As summer comes to a close, that can only mean one thing, college football is back. With the season only 12 days away, I’ve decided this is a great time to preview the upcoming Michigan State football season and provide predictions and players to watch for each game.
Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans are coming off back-to-back 11 win seasons. Despite this success, the Spartans have yet to win the Big Ten conference outright. This will only add to an already very motivated Spartan team as they look to finally get over the hump and win the Big Ten title.
August 31st - Boise State at Michigan State
Player to Watch: QB Andrew Maxwell
I think all Spartan fans will be very curious to see how Andrew Maxwell comes out in his first game as starter. Replacing Kirk Cousins is no easy task, and expecting him to perform up to Cousins standards may be unfair at this point in the year. However, the success of the Spartans will rely heavily on the play of Maxwell and all eyes will be on him August 31st.
Preview: The Spartans aren’t doing themselves any favors with their opening matchup. MSU takes on the pesky Boise State Broncos. Boise has had great success over the past six years under head coach Chris Petersen including two BCS bowl game victories. With that being said, this is a much different Boise State team. With the loss of standout QB Kellen Moore and 14 other starters, Boise State could struggle mightily against the vaunted MSU defense. But remember, this is Boise State and they relish the underdog role. The game will be competitive throughout most of the game, but I believe the Spartans will pull away late and kickoff their season with a victory.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 24-14
September 8th – Michigan State at Central Michigan
Player to Watch: DT Tyler Hoover
After battling injury last season, Hoover decided to add 20 pounds in the offseason to make the switch to defensive tackle from defensive end. Hoover impressed in 2010 at defensive end but it will be very interesting to see how he handles the defensive tackle position. At 6’7, Hoover is a huge presence in the middle and someone who could greatly help the Spartan D down the road.
Preview: Michigan State fans still have bad memories of what occurred in 2009 when the Chippewas of Central Michigan shocked the Spartans in East Lansing. State fans should have nothing to worry about this year. CMU is coming off a dismal 3-9 season which included a blowout loss to MSU 45-7. If Spartans play up to their abilities, it will be more of the same this season.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 42-10
September 15th – Notre Dame at Michigan State
Player to Watch: WR DeAnthony Arnett
If you follow Spartan football, you likely already know of DeAnthony Arnett. Arnett transferred from Tennessee this season so he could be closer to his ailing father. He was granted a hardship transfer by the NCAA, allowing him to play without siting a year. This is huge for the Spartans, since they already have major inexperience at the WR position. Arnett is only a sophomore, but with a year of SEC football under his belt, there is no reason to think he won’t contribute in big ways for the MSU passing attack this season.
Preview: Another difficult non-conference test will come from rivals Notre Dame in their annual showdown. After being embarrassed in South Bend last season, expect MSU to come out seeking revenge and try to overwhelm the Irish from the get-go. Notre Dame always has the talent, but for some reason, they never seem to live up to the hype. Notre Dame will keep it close with their talented defense led by Manti Te’o, but I expect the Spartans to prevail.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 31-20
September 22nd – Eastern Michigan at Michigan State
Player to Watch: RB Nick Hill
Nick Hill is slated to once again be the KR for the Spartans this season. With the departure of Edwin Baker, Hill is now third on the depth chart at RB behind Le’Veon Bell and Larry Caper. With a blowout against Eastern likely, this could allow Hill to get a substantial amount of carries late in the game. If Dantonio likes what he sees, this could allow Hill to get some more touches as a change of pace back or third down back.
Preview: Like I said, I don’t expect Eastern Michigan to be competitive in this game. As long as Michigan State comes out ready to play, they will have absolutely no problems beating the Eagles. If anything, this game will provide an opportunity for some young players to gain some experience.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 38-3
September 29th – Ohio State at Michigan State
Player to Watch: LB Denicos Allen
Allen really came on to the scene last season after his phenomenal game against Ohio State, which was capped by a highlight-reel sack where he leaped over an OSU blocker. Allen finished the 2011 season with All-Big Ten Second Team honors and is expected to wreak havoc from the outside once again this season. Being an Ohio native, it seems Allen really loves playing the Buckeyes. Look for another standout performance out by Allen against OSU this season.
Preview: Under new Head Coach Urban Meyer, Ohio State will be a difficult team to beat this season, despite their inexperienced players. Due to NCAA violations, the Buckeyes are not qualified to compete for the Big Ten title. This makes them even scarier in my opinion, since they have nothing to lose. However, the fact that this is a home game for MSU gives just enough the advantage they need to defeat the Buckeyes.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 24-17
October 6th- Michigan State at Indiana
Player to Watch: DE Lawrence Thomas
Thomas is another player who is making a position change this season. Playing primarily LB in high school, Thomas made the switch to DE for this season. Thomas was a very highly rated prospect in high school so his talent is evident. Even though he won’t be starting, I believe Thomas can make an impact on the Spartan defensive line later in the season.
Preview: Coming off a terrible 1-11 season, Indiana returns 19 starters. Stephen Houston is a talented RB that could cause some problems for the Spartans, but not nearly enough to upset MSU. Indiana is a team that is slowly turning things around, but don’t expect them to give MSU any problems.
Prediction: Michigan State win 31-14
October 13th – Iowa at Michigan State
Player to Watch: RB Le'Veon Bell
Le'Veon Bell is probably the best weapon the Spartans have on offense and will heavily rely on Bell this season. If the MSU offense is successful this year, Bell may be the number one reason. Bell had a fantastic game against the Hawkeyes last season totaling 112 yards and a TD. With Iowa losing their entire defensive line last year, I anticipate Bell will once again surpass the century mark in yards.
Preview: Spartans will be relieved to see Iowa coming to East Lansing this year, as oppose to making the trip to Kinnick Stadium where the Spartans have had little success. With Iowa returning nobody on their defensive line, I expect MSU to run the ball early and often, which should eventually open up the play action pass game. I expect a similar game to last season. Not domination, but a clear Michigan State victory.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 28-14
October 20th – Michigan State at Michigan
Player to Watch: DE William Gholston
After a very solid season as a true sophomore last season, Gholston is touted to have an All-American worthy season this year. But the reason he is my player to watch is for what he did against this very team last season. Gholston created headlines after last season’s game for his dominating play and illegal punch to Michigan QB Denard Robinson’s head. This resulted in a one-game suspension for Gholston. It’ll be interesting how aggressive Gholston plays this time around, and if Michigan will seek any retaliation.
Preview: For me, this game is ultimately going to decide who wins the Legends Division. I also think this game is nearly impossible to predict at this point. This game is going be a bitter bloodbath and will probably be the best game in the Big Ten all year. The reason for Michigan State’s past success against U of M is they have found the formula to stop or limit QB Denard Robinson, especially in the running game. They have to slow down Denard big time again if they want to come out on top. But when it’s all said and done, I believe Michigan will finally get over the hump and take back the Paul Bunyan trophy. My reasoning? They are the home team and the law of averages. I believe Michigan and Denard Robinson are due, plain and simple. This is Denard’s final chance to finally beat State and I’ll think he’ll come out and take it.
Prediction: Michigan wins 27-24
October 27th – Michigan State at Wisconsin
Player to Watch: LB Max Bullough
Heading into his second year as the starting MLB, Bullough will be called upon to orchestrate the Spartan defense this season. If the Spartans want to beat Wisconsin, they will have to shut down Ball and the Badger run game. Bullough is arguably the best MLB in the Big Ten and he will be a major factor in this defense becoming good or great.
Preview: We all remember what happened last season when these two teams met. First, there was the remarkable Michigan State victory in East Lansing capped off by “Rocket”; which was followed up by a back and forth affair that ultimately resulted in a Wisconsin victory. State’s emotions will be running high heading into this game. Michigan State will have to be on their A-game to defeat the Badgers at Camp-Randall, especially at night. Even though Wisconsin loses QB Russell Wilson and 11 other starters, they return Heisman finalist Montee Ball, someone who has done extremely well against State. I fear it will be more of the same for Ball and Wisconsin who will hand the Spartans their second consecutive loss.
Prediction: Wisconsin wins 31-17
November 3rd – Nebraska at Michigan State
Player to watch: TE Dion Sims
After a having a nice season last year and a fantastic spring, a lot is expected out of Dion Sims. He is not your typical tight end though, as he weighs 285 pounds. This allows him to be effective as both a pass-catcher and blocker. A tight end is often referred to as a QBs security blanket. Maxwell may need that security blanket more than ever when they play in hostile environments like Camp-Randall Stadium and Michigan Stadium. Sims could be very important against Nebraska in setting up the play-action, which can keep the Cornhuskers defense off balance.
Preview: After getting thoroughly outplayed by Nebraska last season, the Spartans will seek payback on their home turf this season. Nebraska returns 16 starters this season and could be a sleeper candidate to win the Legends Division. Like Wisconsin, State will have to shut down Nebraska’s running game and force QB Taylor Martinez to throw the ball, where he is extremely inconsistent. State also needs to get off to a much better start than they did in Lincoln last season. If State can grab an early lead and force Nebraska to eventually abandon the running game, State will be victorious.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 27-17
November 17th – Northwestern at Michigan State
Player to Watch: CB Johnny Adams
To be honest, I think Johnny Adams will be someone to watch in every single game this year. A preseason All-American, Adams very well may be the best CB in the entire country. Adams will be another very important part of the Spartan defense. Having a shut down corner like Adams will give State’s front 7 plenty of time to disrupt the QB. With this being his final game at Spartan Stadium, I would expect Adams to go out in a big way.
Preview: The final two games for MSU are relatively easy following the brutal three game stretch of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. They face Northwestern in what will be their home game of the season. Northwestern has played MSU tough in the past, but this game is not in Evanston. I see absolutely no way that Michigan State loses at home to Northwestern, especially on senior day.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 31-7
November 24th – Michigan State at Minnesota
Player to watch: S Demetrious Cox
Demetrious Cox is the most high profile recruit of the Dantonio’s 2011-2012 recruiting class. Cox is not the most gifted safety, but he closes quickly and has great awareness and vision. Assuming he isn’t redshirted, I could see Cox getting some playing time late in the year to provide rest for starters Isaiah Lewis and Jairus Jones. Cox is the future of the MSU secondary and we may get a little glimpse of him this season.
Preview: Michigan State finishes off their regular season against the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. Minnesota is arguably the worse team in the Big Ten after finishing last season 3-9. They are a team that has a never quit attitude, much like their head coach, Jerry Kill. Unfortunately for Minnesota, effort does not win football games. I expect the Spartans to finish the regular season on a high note, with a thumping of Minnesota.
Prediction: Michigan State wins 34-10
Final Record: 10-2
Michigan State has one of the most difficult schedules in the Big Ten this season so to expect a Rose Bowl appearance may be too much for the Spartans to handle. With that being said, the Spartans are a good enough to once again reach double digit wins and earn a birth in a good bowl game. Even with the question marks that MSU faces at QB and offense in general, there is one thing not to question with the Spartans, and that is their dedication and motivation; two things that can take a team a long, long way.