Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Michigan State has won 11 games each of the last two seasons.
That's impressive enough, considering MSU had never won 11 games in a single season prior to 2010. It's even more impressive when you consider teams like Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Ohio State, USC, and Oklahoma can't say the same.
But Michigan State is still viewed, to some extent, as a minor Big Ten program by the polls.
Despite beating Michigan yet again, and going on to win the Legends Division, again ahead of Michigan, the Wolverines—not the Spartans—were selected to play in the BCS at the end of last season.
With everything being equal, it's clearly already an up-hill climb for the Spartans. In 2012, not everything will be equal.
And while quarterbacking does figure into our little equation for Michigan State, it's only a piece to the larger puzzle.
The Big Ten has always been a run-first conference. Typically, it's the teams that can sustain the power running game while mixing in a killer passing attack that find success week after week. In 2012, it's doubtful MSU will have anything close to resembling a killer passing attack.
Besides graduating all-around quality pocket passer Kirk Cousins, Michigan State is also woefully short on experience at the wide receiver positions.
Top ball-catchers BJ Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, and Keith Nichol are gone. Adding to the lack of passing game, tight ends Brian Linthicum and Garrett Celek are also gone.
We also can't discount the contributions of departed running back Edwin Baker to the passing game.
Michigan State has just five offensive starters returning, and running back Le'Veon Bell is the only one who occupies a “skill” position.
It looks like aerial yards will be very hard to come by this season for MSU.