook who shot up draft boards, Calhoun was top 15ish overall preseason 2014 in mock drafts but fell as the season went by. Rather than risk being a 2nd rounder he decided to come back. While DE Marcus Rush is a loss there are a lot of talented players on MSU's D line, and a very experienced group of LBs who mostly dominate against Big 10 offenses (not named OSU). The back 4 are a question mark, similar to 2014 - but with even more questions. In 2013, MSU had the rare pleasure of two NFL 1st round cornerbacks patrolling the back end - along with a future NFL safety in Kurtis Drummond. This led to one of the best defenses in the Midwest in the past 20 years. Last year saw the departure of Dennard, and this year brings the departure of Waynes and Drummond. While there is some talent back there - and Dantonio is an ace DB developer, it's the one area of the team outside of RB with a lot of open questions.
Special teams takes a hit too with the loss of Sadler at punter. Geiger their FG kicker struggled his SO year after a great FR year - he is currently in rehab after offseason surgery so the kicking game has some questions to answer. The return game has probably been the one area MSU has really lagged the past few years in relation to other teams finishing in the top 10. Kings is integral there.
Overall MSU probably takes a step back on the offensive skill positions (WR/RB) - offset by a senior 3 year starting future NFL QB.... and the secondary will be exploited by top end QBs. But being in the Big 10 they face very few top end QBs (or even middle end) and Oregon will either be starting a newbie or rolling out a FCS transfer (a talented one but still). Outside of OSU and PSU not many teams in the Big 10 have a passing threat to unlock MSU's press. Remember this was the conf where Gary Nova was the 3rd best QB last year. If you believe games are won in the trenches, you will have to stretch to bet against another season of big success for MSU - they could have the best combination of lines in the conf up with OSU.
Despite road games at OSU, Nebraska, and UM and a home game v Oregon this is actually quite a favorable schedule, although nowhere near as easy as 2014. (No that wasn't snark). Outside of a road game to Oregon last year there was not much in types of serious challenges on the road for MSU in 2014, outside of a bit of a tricky game in Happy Valley. For a veteran, well coached team it was a very good setup.... OSU, Neb, and UM were at home.
In an interesting quirk of scheduling, Sparty will only leave the state of Michigan once (to NJ) until November. That's got to be something unique in all of college football. They only leave the state 3 times the entire year.
In the non conf, MSU opens with a much improved Western Michigan but again this is Western Michigan. While it could be a tricky game, MSU is bringing in potentially 3 first round draft choices and a BCS level team and WMU is.... well WMU. Good luck P.J. Fleck. While Oregon is tough they do lose a Heisman winner at the helm and are starting from scratch at the most important position. With what looks on paper to be an excellent front 7 for MSU, Oregon's OL will be a key in that game. After that tilt the schedule lightens up considerably. Service academy teams' offenses are usually difficult to prepare for but again, MSU brings a veteran, disciplined, and talented front 7 on D into 2015 - along with a potentially potent offense so this does not look as tricky as it would for "ho hum Power 5 conference team hosting service academy." CMU is CMU - this would be a different story in 2005. But it's 2015.
While MSU has to go on the road in 2015 to Nebraska and Ann Arbor both programs are in a state of transition. We know the story at Michigan - right now the 2 programs have role reversed. For decades upstart and mediocre MSU would wait for the years they hosted the game (since they often really sucked when they visited Ann Arbor) and try to spring a trap on a much more talented squad from UM. Most of the times their mental errors did them in, along with lack of players to compete but 2-3 times a decade it worked. Right now UM is sort of in those shoes - frankly UM has not been competitive with MSU the past 2 years and looking at the rosters the prior 2 campaigns MSU had the more talented team. And still probably does. But "rivalry" and "home game" sprinkled in with some Harbaugh and at minimum MSU should have a much more physical opponent who wont make countless mental errors. I'd expect that MSU will have to at least sweat in 2015 as opposed to the last 2 years.
Meanwhile over in Nebraska, the "Cat man" - for all his ills - did seem to have an offense that gave MSU's defense trouble; at least when a competent QB was running it. But he is gone, replaced by the genial Mr. Riley and also gone are NFL draft picks Gregory and Abdullah. Nebraska was not great last year - they almost lost to a FCS team until Abdullah saved them in the closing seconds, and then proceeded to get undressed nationally in Madison. And it is difficult to think they will be any better in 2015, so it's not as tough as it looks on paper.
Outside of those games, MSU plays the same division opponents UM does + a crossover with Purdue. Outside of PSU I dont see any of these teams even giving MSU much of a game unless MSU has a weird 4-5 turnover game (which is not what MSU does...more on that later). And PSU only if its OL stops its 2013 UM OL impression. You need a competent QB to beat MSU's defense - one who can routinely make intermediate passes to widen out their D and disallow their safeties from cheating on the run all day. If Hackenberg recovers from his PTSD he could do that - but he needs help from the OL. He did seem to play very well in PSU's bowl so we'll see - PSU has a great D coordinator but I believe took some hits to the NFL on D (Hull?) but recruits enough talent that if Hack gets time and their D steps up they can at least present a challenge.
As for the rest of the conference slate, Maryland was destroyed by MSU (and OSU and Wisconsin i.e. any real team) last year and lost its QB and best WR - I expect them to revert to mean. Rutgers lost SuperNova - and even with him lost by 40+ to MSU last year. Indiana will do their normal act - exploit MSU's gambling defense twice in a game for 14 quick pts - then proceed to give up 50+ in the other 57 minutes of the game. Heck Purdue might be the next toughest challenge out of these pretenders - their QB (Appleby) actually was able to complete a lot of intermediate passes vs MSU last year and Purdue put up more pts in that game than UM has in the past 3 years combined. But its still Purdue.
Long story short, if MSU gets by Oregon and UM there stands an unfortunate chance that the late Nov tilt between OSU and MSU (Nov 21) is between two teams with 0 to 1 loss each. MSU could/should be favored in every game this year outside of vs OSU by Vegas.
MSU's offense went through a metamorphis in 2014. While still run based at its core, Cook led the passing game to a more dynamic explosive threat. Scoring offense went from 29.4 ppg (64th in the nation) in 2013 to 43.0 ppg (7th in the nation). That's a hell of an improvement in 1 year. Their pass offense was best in the conference, and rush offense was fifth.
MSU led the nation in Time of Possesion (TOP) at 35:21. For comparison run based offenses Wisconsin and Minnesota were at 33:38 and 31:21 respectively. Some pooh pooh TOP in the modern game because they watch offenses such as Baylor and Oregon score in 90 seconds. That's fun and dandy but keeps your defense on the field a lot. And keeps it hard to maintain a lead even when you score in the 40s - ask Baylor (vs MSU) and TCU (v Baylor). Is it the most important stat in football? No. But combined with a low turnover team it makes it nearly impossible for average to poor teams to beat you - they don't have the ball much and they can't take advantage of short fields. And one thing you notice about MSU of late is they don't drop games to teams they should beat - their only losses the past few years have been OSU, Oregon, and Notre Dame (helped by some strange PI calls and Cook had yet to blossom). [Yes in 2012 they lost games to teams they should not have but that's an outlier season with a poor QB and awful OL]
Speaking of turnover margin - MSU was 4th in the nation at +19. And the clear winner in the conference by a huge margin - next best was +10 for Minnesota and +7 by OSU. All teams you look on paper and say "they don't beat themselves" (except that loss to VTech early for OSU ....when they had turnovers). Sometimes teams have more talent than you but if you protect the ball and create turnover you generally do well. So unlike TOP I find turnover margin to be extremely important. MSU only fumbled 6 times all year despite having the ball 35 minutes a game and running a ton. Cook only threw 9 INTs all year despite not having a great completion % - so he usually either misses everything or makes a completion. But this is a program focus - one that every coach preaches but very few accomplish. This is Tressel ball and Dantonio is doing it.
Let's look at it position by position to see if MSU can keep "doing it".
RS SR Connor Cook returns - a massive boost for MSU. Breaking in a new QB is rarely easy and having a 3 year starter is a rare luxury. Cook has prototypical NFL size, decent mobility, moxie, a very short memory, and is a gamer. He doesnt always look pretty but he gets the job done. His accuracy rate lacks but as noted above - when he misses, he seems to miss everything. I probably have never seen a QB have so many of his passes dropped by DBs in 2 years - so I guess luck helps a bit too. Cook's one issue is his feet - he actually (to me) throws better on the run when his footwork seems to be more consistent. In the pocket he does a lot of Matt Stafford stuff and throws off the back foot leading to passes off the mark. While he lacks pin point accuracy he has a gun for an arm and makes plays on key 3rd downs a lot of the time. He also has the benefit of great pass protect which we'll talk about later. Behind Cook is the much heralded RS SO Damion Terry (who insiders compare to a Russell Wilson style) and RS JR Tyler O'Connor who are competing for #2 But both rarely see the field except in blowouts as another of Cook's attributes - durability shows through. I don't think Cook has misssed more than a few snaps in 2 years since winning the job full time early in 2013.
RB / FB
The underappreciated Jeremy Langford departs as does his primary backup Nick Hill. The 3rd back, 6'1 232 JR Delton Williams (who always impressed me when he ran) looked like the heir apparent to at least start at the beginning of 2015 but his gun charges might be an issue. Or might not. Behind him are a lot of similar sized backs as Dantonio has recruited a lot of Le'veon Bell types - 6'+ 220 lb+... even as underclassmen. RS FR Madre London and SO Gerald Holmes are listed as the co-starters on the depth chart which is of course now an open competition. Both bring similar size - beat writers seem to indicate Madre London especially has a lot of potential. In the fall, MSU's prize offensive recruit comes in the form of #6 rated composite RB Larry Scott out of Ohio. This was a guy Urban was recruiting til the last minute but Scott stayed loyal to MSU. While Dantonio doesnt play a lot of true freshman, usually 2-3 make the grade and Scott surely will be one of them to play in 2015. Expect a 3 headed competition, most likely between Scott, London, and Williams if/when he returns.
Whichever RB wins the job, 5th year SR 6'0 250 lb Trevor Pendleton will be paving the way ahead of him. While he is more of a blocker he occassionally is an outlet for Cook (as UM fans will remember) and can bust out a big play. Behind Pendleton is a guy I have never heard of - JR David Fennell. What is notable about him is he is 300 lbs. So it would appear they converted a lineman like we did with Brady Pallante.
WR / TE
MSU takes a significant loss with Tony Lippett and his 65 receptions and 1200 yards. Lippett was a decent player earlier in his career but much like Gallon took a huge leap late in his career. The other loss was Keith Mumphrey was who more workmanlike with 26 catches. However, 3 of MSU's top 5 WRs return with SR Aaron Burbridge, SR MacGarrett Kings, and JR RJ Shelton. It is interesting to note that none of these 3 are redshirts - a rarity in any position group on the MSU roster. Unlike Delton Williams, Kings seems like a sure thing to be playing this fall - mostly due to an excellent lawyer who (unlike Glasgow) was able to get Kings probabation period reduced. Hence when Kings decided it was a good idea to resist arrest and kick a police vehicle he was off of probabation (for his "super drunk" charge) for 2 months. If his lawyer had not successful halved his probabtion period we'd be talking about a much serious loss for MSU football - instead after a lot of running stadium steps and perhaps a short suspension during some period of the offseason expect Kings to be running around the field for MSU. After all "he is a playmaker".
Kings is far and away the best yards after catch man for MSU. Burbridge is a solid player if not quite living up to his HS billing as the top player in Michigan. Shelton is a slot guy who runs a lot of MSU's jet sweeps - which they run a ton of. That's a pretty good trio. After that the depth chart runs 6'4 JR Monty Madaris, 6'2 SR AJ Troup, and 5'11 RS SR Deanthony Arnett. While the first two have not done much in MSU uniform, you may remember Arnett for being a guy from Michigan who committed to TN then decided to come back home to be closer to his ill father. In his 2 years since he has barely seen the football field, in fact redshirting one year. Of these 3 the most buzz seems to be about Madaris. But we're talking the 4th or 5th WR at that point. So while the playmaking skills of Lippett will be gone, having a RS SR 3 yr starter at QB helps to offset this.
So does having an excellent TE which the Spartans do seem to have in JR Josiah Price. At 6'4, 250 he is very much a Jake Butt clone and has excellent hands. I am not sure about his blocking prowess but he wrested away the starting job last year and pulled down 26 catches (Butt had 21 - albeit without the same level of QB play). Price averaged 14+ yards per catch compared to Butt's 10 so is a big play man and I'd expect his role to grow even more as a JR as Cook's safety valve. Behind Price is 6'3 260 JR Jamal Lyles who is more of a blocking TE.
Good teams generally have good line play. Lost in the narrative of MSU's defense the past few years is the 1 area I think MSU has really changed dramatically the past 2 years - offensive line play. In the first half decade of Dantonio's tenure OL play was generally mediocre, with Dantonio constantly bringing in JUCOs to offset lack of internal development. The 2012 season was quite bad with injuries ravaging the line and Bell doing yeoman's work behind a patchwork line. But 2013 and 2014 saw a sharp upgrade. This allowed the QB battle to develop in early 2013 (which Cook eventually took), and a solid run game to happen in both years. As for Cook - many games you don't see a grass stain on his jersey. He was only sacked 11 times all of 2014; fourth fewest in the entire FBS. And until the last 3 games of the season I believe that number was somewhere around 6. Gardner and Hack are very jealous when they see that sort of protection. The run blocking - while not quite as excellent as the pass protection - was also solid with some 3000+ yards. All this while shuffling 8 guys in and out of the line, partly due to injury and partly to prepare for 2015. Again, I think this is the untold story of MSU football.
Looking to 2015, MSU's line looks to be 1 of the 2 best in the conference along with OSU. Both guards (Travis Jackson and Connor Kruse) were lost but with MSU's platoon system at most OL positions, very experienced players (or 1 young buck) are taking their place. In many ways 2015 MSU OL looks a lot like a mid 90s UM OL - a bunch of experienced guys - a few in contention for national awards, offset by 1 young dude who is too good to keep on the bench. Every guy other than the center (who is near 300 lbs) is 310ish+.
LT RS JR Jack Conklin was a "no star" from the class of 2012 (Kalis, Magnuson, Braden, Bars) who has been a revelation. He has been a 2 year starter (RS FR, RS SO) and given up I believe 2 sacks his entire career. He stymied NFL 1st rounders Joey Bosa and Randy Gregory in 2014 - and faces Shilique Calhoun in practice every day. Mel Kiper said he could have left MSU after 3 years and been an early draft pick in this year's draft - but he returned. C RS SR Jack Allen is an All American with 35 starts under his belt. 'Nuff said - we saw in 2010/2011 what having a stud center was like. These 2 guys bookmark Jack's younger brother who had a Mason Cole like season, playing as a true freshman (with a few starts I believe) SO Brian Allen.
The right side of the line had more of a platoon system working last year but brings back a lot of experience. JR Kodi Keiler started and ended the season as the starting RT but there was some platooning going on between him, Donavon Clark, and Kruse. RG is RS SR Donavon Clark who started all 13 games last year, shuffling between RG and RT. The backups are a mix of older and younger players including JUCO JR T Miguel Machado, JR Benny McGowan, and RS SR Brandon Clemons. Not sure how much of a dropoff there is between these guys and the starters as these were not players in 2014's rotation. The front line starting group however should be top notch.
MSU's defense has been it's calling card in the past 5 years. Ironically the early Dantonio teams were known more for offense than defense as the paltry defensive talent could not be hidden. But MSU has a system, recruits to it, and is excellent at teaching and developing on the defensive side of the ball. The past 2 years UM has had 2 weeks to prepare for MSU and MSU 1 week to prepare and MSU looked as if they knew every play UM has ever run. Not cool. Obviously with Narduzzi gone there are some questions but a very experienced defensive staff mostly returns intact aside from him.
MSU has a press quarter scheme that I'd deem "break don't bend". MSU either stymies you nearly completely or you get a big play against them. There are rarely long drives against MSU. Looking through the Big 10 stats last year the one thing that surprises you is how few Spartans are anywhere in the top 50 of tackles in the conference - I believe it was only one (Kurtis Drummond at 72). Compare that to a Mike Hull, Jake Ryan, or Bolden with well over 100. Why is that? Time of possession for offense, creating tons of turnovers and dominance of rush defense. This combo does not lead to a lot of players racking up tackles. Their MLB (Jones) was their 2nd leading tackler with 60 tackles all year - Jake Ryan had double. MSU is either going to get you right off the field (again very few long drives against all year) or give up a huge play - usually in the passing game, with their style. Speaking of turnovers MSU led the conf in defensive creation with 34 ...18 INT, 16 fumbles recovered. (By comparison UM had 10! ugh)
While most say the corners have a ton of responsibility in the scheme, I'd argue the safeties are the most stressed. They are tasked with much more run support and generally 1 plays very close to the line of scrimmage. This does put pressure on the corners of course as they are much more on an island but it's usually the safety breakdowns that lead to big plays vs MSU. The 2014 pass defense took a step back with the loss of 1st round draft pick CB Dennard and S Lewis. But the front 7 (8) was ferocious as normal in run defense - they were once again #1 in all of FBS in rush defense. They have been top 10 the past 4 years. If you cannot open up MSU's defense with a competent accurate mid range throwing QB you pretty much can chalk up a loss since you won't run on them without any pass threat on the outside. And the Big 10 lacks these type of QBs. This defense would get exposed in a conference like the Pac 12 where a guy like Kevin Hogan is the 9th ranked QB (he'd be #4 in last year's Big 10) but it works wonders in the Big 10. Oregon didnt run much at all on MSU yet still scored over 40. Baylor didnt even try to run and threw for 600ish yards. OSU (and Purdue of all teams) were the 2 teams in 2014 that were relatively balanced vs MSU - OSU pure talent and speed, Purdue had a QB who was forcing the safeties to go wide using the Oregon playbook, which thus opened up lanes inside for the running game. Everyone else was pretty impotent trying to do things against MSU even with their weaknesses in the secondary.
2015 looks a lot like MSU's 2014 defense - although I believe their front 7 will be better and their back 4 worse. Which again will cause issues vs competent QBs ...of which MSU won't see many of in the Big 10. Their front 7 should feature 6 upperclassmen including 5 RS SRs starting. And the other guy is Malik McDowell. That's damn good. 3 of the 4 DL should be 1st or 2nd day draft picks IMO.
Much like the return of RS SR helped the offense, so does the return of RS SR Shilique Calhoun at DE. He was projected top 10-15ish preseason but while having a good season displayed some warts in terms of size/strength/speed (which the NFL uses for projections) that pushed him down the mock drafts a bit. While still a borderline 1st/2nd rounder he decided to return. Calhoun is an excellent college player with 8.5 sacks and 12.5 TFL (tackles for loss) in 2014 - teams focused on him quite a bit more after his breakout 2013. Calhoun's return alleviated MSU from losing both DEs. The other DE was the much underappreciated Marcus Rush who probably was the least recognized "very good" player in the Big 10. A four year starter who is ridiculously assignment sound Rush had almost the same statistics as Calhoun with 1 less tackle, 0.5 less sacks and 2 less TFL. His tweener size is the main thing preventing him from IMO being a mid level NFL prospect - his loss is not to be understated.
The depth chart shows RS SR (and former 5 star talent) Lawrence Thomas taking over the DE spot at 300 lbs. Most thought it would be Malik McDowell flashing out from the DT to DE this year but the depth chart shows Thomas instead - I would not read that in stone as I could see those 2 flip flopping a lot. Thomas career took time to take off - at one point he was a LB, then a FB, then a DT, now a DE. But the last 3-4 games of 2014 I thought he was one of the best defensive players on the unit. It will be interesting to see how he fares at DE and how long that lasts - he seemed to be making a lot of great players on the interior late in the year.
As for backups, "the next Calhoun" is RS SO Demetrious Cooper. If you believe the MSU beat writers and practice reports this guy rips the heads off women and children in practice and doesnt apologize. He was supposed to be ahead of where Calhoun was at similar points in their careers. But he has not really seen the field too much, stuck behind Calhoun. I actually thought they might flip him to the other DE so that both would be starters this year but on the depth chart he remains as a backup to Calhoun. Behind Thomas we have RS JR Evan Thomas who has not done much and two RS FR who are typical MSU recruits - big rangy athletes converted from other positions in HS who they develop in house after a redshirt year - Montez Sweat and Robert Bowers. This was part of a 2014 defensive line recruiting class that might have been among the top 2-3 in the nation.
With Lawrence Thomas starting out on end, the depth chart has SO Malik McDowell moving into the starting DT role. Michigan fans will be extremely familiar with him. He is the only "young guy" slated to start in MSU's front 7. Next to him is RS SR Joel Heath who returns to his starting role from 2014. While it is difficult to "judge" DTs as a common fan McDowell (while a bit of a hot head with some penalties) seemed to play quite well, especially as a true freshman in a very demanding part of the field. He had 4.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks but again at this position your impact is not so much stats. Based on MSU's run defense and the amount of playing time he received from a staff that doesnt play freshman much - he looked as good as the hype. He played a bit more than Mone did for UM.
Behind McDowell we have RS SR Damon Knox who played a lot when healthy last year. Behind Heath are a beavy of young DTs from a loaded 2014 class. The headline is RS FR Craig Evans who looks built like a Mack truck. This was a Wisconsin commit who aparently could not make the grade at Wisconsin so MSU swooped in at the last minute with their "more friendly" admissions requirement and gave Coach Gary Andersen the snake oil treatment. With losses like that you could see why Andersen got frustrated. Outside of Evans, RS FR David Beedle and RS FR Enoch Smith Jr will also push for time. Combine those 3 with Malik McDowell and I'd argue this was the best DT haul in the country in 2014. As long as 1-2 guys outside of McDowell develop well, MSU should be set for a few years here.
MSU has a bit of a unique LB structure with 2 traditional LBs at one OLB spot and the middle, and then their 3rd (weakside) is more of a hybrid safety/LB guy ("STAR") generally in the 210-220 range. A guy like UM's James Ross III is generally who plays there. Or if Dymonte Thomas played for MSU he'd be a perfect STAR considering his coverage struggles vs fleet WRs and HS LB instincts. The one loss off this unit was MLB Taiwan Jones who was a converted OLB trying to fill in for Max Bullough for 1 year. He did fine especially in TFL but his impact was not the same as Bullough. He will be replaced by yet another Bullough - JR Riley Bullough....or SO Jon Reschke. I'd expect a platoon of sorts as MSU is high on both these guys. You may remember Bullough as the starting RB for MSU early in 2013 when their offense was LOL, before Langford came out of nowhere. He is another player that started to really come on late in 2014. Reschke has been hit with injuries for much of his early career.
The other 2 LB spots are manned by returning starters in RS SR Ed Davis, and RS SR Darien Harris. You may notice I am typing RS SR a lot in these first 3 categories of defense. If you only watch UM v MSU games you might think Ed Davis is the best LB in the country. He is not - but he is pretty darn good. In his 58 tackles, he had 12.5 TFL and 7 sacks (with 90% of them coming vs UM every year). Darien Harris has a different responsibility set in the MSU D so won't wow you with stats per se.
Behind this group is a bunch of young guys that we have not really seen on the field - well other than Chris Frey pulling off his helmet and acting a fool before getting ejected last year as a freshman. Frey, Jalyn Powell and Shane Jones are a trio of SOs who look to be the next wave - with their inexperience one could argue a LB injury to MSU would potentially lead to a step down in production.
The secondary is the one area of the MSU defense where youth shall prevail. All American S Kurtis Drummond (who struggled a bit at times last year) graduates while RS SR R.J. Williamson returns. Williamson was benched at times last year in favor of (sigh) true freshman Montae Nicholson. (Editor's note - UM "missing out" on Nicholson bothers me much more than McDowell as he apparently wanted to be a Wolverine and for some reason no one can figure out Hoke & Co dropped pursuit. So instead he was looking at Northwestern before MSU came in to take him. So we don't want this calibar of guy for a team who has not had top end safety play outside of a walk on in years, and whose S depth chart last year read as Jarrod Wilson + pray. Just friggin boggling). Anyhow, Nicholson - 6'2, 216 lbs with Peppers type speed is starting at MSU next year instead of UM. Cuz yeah. In fact the MSU starting S pair is a lot like UM's right now - a very talented SO and a solid but not great SR. Difference being Nicholson played all last year while Peppers does not have much game experience. The other backup S last year was highly rated HS player Demetrious Cox - who on the MSU depth chart has been flipped out to CB.
The current backups at S are JR Mark Meyers and RS FR Matt Morrissey. I don't believe Meyers played much, if at all last year. However, Dantonio went out and got an experienced JUCO transfer in Taylor Martinez's (YTTM) brother Drake Martinez who is a S. If the Big 10 approves him not sitting out a year (which MSU is petitioning to happen) I'd expect him to be the primary backup at S. Dantonio has stated things are progressing "well" on that front this week so I'd expect Martinez to be playing in the fall and immediately fix their lack of depth here. JUCOs must be nice.
The departure of Trae Waynes is the biggest loss on MSU's defense. The above mentioned JR Demetrious Cox looks to have been moved from S to CB at the boundary. JR Darian Hicks - who started most of last year - is competing with RS FR Vayante Copeland at the other corner. Hicks struggled mid season and after the OSU game (I believe) he was benched in favor of Tony Lippett playing 2 ways (Lippett was a corner in his early MSU days). Not sure how much Hicks played after that but the coaches seem to think he needs to become more physical - obviously cornerback is a spot you need confidence. So this is the beauty (and pain) of college football; after having the best pair of corners in the country in 2013 MSU has a relatively untested group just 2 years later. That said - again - Saban says Dantonio is the premier developer of DBs in college football and recent results bear it out. Dennard and Waynes were both borderline 2/3 star athletes on nonbody's radar - who are a pair of 1st round draft picks. Maize colored glassed fans will say "luck" but that's like saying Burke, Nik, Caris are luck for Beilein. The question is how quickly those type of guys can be replaced and how good the next guys are - even with good coaching everyone has a different ceiling and MSU hit 2 back to back home runs. One expects a dropoff for this year at least in the CB area. The question is how many Big 10 QBs can exploit these young guys with the ferocious front 7 and the general inability of Big 10 QBs not at OSU or Indiana to throw good passes over 12 yards.