2012 Michigan State Preview - Respect Due
Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell
Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell
Posted Jul 9, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Mark Dantonio
6th year: 44-22
9th year overall: 62-39
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 21, Def. 25, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best Michigan St Players
1. CB Johnny Adams, Sr.
2. DE William Gholston, Jr.
3. RB Le'Veon Bell, Jr.
4. LB Max Bullough, Jr.
5. LB Denicos Allen, Jr.
6. OG Chris McDonald, Sr.
7. LB Chris Norman, Sr.
8. DE Marcus Rush, Soph.
9. S Isaiah Lewis, Jr.
10. CB Darqueze Dennard, Jr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 Boise State
Sep. 8 at Central Michigan
Sep. 15 Notre Dame
Sep. 22 Eastern Michigan
Sep. 29 Ohio State
Oct. 6 at Indiana
Oct. 13 Iowa
Oct. 20 at Michigan
Oct. 27 at Wisconsin
Nov. 3 Nebraska
Nov. 17 Northwestern
Nov. 24 at Minnesota
The Spartans want to get more respect, but that means they have to go and take it.

No, Michigan State isn't the flake-fest it was before Mark Dantonio arrived, but it hasn't quite shown enough consistency to be an automatic for an at-large BCS spot.

The battles with the Badgers were epic, but the week after the Hail Mary win in East Lansing came a clunker against Nebraska with a mere 187 yards in total offense in a 24-3 loss. The passing game might have worked against Notre Dame, but the final result was still a 31-13 clunker. It was just that sort of – alright, let's call it what it was – flakiness that ended up being one of the biggest factors in losing out on a BCS spotlight game for the second year in a row.

Along with the gaffes against the Huskers and Irish, part of the problem last year was the still-too-fresh 49-7 disaster against Alabama in the 2011 Capital One Bowl when the 11-1 Spartans were supposed to be all ticked off and grouchy that they didn't get into the BCS. The other issue was that Michigan State just isn't Michigan, and the BCS wanted to go with the bigger brand name. Sparty thumped Michigan and ended up losing a heartbreaker to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, but the Wolverines ended up going to the Sugar Bowl even though it wasn't quite as deserving.

It might not seem fair and it might not seem right, but there isn't that much margin for error for MSU, which beats out BYU and Texas Tech for the dubious distinction of being the best program to not to make a BCS bowl game in the BCS era.

This year, though, the team might be good enough to not worry about getting a BCS bid; it'll just take one.

THIS close to beating Wisconsin twice and going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the end of the 1987 season, the 2012 Spartans have more than enough talent to get through a lousy Big Ten and finally make it back to Pasadena.

The one big question mark is with a passing game that loses QB Kirk Cousins and all his top receivers, but this season the offensive line should be even better to let big back Le'Veon Bell pound away to take the heat off of Andrew Maxwell and the air attack. Maxwell is hardly a rookie and should grow into the starting quarterback job, and while losing B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol from the receiving corps stings, the new starting targets – including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett - should be more than fine.

While the O will be good, the D should be incredible. After leading the Big Ten last season, the defense has a world of upside and potential to be even stronger with a phenomenal linebacking corps, a strong line, and with a secondary full of veterans and NFL talent. Outside of South Carolina, there might not be a better pair of ends than William Gholston and Marcus Rush, while the linebacking trio of Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Chris Norman are as solid and as strong as any in the Big Ten.

The experience is there across the board, there's great depth, and the problem areas really aren't that big a deal. So now the consistency has to be there and it's time to take that next step forward and go from great to BCS great. The coaching staff has built the program to be able to compete among the elite, but now it's time to be one of the elite.

That means this year it's Big Ten title or bust. It's time.

What to watch for on offense: The passing game. The O line should be among the Big Ten's most effective and should be fantastic at paving the way for Le'Veon Bell and the rest of the good backs, and that should be enough to get the Spartans in the Big Ten championship conversation. But to win it the title, the offense has to be effective and efficient through the air despite a total overhaul in the receiving corps. Andrew Maxwell is a good-looking quarterback who should grow into the starting job, and it's not like there aren't several nice receiver prospects ready to break out, but after finishing second in the Big Ten in passing and third in efficiency with Kirk Cousins throwing to B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Moore and Keith Nichol, there are some big shoes to fill.

What to watch for on defense: The potential for total and complete domination. Michigan State might have consistency issues, but it also ended up finishing sixth in the nation in total defense allowing 277 yards per game while finishing ninth against the run – Wisconsin was the only team to get more than 200 yards on the ground - and 11th against the pass. There might be a few big losses in DT Jerel Worthy and S Trenton Robinson, but the rest of defense is loaded with a great-looking linebacking corps with three excellent returning starters and a great group of ends led by William Gholston and Marcus Russ. The secondary is the one area that isn't deep, but three starters are back including future NFL corner Johnny Adams. There will be games against mediocre offenses when it won't take more than two touchdowns from the offense to come up with a win.

The team will be far better if … the Spartans bring it game in and game out. Every team has its down days, but no one seems to go off the deep end with a bigger thud when things aren't working. The Notre Dame and Nebraska losses weren't even close, while two years ago the 37-6 clunker against Iowa was a puzzler for an 8-0 team and the disaster against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl was an all-timer. Going back to 2009, six of the team's last seven losses have been by double digits.

The schedule: The Spartans might have a little retooling to do, but no one loses more starting talent than Boise State. Even so, the Broncos will be looking to make a statement in the season opener. The Spartans only leave the state of Michigan once until the end of October – going to Indiana – and gets all the huge games over the first half of the season at home. Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Iowa, along with Boise State, have to come to East Lansing, and the Spartans have to take advantage with a hot start before the tough midseason stretch.

Nebraska also has to go to MSU, but that comes after road games at Michigan and Wisconsin. Playing the Buckeyes and Badgers from the Leaders is an awful break, but it's offset a bit by getting the break against Indiana. The week off comes at an odd time at the end of the year before closing out against Northwestern and Minnesota.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Le'Veon Bell. He was great from the first day he got on the field rushing for 141 yards and two scores against Western Michigan as a true freshman, but his workload fell off the map over the second half of the 2010 season. Last year he was part of a rotation with Edwin Baker the main man for a while, but things changed over the second half of the year turning into the rumbling dominator around the goal line and strong enough to finish with a team-leading 948 yards and 13 scores. With Baker taking off early for the NFL, now it's all up to Bell to become the main man and he should be ready for a huge season.

Best defensive player: Senior CB Johnny Adams. If he's not the first corner taken off the board in the 2013 NFL Draft, he'll be in the discussion. With decent 5-11 and 175-pound size and terrific deep wheels, he can both hit and cover equally well coming up with 51 stops with three picks and six broken up passes. He took an interception back 86 yards for a score against Indiana and was able to come up with key sacks against Ohio State and Michigan. He can do a little of everything, and while he doesn't have to in the loaded secondary, he will.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Andrew Maxwell. Defensive tackles Tyler Hoover and Anthony Rashad White are big, talented veterans who should be able to clog up the inside in place of Jerel Worthy, and Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett leads a promising group of receivers that should be decent with a little bit of work. Can Maxwell be another Kirk Cousins? The rest of the team is in place to win a Big Ten title, but if Maxwell can't hold up and produce against Michigan and Wisconsin on the road and it he has problems with picks, it'll be another trip to a New Year's Day non-BCS Florida bowl instead of a date in Pasadena.

The season will be a success if … Michigan State goes to the Rose Bowl. Enough is enough. Yeah there are concerns on offense, and yeah there are consistency problems, and yeah the three game stretch at Michigan, at Wisconsin and Nebraska is a killer, but it's time to get to California already. It's easier to do now, needing to win a six-team division to get to the title game rather than win an eleven-team conference, and after coming achingly close to beating Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten championship, a better Spartan team needs to finish the drill.

Key game: Oct. 20 at Michigan. The Wisconsin rivalry has been one of the Big Ten's best over the last few years, but that's an interdivisional matchup. Beating Nebraska would be nice after last year's debacle, and winning the conference opener against Ohio State would be nice. The opener against Boise State is going to be the tone-setter and beating Notre Dame is a must after getting thumped. Of course, though, it's all about Michigan, who the Spartans have owned lately. Last year's win might not have mattered in the fight for an at-large BCS bid, but this season the winner should end up in the Big Ten championship.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Michigan State 45 for 295 yards – Opponents 16 for 102 yards
- 2nd Quarter Scoring: Michigan State 168 – Opponents 43
- Time of Possession: Michigan State 31:15 – Opponents 28:45
- 2012 Michigan State Preview | 2012 Michigan State Offense
- 2012 Michigan State Defense | 2012 Michigan State Depth Chart