CFN Preview 2013 - Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State LB Max Bullough
Michigan State LB Max Bullough
Posted May 20, 2013 2013 Preview - Michigan Staet Spartans

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Mark Dantonio
7th year: 51-28
Returning Lettermen: 52
Off. 27, Def. 22, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 13
Ten Best Michigan St Players
1. LB Max Bullough, Sr.
2. SS Isaiah Lewis, Sr.
3. LB Denicos Allen, Sr.
4. CB Darqueze Dennard, Sr.
5. DE Marcus Rush, Jr.
6. P Mike Sadler, Jr.
7. FS Kurtis Drummond, Jr.
8. LB Taiwan Jones, Jr.
9. OT Fou Fonoti, Sr.
10. QB Damion Terry, Fr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Western Michigan
9/7 USF
9/14 Youngstown State
9/21 at Notre Dame
10/5 at Iowa
10/12 Indiana
10/19 Purdue
10/26 at Illinois
11/2 Michigan
11/16 at Nebraska
11/23 at Northwestern
11/30 Minnesota
We have a saying in my fantasy football league – you can't make a pick work.

It doesn't matter how much research you do, and it doesn't matter how much it might seem like a selection could and should pan out, thinking a certain way – even if it's an unwavering belief - doesn't mean it's going to happen.

For the third year in a row, Michigan State is going to go to the Rose Bowl.

I've tried, Spartan fans, I really have. With a loaded defense, tremendous coaching, a rock of an offensive line and solid special teams, MSU had just about everything in place to be the star of the Big Ten, but close doesn't count.

The program was achingly close to pulling off a trip to Pasadena two years ago with the tough loss to Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten championship game, and while last year might not have seemed like a gem going 7-6 – and needing a win over Minnesota in the regular season finale just to get bowl eligible – five of the losses came by a grand total of 13 points and could've gone either way, while the one relative blowout was a 20-3 defensive battle against a Notre Dame team that ended up in the BCS championship.

So again, in an attempt to make a pick happen, Michigan State should have everything it needs to win the Big Ten title, starting with a defense that gets almost all the key parts back and should be the best in the conference by far. There isn't going to be much of a pass rush, but it shouldn't matter too much – there aren't any big bombing teams on the schedule other than Indiana. The secondary is loaded and fabulous, and Max Bullough and Denicos Allen form a fantastic base for a great linebacking corps. The defensive line might lose William Gholston, but it could turn out to be addition by subtraction with several good options waiting to step up and shine.

The offense is a different story without Bell to carry the load, but the line will be terrific again and there's speed, depth and options at all the skill spots – more on that in a moment. As long as the offense isn't a total liability, with a defense that finished first in the Big Ten in most of the major categories, and with most of the talent back, everything should finally be there to get to California.

No, I can't make a pick happen, but Mark Dantonio and his staff can. It might not seem like it, but in a mediocre Big Ten and with a light and fluffy schedule, the overdue payoff might finally come.

What to watch for on offense: Where are the offensive playmakers? Last year, everything was in place to be dominant with the league's best defense, an amped up Le'Veon Bell and a loaded offensive line, but the only question mark was a rebuilt receiving corps and passing game. All new starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell and the receivers had to do is not be absolutely awful, and they turned out to be even worse than that with too many dropped passes, key misfires and bad interceptions on the way to finishing 114th in the nation in passing efficiency. On the plus side, all the top wideouts are back and Maxwell and option No. 1A, Connor Cook, are a year older. The line will once again be great, and there's a chance the combination of speedy backs could more than make up for the loss of Bell. There aren't any sure-thing superstar offensive talents, but there are enough good veterans to expect the offense to start pulling its weight.

What to watch for on defense: Will there be a pass rush? The run defense should lead the Big Ten and the secondary and pass defense will be dominant at times, so not having a steady pass rush shouldn't matter too much – but it would be nice. To be fair, it's not like too many offenses on the Spartan slate utilized sophisticated passing attacks, but still, there should've been more done behind the line. MSU didn't come up with its first multi-sack game until the ninth game of the year when it came up with five against Wisconsin. Throw in the four in the bowl win over TCU, and nine of the 20 sacks came in two games and 13 of the 20 came in four outings. The pass rush improved over the second half of the season with 14 in the last five games after coming up with six in the first eight, but without William Gholston, the line needs to start doing more.

The team will be far better if … the amazing run defense never, ever has a day off. The biggest overall issue is a passing game that couldn't get out of its own way, but the defense had a few slips here and there, too. The Spartans went 0-4 when the run defense allows 100 yards or more, giving up a season-high of 313 to Nebraska and 204 against Ohio State. The one aberration was a loss to Northwestern after allowing 57 yards, but that's partially because the Wildcats spent the day throwing the ball. Even crazier, considering it's insane to pick on one of the best run defenses in college football, is that MSU went 0-4 in the regular season when allowing a rushing touchdown and managed to come back and beat TCU after allowing a rushing score in the bowl game. No, MSU isn't going to go the entire year without allowing a rushing touchdown or a 100-yard day, but that's just how slim the margin of error was for last year's team.

The schedule: Michigan State, you can't ask for anything more in interdivisional play than a road trip to Illinois to go along with home dates against Indiana and Purdue. There's no Ohio State, no Penn State and no Wisconsin. There are several road battles to deal with, but there are also enough scheduling breaks to hope for a second trip to the Big Ten championship in three years. But first, there's a little fight with the Irish in South Bend to deal with at the end of the four-game non-conference September. Western Michigan will be pesky, Youngstown State won't be a problem and South Florida could be a bit of a fight, but a win over Notre Dame should mean an 8-0 start before Michigan comes to East Lansing.

Going to Iowa shouldn't be a problem coming off a bye, and taking care of Indiana, Purdue and a road trip against Illinois should be walks in the park for anyone with Big Ten championship ambitions. The season should come down to the three game stretch against the Wolverines and road trips to Nebraska and Northwestern after getting a week off. Closing the season out at home against Minnesota isn't exactly like dealing with Ohio State.

Best offensive player: Senior OT Fou Fanoti. The former JUCO transfer is back for one more season after getting knocked out early last year with a broken foot. The problem for MSU is the lack of star power among the skill players, but one could break out like receiver Aaron Burbridge or running back Jeremy Langford, and even more wild is the idea that star recruit Damion Terry might be the most talented player on the entire offense, even if he doesn't see the light of day for a year or two. Fanoti is more of a right tackle by nature, but he'll get every shot at the job on the left side where he should grow into an all-star.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Max Bullough. The unquestioned leader of the defensive front, the 6-3, 242-pound veteran has been as steady as they come good for around ten tackles per game and the occasional play in the backfield. Peerless in the open field, he doesn't miss a stop and he's occasionally able to get behind the line. Destined to be on the Butkus short list, this will be his national breakout season.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Andrew Maxwell and/or sophomore QB Connor Cook - or even freshman star prospect Damion Terry. The receiving corps was horrendous and didn't come up with enough big plays, and the offense revolved around Le'Veon Bell and the ground game, but the quarterbacks have to be far better. Maxwell wasn't miserable, but he didn't provide much of a spark and he struggled with his consistency. Cook didn't exactly get much of a shot, but he came through when needed to beat TCU. The receiving corps can't help but be better with so much returning experience, and the pass protection will be fine, but a definitive starting quarterback has to emerge.

The season will be a success if … the Spartans win the Big Ten championship. Again, no Ohio State, no Wisconsin, Michigan at home and a week off before going to Nebraska. This isn't a be-all-end-all team, and it's not as good as the 2011 version, but with this defense and too much experience on offense, not to mention the great schedule, anything less than at least a second trip to the Big Ten championship game in three years will be a major disappointment.

Key game: Nov. 16 at Nebraska. Michigan is the big rivalry date, but that's at home. Nebraska has been the bigger thorn over the last two seasons and the Spartans have to be ready. All amped up over the thrilling win against Wisconsin last season, MSU's run defense didn't get off the bus in last season's 28-24 loss in East Lansing. Two years ago, MSU was 6-1 with an even wilder win over the Badgers, and it never showed up in Lincoln with a strangely miserable 24-3 loss. The Huskers have just an easy a slate as MSU, so the loser could be in huge trouble in the Legends race no matter what Michigan does.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Michigan State 1st Quarter Scoring: 42 – Michigan State 4th Quarter Scoring 92
- Time of Possession: Michigan State 33:17 – Opponents 26:43
- Penalties: Michigan State 75 for 735 yards – Opponents 56 for 483 yards
- 2013 Michigan State Preview | 2013 Michigan State Offense
- 2013 Michigan State Defense | 2013 Michigan State Depth Chart