OT - Previewing 2015 Michigan State Football

Submitted by alum96 on March 25th, 2015 at 9:22 PM

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.


2015 Schedule

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.



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. 



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.



March 25th, 2015 at 9:30 PM ^

Hopefully they go 0-12, I'm getting tired of their delusional fan base. 

They act like Dantonio is a god to Harbaugh. 

Division Championships - Harbaugh 2   Dantonio 2

Conference Championships - Harbaugh 1   Dantonio 1 

Title Game Appearances - Harbaugh 1   Dantonio 0


March 26th, 2015 at 8:12 PM ^

There's a difference between thinking he isn't a threat and propping him up and talking about how amazing he is. If I wanted to do that, I'd go to RCMB. He doesn't respect Michigan football so why should I respect him? Jerry Kill's actually a good dude who doesn't bad mouth other teams. If you grew up down the street and 95 percent of the people you talked to were mlive Spartan troll type people you'd understand. We have the NFL's 5th best coach ever and we still can't stop talking about Dantonio a week before our spring game. There's a lot of good coaches that we don't fawn over on here like Bret Bielema, Art Briles, or Gus Malzahn. Let's let it go with the MSU love. The way some of you talk on here it's like Harbaugh will be gracious to come within three scores of MSU. They're good but they lost two games last year and almost a third until Baylor let them back in the game in the 4th quarter. Harbaugh has had way harder challenges than Dantonio in his day. He beat Pete Carroll's # 1 team in his first year fergodsakes. To sum this up, I could give a shit how good they are now. Harbaugh will beat them because he has always found a way from Stanford to SF.

Ricky from Sunnyvale

March 27th, 2015 at 1:09 AM ^

That's a bit far. I love me some khaki pants and Jim Harbaugh, but fifth best ever can't be true. He only coached four years. His time in San Fran I feel it is too small of a sample size.

Don't forget about legends like Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Don Shula, George Halas, Chuck Noll, Bill Belichick, Tom Landry, John Madden, Joe Gibbs, Paul Brown, Bill Parcells, Mike Shanahan, Marv Levy, Bud Grant, Jimmy Johnson, Tom Coughlin, Sid Gillman & more.



March 27th, 2015 at 1:43 AM ^

Harbaugh left the NFL with the 5th best winning % of all time; that is what he is referencing.  (That excludes guys who were interim and went 1-0 or whatever).  Obviously there were legendary coaches who built long term records that dwarf Harbaugh.  But this is what the Goblin is talking about - pound for pound he did excellent in a short stint.

As for this conversation I think MSU has the better team in 2015 with more developed talent.  Doesn't mean they win in Ann Arbor - we know the better team doesn't always win.  Then they suffer significant losses in 2016 - and I assume  UM begins to ascend, esp on offense as long as a QB is found.  So I think the 2 teams will be quite similar in 2016.  Then 2017 forward the real battle begins.  I do think it is importnat to note we lose almost our entire defense post 2016 - see the signature in my comments for a link if interested.  So we need a OSU type dominant offense by 2017 to offset what will be a very young D. The 2015 recruiting class had barely any defensive players so the 2016 class is going to be very important for success in 2017.  We are going to be very young on defense in 2017.

Yostbound and Down

March 25th, 2015 at 11:35 PM ^

I'm with you as far as criticizing them for being overconfident. I have no doubt that Harbaugh is a better coach than Dantonio and I expect that we will be able to beat them this year (I expect us to be competitive in every game we play). And I second the 0-12 thing. 

That said, Dantonio is no slouch. He's the best coach they've had in 50 years and while it will be interesting to see how he fares tactically with Narduzzi gone, he is a hardnosed sonuvabitch who gets his team to play like hardnosed sonsabitches. They're going to be good competition again.

My response was more towards your stats: why the hell are you comparing the NFC West to the Big Ten? 

Yostbound and Down

March 27th, 2015 at 2:02 PM ^

OK, we'll at least go with more successful. Saban got to 9 wins once and was .500 or slightly better the rest of his time there. Dantonio has 5 seasons with 9 or more wins (4 double digit), two conference titles, and two major bowl wins. And he seemingly wants to stay there forever, so there's that. So yeah I'd say he's their best since Daugherty.


March 25th, 2015 at 11:44 PM ^

I'd love nothing more than to see Michigan run the ball up and down the field on MSU and simply physically dominate them. With Harbaugh it is a legitimate possibility. Michigan STILL has more talent than Sparty, it just hasn't been developed yet. That is about to change. I think this is the year MSU reverts to normal, perhaps 8-9 wins. Losing Langford is huge, he had a ton of YAC. 


March 27th, 2015 at 2:38 PM ^

I don't know why people like to associate stars and higher ranked players with "talent."

That is nothing more than a projection of a 17 year old kid that has done very little to tell how good he will actually be.

That development, THAT is what talent is. Those NFL draft prospects, THAT is talent. Stop with the "We have more talent but it just isn't developed." It's bullshit. Talent is what already has been developed. Until then, it is nothing but potential. So at this point, State is more talented. You want to argue that we have more potential on our roster, that's fine. But State is more talented right now..

I don't know why other people can't grasp that.

Yostbound and Down

March 25th, 2015 at 11:54 PM ^

Thanks for the writeup alum96.

You would think their turnover differential would see some regression especially as they lose those corners. Calhoun being back for them is literally and metaphorically huge. If the front 7 can continue to bring heat at the very least I think they'll be an above average defense.

I'm thinking they will lose to Oregon...yes, they lose Mariotta but the replacement, Vernon Adams, seems like he's exactly the kind of guy Helfrich wants in their scheme. He will for sure be inexperienced and that's only going to be his second game (first is weirdly against his old team, Eastern Washington) but that offense is dynamic and I think it tends towards Baylor's in terms of plug-and-play.

Anyways they could well be undefeated or a 1-L team when they come to Ann Arbor. I'm bullish that we'll have a semblance of a ground game this time around and hopefully a QB that can at least get the ball a little bit downfield. Also bullish that we will be able to be much more effective on defense, if we limit the awful turnovers and play from the offense that gave them such good field position. MSU's offense isn't exactly explosive...Cook is a good QB but I don't really see him even on par with Cousins. Just have to have some pressure and then be able to trust our secondary.

I'm confident (obviously it's very early) that we can give them a damn good shot. But they're still gonna be good. Think OSU will still clearly have the upper hand in their matchup with them.


March 26th, 2015 at 8:51 AM ^

Sparty not explosive on offense?  Dude, they averaged 500 yards and 45 points a game last year.

I'm not expecting them to take a step back this year, in fact they could be better.  Can't worry about that too much though, we have to worry about our team getting to that level.  As their roster shows though, they are loaded with seniors, they will most definitely take a step back in 2016 when I feel we'll start being really good.

I think Jim will have the team ready to be competitive with MSU this season, but thhis is a really tough year to beat them.

As far as talent goes?  On paper (recruiting rankings) we are more talented, but I'll be darned if Sparty doesn't keep churning out 2 star day 1 picks.  They have a lot of talent right now probablky more NFL guys than we do by a good measure, but as I said, they will lose a lot next year when we are poised for a break out season.

Yostbound and Down

March 26th, 2015 at 9:58 AM ^

Well, they weren't explosive against us, they had short fields and a tired defense. They destroyed who they were supposed to and also scored a lot against a good OSU defense (who inexplicably struggled in the B1G) and Baylor in the bowl game. If you really want to count them smoking Jacksonville State, EMU and Wyoming then fine. Their offense was definitely better than Michigan's but I wouldn't consider it explosive...OSU's is explosive. State's was good and well balanced.

I agree with all else you said.


March 26th, 2015 at 10:44 AM ^

They only passed the ball 4 or 5 times in the 2nd half against us and they stopped themselves on a couple drives in the 1st half.  Just before half we were down 7-3 on the score board, but it was like 230-40 in yards and I was thinking we are so lucky not to be down 20.  They had 450 yards against us last year and averaged over 10 yards per passing attempt.

They had one of the best offenses in the country last year, let's not pretend they didn't.  Penn State is the only team they played that held them to less than 420 yards of offense.

Hey, I think we will start beating them again, I'm just saying we have a lot of ground to make up for that to start this season.  Hope we do it though.


March 27th, 2015 at 2:41 PM ^

What we also have to remember is that they didn't run that up-tempo offense that a vast majority of the other top offenses ran. They still played a huddled up, ball control, efficient offense. Explosive doesn't necessarily mean 600 yards and 40+ points every game. Efficient can also be explosive.


March 26th, 2015 at 10:23 AM ^

How the hell did they get suckered into playing a game in Kalamazoo? Michigan would never agree to playing a game at a MAC stadium. It may have happened sometime, but I don't recall. I cannot see it ever happening going forward.


March 26th, 2015 at 12:07 PM ^

When the State of Michigan was in a depression, Hollis scheduled home/home series with EMU/WMU/CMU.  MSU gets 3 home games against each, then has to play one home game with each of the in-state schools.   He got a lot of positive publicity at the time and the game at CMU generated a lot of buzz at the time. I expect the WMU game to generate a lot of positive buzz again.

MSU is giving up a decent amount of gate every 3 years, but gets some positive publicity out of it.  But if they manage to lose one of those games...


March 26th, 2015 at 12:49 PM ^

They've dropped the @EMU game in the past few months.  So it will be just @WMU and @CMU.


I also read with travel costs (i.e. bus not plane) they end up making about the same.  Not sure where I read that but I was thinking that would be an issue and somehow they came out at the same spot per their AD.  WMU and CMU might be sharing some of the gate - not sure.


March 26th, 2015 at 11:34 AM ^

I too will never understand how/why Hoke stopped recruiting Nicholson. He had Michigan in his top group, was setting up his official visit to the ND UTL game, and then Michigan calls him and tells him 'no thanks'.

He starred on special teams last year, started 3 games and got extensive action in just about every game - all as a true frosh. He then went on to have a good track and field season (finished in the top 10 at the Big Ten championships in long jump and hurdles). He is the total package - size, strength, speed. I strongly believe he will be the next star in the MSU secondary and be a first round draft pick.

One note: Nicholson was never looking at Northwestern. His final 3 were MSU, FSU and Pitt.


March 26th, 2015 at 12:06 PM ^

Ok I could have sworn right after UM backed away he was looking at NW but I could be wrong there.  Agree with rest of post - damn hard to find that combination of size speed and ability and MSU rarely plays freshman.  If he could play for their D as a freshman he surely could be starting for ours for a few years.  He could have been the S this year next to Wilson and allowing Peppers to be a corner across from Lewis.

Anyhow I dont want to talk about it - just adds to the frustration of the Hoke era.


March 26th, 2015 at 1:44 PM ^

Good lord they have a lot of experience.  Like three 5th year seniors on the DL alone?  Both MSU basketball and football are seemingly great at getting/developing very good to great players, but keeping them because they aren't so great they leave the program early.  That's been the key to their sustained success.


March 26th, 2015 at 4:46 PM ^

In the past I agreed but now they are getting fortunate that some guys that could go have stayed.  A guy like Denicos Allen or Max Bullough is not truly a NFL athlete - so they can be a great college player.  Marcus Rush is another - so they stay all 4 years.  That comes to a degree from not getting all the high end athletes with tons of starz out of HS.  

But this last group of Waynes Calhoun and Cook are different.  The first 2 are superior athletes and NFL bodies - one chose to go, one chose to stay.  Cook was a borderline 1st rounder and chose to stay.  He certainly could have gone.

It is a very experienced team with better athletes than Wisconsin - but running the same system.  They have now put in enough years of success (this is Dantonio's 9th year and 4 of the past 5 have been 11+ wins) they get some high end star players to offset the more workmanlike guys - Larry Scott, Malik McDowell (Lawrence Thomas and Aaron Burbridge from the past).  Wisconsin doesnt get those guys. Their level of athlete in the last 2 classes has gone up significantly - the DL haul of 2014 was probably the best in the country, especially the DT. 

WIth all that said (and I am NOT ONE OF THOSE GUYS saying they will "suck next year" EVERY YEAR like some peeps) 2016 does look like a challenge for them.   This very experienced team turns into a not as experienced one next year and most of their stars will leave en masse - Cook, Calhoun, Conklin, Jack Allen, Lawrence Thomas, Ed Davis.  And a lot of good not great guys also leave like their other DT, Darien Harris, RJ Williamson, Burbridge, and Kings.  They get OSU, UM at home in 2016 but for the first time in a long time their talent level will drop off.  I am saying that with the caveat I see them winning 10-11 games again this year, but 8 -9 is realistic in 2016 IMO unless a lot of guys come out of nowhere.  Cook developing like this out of nowhere was a massive help - early in 2013 MSU had one of the worst offenses in the country - their turnaround that year on offense was pretty stunning when you consider Maxwell was the starting QB and Riley Bullough was the starting RB in game 1.


March 26th, 2015 at 11:23 PM ^

and I agree with your comment here as well, 2016 looks to be a bit of a step back for MSU.  Yes there's some talent in some areas (Terry at QB, London/Scott at RB, etc.) but they will be young and inexperienced at some key positions.

Anyway, just wanted to compliment you on your detailed writeup.  I think you nailed all the big points about MSU this year (personally I think the lack of depth in the secondary could be a real issue) and you did it in an entertaining way.  I really enjoy reading your stuff, great job!


March 26th, 2015 at 2:57 PM ^

Great write-up.  MSU looks to be really tough this year, though I guess I'm more down on their defense than others.  That secondary is going to be a question mark for big parts of the year, but as you noted it probably won't matter in the conference.  The front line looks very scary, and their LBs should be solid though I'm not as certian Davis will take another step up; this might be the level of play to expect from him and Harris, which is fine but isn't what they got from guys like Bullough in years past.  And for all the talk about their defense holding up, against good "modern" offenses they get chewed up.  Hell, they would have been run off the field had Baylor just kept running their offense in that 4 quarter.

I will go to my grave believing Cook is not a first-round QB.  That line keeps him clean, and when it doesn't he struggles mightily.  I know that is true for most QBs, but in particular MSU guys look great when they have 5 seconds but kinda fall apart under a rush.  And while Cook is mobile enough, his accuracy always looks way off on the move.  Again, probably won't matter in this conference, but he doesn't feel like a stud.


March 26th, 2015 at 4:49 PM ^

Yes Harris is not a superstar but he is covered well by the big boys on the DL so he can fly and make plays.   I watch their games and Ed Davis doesnt seem to stand out that much - then he plays vs UM and he looks like Dick Butkus combined with Lawrence Taylor.  I swear he gets half his TFL and sacks vs UM every year.

I think if you put Hackenberg behind MSU's line and Cook behind PSU's line you'd have a very different narrative.  That would be my 1 worry (and a hat tip to MSU) as a NFL scout.  Cook rarely plays under duress.  He is going to go 3 years in college getting sacked maybe 35 times.  That was a typical year for Hack or Gardner.   And its not just sacks - he rarely even gets hurried.  Again, their OL development - to me - is the untold story of the past 2 years.  The find of Jack Conklin was a home run story.


March 26th, 2015 at 6:43 PM ^

Yeah, Davis just seems like a stud against UM; I watched him against OSU and he just seemed to be on skates.  He also didn't stand out in games against Rutgers and the like, but those games were so out of hand early on it's hard to read much from it.  UM was actually one of the weird games where he didn't record a sack, which seems preposterous to me.  He's a SR LB; he'll be fine, but there does seem to be a bit of a drop in the linebacker corp compared to years past.  Losing Rush will be tough, but they have so much depth I imagine they'll survive.  

I agree about Cook and Hack.  Flip those lines (or flip Gardner and Cook) and he's a middling prospect with concerns about his accuracy "under fire" and happy feet.  But again, you can only play as well as the guys around you, and Cook has the benefit of a very good line.  Maxwell kinda took the bullet for him in 2012 with that line as well.  I do wonder how he'll handle life without Lippett and Mumphrey; the latter was a great safety valve for him.  If King misses any time, they'll have to lean on that offensive line to open up holes on the ground.  My guess is they play a bit in a shell early on, lots of ball-control offense and rely on the defense, then open up offensively as the season progresses and they figure out if Burbridge is for real.

Again, great stuff.

Eye of the Tiger

March 26th, 2015 at 3:48 PM ^

...anyone and everyone (which admittedly isn't a lot in our conference) is going to test those DBs, and I think losing Langford (and most likely his replacement) is going to hurt more than you model it hurting.

Oregon and OSU look like sure-fire losses to me, and I think we (in Ann Arbor) and both Air Force and Penn State should give them *some* issues--they could win all 3 of those, but I'll guess they drop one. The rest of their games are pretty much in the bag.

So yeah...I figure it's probably a 9-3 season for them, a decent bowl game and a high draft pick for Cook afterwards. 


March 26th, 2015 at 5:07 PM ^

Zach Terrel from Western will probably be the 3rd best QB they face all year.  I don't know if he will have any time to throw but he actually a guy who can make routine passed over 12 yards and not cause celebrations to go off from the fanbase.

I mean the level of play in the Big 10 at the QB position is shocking.  There are MAC guys who are better than half the guys in our league.  I have no idea why it is this horrible.  I keep going back to the piece I did last year where Gary Nova was the 3rd best QB in the league on paper (this was pre Cardale Jones) - and that was a guy who threw 4 INT v PSU.  And who was demolished by MSU and Wisconsin.  And was not in the conference 12 months earlier. 

Wisconsin was throwing out a safety or a guy with the yips.  Nebraska had a guy who made Denard Robinson look like an accurate thrower.  I wont even talk about our situation.  Hack is probably a good QB who played behind a 2013 UM level OL and on the run for his life every game.  And those are the "premier" teams in the conf outside of MSU and OSU.   NW's QB was engaged with ours in a M00N battle.  Rudock (who we are salivating over) is average as hell.  Of all the teams Indiana actually had 3 good QBs in 2013 and then promptly lost 2 to transfer and the 3rd to injury - so they were playing a true frosh.  Minnesota's guy is basically a runner who only throws to the TE. The Maryland guy was as bad as Armstrong from Neb.  Illinois tried to import a transfer and he promptly got hurt after looking halfway ok.

  It's bad out there - real bad. 

I encourage anyone who trumpets any defensive statistics of Big 10 teams to spend some time looking at the Pac 12 passing leaders from 2014 and then compare to ours.  We can't comprehend uys like Mariota, Kessler, Hundley, or Goff here.  Hogan from Stanford is an average dude in the Pac 12 - in the Big 10 he'd be a throw god.  Most of their QBs throw at a 65%+ completion rate.

Quarterback Rating LEADERS - Qualified

1 Marcus Mariota, QB ORE 304 445 68.3 4454 10.0 80 42 4 31 181.7
2 Cody Kessler, QB USC 315 452 69.7 3826 8.5 87 39 5 32 167.1
3 Brett Hundley, QB UCLA 271 392 69.1 3155 8.0 93 22 5 38 152.7
4 Jared Goff, QB CAL 316 509 62.1 3973 7.8 92 35 7 26 147.6
5 Kevin Hogan, QB STAN 232 352 65.9 2792 7.9 52 19 8 22 145.8
6 Taylor Kelly, QB ASU 165 278 59.4 2114 7.6 67 22 5 29 145.7
7 Connor Halliday, QB WSU 354 526 67.3 3873 7.4 90 32 11 19 145.0
8 Mike Bercovici, QB ASU 115 186 61.8 1445 7.8 77 12 4 9 144.1
9 Cyler Miles, QB WASH 219 329 66.6 2397 7.3 86 17 4 21 142.4
10 Luke Falk, QB WSU 156 243 64.2 1859 7.7 84 13 7 17 140.4
11 Travis Wilson, QB UTAH 190 313 60.7 2170 6.9 78 18 5 20 134.7
12 Sefo Liufau, QB COLO 325 498 65.3 3200 6.4 75 28 15 18 131.8
13 Anu Solomon, QB ARIZ 313 540 58.0 3793 7.0 92 28 9 38 130.7
14 Sean Mannion, QB ORST 282 453 62.3 3164 7.0 72 15 8 36 128.3



March 27th, 2015 at 12:26 PM ^

I posted it in another thread a few days ago but if you look at QBR ratings, etc. Gardner was a middle of the pack QB in the Big Ten last year.  For all of our frustrations with the QB play at UM last year, there were a number of teams in the Big Ten who had QB's that performed worse then Gardner.

Yard Dog

March 27th, 2015 at 9:23 AM ^

 A couple of thougths:

The OL became a strength when Bollman showed up.  Many people mocked his hiring, but I don't think it is coincidence that MSU's line play (and TE play) improved when Bollman arrived.  The guy may have had a boring offense at OSU, but I think he is an good position coach.  Yeah, I know he's not technically the OL coach, but it's been said he has been working with the current OL coach on techniques, etc.

The RB situation is unsettled, but I look for Madre London to be the main workhorse.  Delton Williams didn't seem to have the confidence of the staff last year, he was a forgotten man in several games.

The DB situation will be the key to the MSU season.  If Oregon's QB situation is better than it appears, MSU could get torched again by the Ducks.  If the coaching staff doesn't figure out how to stop well executed spread concepts (OSU, Oregon, Baylor), this team will not ascend any further.  When Purdue can implement key parts of Oregon's playbook in a short period of time and exploit your D, you have issues with your concept, as has been shown on this site last fall.

And I totally agree on Nicholson.  Kid is a freak athlete and will haunt UM for awhile.  Hoke & Co. whiffed badly on that one.  From what I've read, the Nicholson was focused on academics, and UM would have been a great fit. 


March 30th, 2015 at 9:52 AM ^

Turnover margin +19...regression to the mean...turnover margin +0...four losses. Insh'allah.

In seriousness, brilliant and thorough as always. Thanks for this.


March 30th, 2015 at 11:07 PM ^

But thanks for compiling this.  It took me about an hour or so to read and digest all of it.  Unfortunately Michigan State has passed Michigan on the conference ladder and it will be up to Michigan to knock them off...State will not trip up on their own.  This analysis proves what Michigan and JH are up against.  The experience plus physical and mental toughness far outweighs that of Michigan at this moment.  That in my opinion is Harbaugh's biggest, most important, and toughest assignment - purging the entitled and soft mindset that is evident in far too many spots on the current roster.


May 17th, 2015 at 3:32 PM ^

Excellent report very thorough and detailed. MSU could win the B1G and even the national championship this season they have the kind of team and program now.