Michigan State Spartan Football: 5 Best and Worst-Case Scenarios in 2012
Michigan State will be entering their 2012 football season with the highest of expectations.
They will be returning to the field as defending Legends Division champions as well as Outback Bowl champions. Mark Dantonio, going on his sixth year as head coach, has done some great work at Michigan State.
With all of the past accomplishments behind him, he and his staff know that the most important move for the program is to continue the forward progress. The end goal is to produce a program that competes for championships on a yearly basis, and that seems to be in reach for Dantonio and his Spartans.
Now that spring practices have ended, the team begins to map out their schemes and plans to repeat another successful season. They will be introduced to new challenges that they hope to overcome as well as goals they wish to achieve.
Here are some possible outcomes the Spartans are hoping to experience and others they would prefer to avoid.
Best: Top 10 Defense All Season
The Spartans started their 2011 season with defensive criticism caused by the losses of linebackers Eric Gordon and Greg Jones to graduation.
Those concerns were wiped away, in convincing fashion, as the Spartans dominated on defense the first few games. Most of the nation did not notice the Spartan defense all that much until they continued their dominance during conference play.
Many games for the Spartans were decided because of the defense last season, and 2012 will need to be similar if they wish to be selected for another Big Ten championship invite. Being a top 10 defense all season is a very reasonable outcome since they return eight starters from last season, along with strong depth behind them.
Worst: One-Dimensional Offense
It's strange to believe that the Spartans had an 11 win season while being a run-first offense ranking 11th in the Big Ten for rushing yards. They had the personnel to do the job, but the chemistry just seemed off for the ground game last season.
The MSU offense was mostly successful due to the arm of Kirk Cousins and his army of quality receivers. The ground game may need to turn it up a notch for the offense this season, since Cousins and the receivers aren't around anymore.
Andrew Maxwell will most likely be leading the 2012 Spartan offense as long as he's healthy come fall. The junior quarterback is believed to have the right skills and education for this offense, though he may still have a rough time adapting to the game with his young group of receivers.
Michigan State needs to revive the cornerstone of their offense, power running. Doing this would give Maxwell much needed time to adapt to his offense and take pressure off of the wide receivers.
Best: The Offense Finds Versatility
Having a smash-mouth power attack would be great for MSU's offense, but it doesn't hurt to have a speed weapon that can perform virtually any skill position on the field.
Keshawn Martin was a great example of this kind of player.
He handled many sweeps and reverses along with being an excellent wide receiver, all thanks to his ability to quickly accelerate in any direction with fierce speed. He was a game-changer by using his ability to separate from defenses while in the open field.
If the Spartans can find a guy or two with tremendous speed and great receiving skills, the offense will have a better variety of attacks. They will need a versatile player like this in order to have the effectiveness of last year's punt returns and shotgun sets.
Worst: Special Teams Not Effective
Special teams have literally been a specialty at Michigan State, especially if you watched their big trick plays the past two seasons.
They may have done well with the tricks, but they have always been solid with personnel and performance. This season, the Spartans might have a few voids in the special teams lineup that could worsen their chances of winning football games.
With Keshawn Martin gone, the punt returner position is wide open. Nick Hill has been a return man for punts before, but it would be interesting to see him try to imitate Martin's ability to separate from the entire defense.
The kickoff team had struggling moments with containing return men, and there may not be a sudden relief of players for that problem. Even though we don't know what to expect from Spartan special teams just yet, you can't eliminate the possibility of a letdown.
Best: Spartan Stadium Top 10 Toughest Venues
The Spartans have been undefeated in East Lansing for two seasons up to 14 games, their best record since their 19 home game winning streak from October 14, 1950, through November 21, 1953.
Having two undefeated seasons at home creates good attention, but a third undefeated season would make majority of the nation call Spartan Stadium one of the top toughest places to play.
Michigan State will have one of the most exciting home-game schedules in the Big Ten, featuring powerhouses like Boise State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Iowa.
The Northwestern program is rising steadily and Eastern Michigan always gives a good fight. These seven games will be bringing in the most fans the program has seen in years, and if the Spartans have another undefeated season with these home games, Spartan stadium will deserve to be considered one of the most exciting venues in the country.
Worst: Key Injuries
All teams in college football suffer with injuries, but the Spartans can't afford to have karma against them this season. The team roster is riddled with young players with little or no experience, making the returning veterans crucial for MSU's success in 2012.
All of Michigan State's returning veterans better watch what they do for the next couple of months because they will be a huge impact on MSU's upcoming season. That goes double for William Gholston because the last thing we want to hear is a story about another car crash, lord protect these student athletes.
Best: Winning the Legends Division Again
Michigan State made history by winning the very first Legends Division trophy of the Big Ten. This accomplishment also awarded them the opportunity to be one of the two teams to play in the newly-established Big Ten conference championship game.
Unfortunately, they have fallen short of an outright Big Ten championship twice in the past two seasons. They split a conference championship with Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2010, while last year they lost in the 2011 championship game to Wisconsin by three points.
If the Spartans win the Legends Division for a second time, they could possibly have a rematch against the Badgers who are a huge favorite to win the Leaders Division. We could be seeing these two teams play each other twice while having a rematch in the Big Ten championship.
It will not be easy for the Spartans to repeat another Legends Division championship season, but their chances could be just as good as the others.
Worst: Spartans Lose to Rivals
The Spartans have been strong against their Big Ten rivals the past half-decade, claiming victories over Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State and Indiana. Wisconsin and Ohio State could also be considered rivals to the Spartans as they have given both teams major headaches in the past. It's not easy being Michigan State—they have been enemies of many top tier programs for a long time .
If Michigan State were to lose a few or perhaps all of their rivalry match-ups, the season would virtually be ruined for all players and fans. Even though technically it is simply another game on the schedule, the players take it personally, which is why winning against a rival can really create strong confidence in a team to benefit the season.
If the Spartans struggle to defeat their rivals, they will be demoralized and have a long season on their hands.
Best: The Spartans Are Big Ten Champions
With the schedule being as tough as it is for the Spartans, I'm assuming they won't be undefeated come championship week, but the possibility of winning the conference trophy can still be possible.
As much as the Spartans would love to be in BCS National Title contention, they are very optimistic to once again travel to Pasadena to perform in the BCS Rose Bowl game.
The Spartans have the potential to finally break the barrier that's been separating them from the roses, perhaps this could finally be the season they claim the Big Ten championship outright. The conference will be loaded with eligible teams (besides OSU) that could take the grand prize of the conference, because they are all loaded with talent.
The Spartans will need to push themselves a little further this season if they wish to avoid the thorns of the roses a third time in a row..
Worst: No Bowl Game
Not all bowl games are popular, but all are special to the teams that qualify for them.
The Spartans have been to five bowl games under coach Mark Dantonio, the best record of consecutive bowl game appearances for a Michigan State football coach since George Perles. The overall bowl-win record for Dantonio may not be too impressive, but the Outback Bowl win against Georgia definitely helped to ease the frustration.
It would be devastating to the MSU program if they couldn't qualify for a bowl game in 2012.
Losing out on a bowl game would damage recruiting as well as demoralize the players and fans of the team. For now, it seems unlikely that the Spartans would suffer such a disappointment, but it can happen to the best of teams in any given season.