I’m going out on a limb here and picking Michigan State as my 4th ranked team. As the Seattle Seahawks proved once again for all of us hard core football fans in the last Super Bowl is that defense still wins championships. Some people might laugh at my ranking of Michigan State this high and they could very well end up being correct but I really do believe that they are going to be really good. That’s what is so fun about this game.
Michigan State had one of the more impressive defenses that I saw last season. Florida State, Louisville and Michigan State had the top 3 defenses in the country. whether they were first, second or third the impressive Spartans defense was a joy to watch in 2013 and led the nation in some categories. As a huge fan of great defense, I enjoyed watching their swarming defense tear up opponent’s offenses.
Michigan State lost some players off of last year’s defense most notably DB Darqueze Dennard, MLB Max Bullough, LB Denicos Allen and SS Isaiah Lewis.
But, not to worry Michigan State Spartan fans, they have 5 starters returning and the best of all returner possibly is the best Defensive Coordinator in the country at any level, Pat Narduzzi.
Up front, the Spartans lost both starting DTs. On the ends, they do return veterans Shilique Calhoun (6-4,250) and Marcus Rush (6-2,245) and they combined for 12.5 sacks. Lawrence Thomas (6-3,305) should be a factor at DE.
DT backups a year ago were Mark Scarpinato (6-3,285) and Damon Knox (6-4,275) should get first crack at the starting positions. But, watch out for 4 star recruit Enoch Smith Jr (6-2,280) out of Chicago’s famous Mt Carmel High. Some notable Mt Carmel High grads include Donovan McNabb and Simeon Rice both very high NFL draft picks.
Joel Heath (6-6,260) ,James Kittredge (6-4,255), Devyn Salmon (6-1,300) and Noah Jones (6-3,275)
Another prospect for playing time at DT is 4 star recruit out of Wisconsin, Craig Evans (6-3,305).
Taiwan Jones (6-3,250) returns at Weak side LB and he is outstanding, but the other two positions are up for grabs.
In the middle, Darien Harris (6-0,215) has first crack at starting and possibly Ed Davis (6-3,230) on the Strong side. Harris got a little playing time a year ago at MLB. Davis will get a shot in the middle as well as the strong side to see where he fits best.
Shane Jones (6-1,220) and Jon Reschke (6-2,235) could challenge for the MLB spot. Spring Practice could answer a lot of questions here.
The defensive backfield returns two starters in Kurtis Drummond (6-1,200) at safety and Trae Waynes (6-1,185) at one CB spot and both are all conference or All America quality.
Ezra Robinson (6-0,180) could be the starter at one CB spot but will be pushed by Arjen Colquhoun (6-1,190) , Darian Hicks (5-10.175) , Jermaine Edmondson (6-0,180) and Justin Williams (6-1,180)
Mark Meyers (6-0,175) backs up Drummond and incoming Montae Nicholson (6-2,210) was the top Spartan recruit this year.
RJ Williamson (6-0,210) replaced star safety Isaiah Lewis while he was out and has the experience. Demetrius Cox (6-1,200) may be a factor here, too.
Offensively, the Spartans are in great shape. The reason I am picking MSU so highly is because of their defense and Narduzzi, but also because they have 8 returning starters on offense.
Connor Cook improved dramatically a year ago and is back for 2014 and he has his top RB returning to hand the ball off to as well as his top WRs and his TE.
Cook (6-4,220) threw for over 2700 yards last season. He’s not exactly a threat with his feet, but he is more than adequate to run this offense. Cook got better as the season wore on and saved maybe his best games for the Championship game against Ohio State and the Rose Bowl win over Stanford.
Andrew Maxwell was the back up last season and was a senior. Redshirt sophomore Tyler O’Connor (6-3,215) will be the primary back up this season after having played very little in 2013. He did complete 9 of 14 for 90 yards in mop up duty.
Damion Terry (6-3,220) redshirted a year ago and may overtake O’Connor. Terry was one of the top QB prospects in the country a year ago out of Erie, Pennsylvania. If Connor Cook does not play well this season, Terry may overtake him as well.
It will be interesting to see if the Spartans go to more of a spread type offense and install Terry or stick with the traditional drop back Connor Cook who has 2 more years of eligibility.
Jeremy Langford (6-0,205) returns at running back and rushed for over 1400 yards in 2013. Nick Hill (5-8,200) also returns at RB for his senior season after running for 344 yards last season.
Delton Williams (6-1,220) is the next big thing at RB for the Spartans. He rushed for 238 yards in 2013 as a true freshman. He went to the same school as QB Damion Terry and was highly recruited on both sides of the ball.
RJ Shelton (5-11,205) is another freshman in the mix. Riley Bullough (6-2,230) is the younger brother of Max and played RB a year ago.
RB is deep and talented.
Cook’s top targets return at WR, Tony Lippett (6-3,190) and MacGarrett Kings Jr. (5-10,185) Both caught over 40 passes a season ago. One has to wonder if MacGarrett King’s grandmother was a Hawaii 5-0 fan.
Keith Mumphery (6-0,210) and Aaron Burbridge (6-1,195) combined for 40 receptions last season. WR position has nearly everybody back from a year ago and they are good.
TE Josiah Price (6-4,245) caught 17 passes good for 4 TDs as a redshirt freshman. Andrew Gliechert (6-5,265) and Jamal Lyles (6-3,245) combined for 9 catches. Huge Michael Dennis (6-7,300) comes in for blocking situations and Paul Lang (6-5,260) is also back. No super stars here, but a good group of solid players.
Skill positions are looking really good for the Spartans.
FB Trevon Pendleton (5-11,250) returns. No carries in 2013 but had 8 receptions out of the backfield and 2 TDs. Pendleton is a walk on and has become a devastating blocker from his fullback position. The Spartans also signed the top Fullback recruit in the country in Gerald Owens (6-2,250). Riley Bullough could help here as well if needed. Still another Bullough, Byron is one the top recruits coming in this year. Surely, another one of the Bullough brothers will wind up at LB.
Offensive line returns 2 starters and has a lot of question marks going in to next season.
Jack Allen (6-1,295) is a solid starter at both Center and Guard and was second team All Big 10 a year ago. He may be one of the guards this year.
Travis Jackson (6-3,285) has also started at Center and should be the guy here now.
Back up center will be either Kodi Kieler (6-5,325) or Kyle Lints (6-3,300) and they signed one of the best centers in the nation in Brian Allen (6-1,290)
Jack Conklin (6-6,325) played LT and RT, but should stay on the left side in 2014.
Connor Kruse (6-4,320) will play one of the guard spots. RT could be a problem but Dennis Finley (6-6,305) or Donovan Clark (6-3,300) or JC transfer Miguel Machado (6-6,290). Somebody is goinng to have to step up.
I picked MSU #4 mainly because of their fantastic defense a year ago which I expect to be stout again, plus skill position returners.
They will need to find capable replacements for a few positions on defense and the Offensive Line, but I feel that they have the coaches and the bodies in place to do so.
Plus, their schedule is very favorable. They will have to survive a trip to Oregon, but they have Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan at home. The tougher B1G games on the road will be Penn State and possibly newcomer Maryland.
I will know on September 13th if I think too highly of the Spartans or the Ducks. I am thinking Michigan State repeats as champion of their league.