5 Reasons Michigan State Football Will Take a Step Back in 2012
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Michigan State was arguably one bad call away from winning the first Big Ten Championship Game in 2011, which would have gave the Spartans their second consecutive conference title. But 2012 will be a different story in East Lansing.
Head coach Mark Dantonio has one of the top returning defenses in the country, and it should be enough to keep Michigan State competitive every week. However, there are plenty of question marks and inexperience regarding the skill positions on offense, and that will be the downfall of the Spartans.
Michigan State will have a new quarterback and a fresh receiving corps for the 2012 season. The new-look Spartan offense will endure an adjustment period, and if it lasts too long, Michigan State could regress this season, despite having such a strong defensive unit.
Here are five reasons why Michigan State will take a step back in 2012.
5. Lack of Impact Recruits
Safety Demetrious Cox is arguably Michigan State's top incoming recruit.
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According to Rivals.com, Michigan State has the 41st-ranked recruiting class for the 2012 season. The top prizes of that class include 4-star safety Demetrious Cox and 4-star wide receiver Aaron Burbridge.
In addition to Cox and Burbridge, tight ends Josiah Price and Evan Jones and wide receiver Monty Madaris will get a chance to prove themselves immediately. But that competition is more by default as opposed to these recruits having explosive talent enough to contribute in their first years. They will all take some time to develop.
Burbridge and Madaris will get a shot to compete for playing time in the passing game, and Spartan nation is hoping that one or both of these recruits fulfill their potential quickly.
In a season where Michigan State's depth will be tested, especially on offense, a 41st-ranked recruiting class does not provide substantial talent to effectively contribute immediately to a team with Big Ten title aspirations.
Mark Dantonio's squad has two difficult non-conference matchups in the season's first three weeks.
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Michigan State will be tested early in the season, and the Spartans could easily fall into a 1-2 hole with Boise State in Week 1 and with Notre Dame in Week 3. QB Andrew Maxwell, who missed the Spartans' spring game due to injury, will need to get it together quickly to prevent his team from falling out of the BCS picture before the Big Ten season even begins.
Boise State may not be as strong as it has been in past seasons, but the Broncos are still a threat in the opening week, and you better believe that they will be as hyped as ever to play one of the Big Ten's top programs. Notre Dame is also a top 20 team heading into the 2012 season.
It doesn't get any easier for Michigan State when the Big Ten season begins. The Spartans have back-to-back road contests against Wisconsin and Michigan on Oct. 20 and 27, respectively. However, Michigan State did catch a break by drawing Ohio State and Nebraska at home.
3. Running Back Depth
Edwin Baker's departure was a huge blow to the Michigan State backfield.
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Michigan State appeared to be set in the running back department with Le'veon Bell and Edwin Baker carrying the load on an inexperienced offensive unit. Then, the Spartans backfield was dealt a huge blow when Baker surprisingly declared for the NFL draft.
Baker was a first-team All-Big Ten performer in 2010 who had 1,201 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns, but midway through 2011, he lost his job as the feature back to Bell. Bell had 948 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011.
Senior Larry Caper is the only other Spartan back who has significant experience (he had 30 carries last year). Sophomore Nick Hill was an electrifying kick returner for Michigan State as a freshman, but it remains to be seen whether he could contribute in the backfield.
Bell can't do it all for Michigan State in 2012. Will anyone else step up in the running game and help carry the load?
2. Question Marks at Wide Receiver
Michigan State will surely miss its top target from 2011—B.J. Cunningham, who had over 1,000 receiving yards.
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Michigan State returns just one of its top five receivers from 2012 -- and that lone player is running back Le'veon Bell.
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Spartans heading into the season is at wide receiver. Sophomores Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery are next up on the depth chart. Lippett had four catches in 2011 while Fowler had just two.
Granted, incoming wide receivers Aaron Burbridge and Monty Madaris could contribute immediately, but it is unknown how effective they will be. An experienced receiving corps would have made life plenty easier on new QB Andrew Maxwell, but the inexperienced group will be just another hurdle that the Spartans offense will have to encounter.
1. No More Kirk Cousins
The starting QB job at Michigan State rests in the hands of Andrew Maxwell—for now.
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Kirk Cousins was the best passer in Michigan State history and replacing him will be the biggest obstacle the Spartans face heading into 2012. The task appears to have fallen on junior Andrew Maxwell.
Cousins was the school's career leader in wins, passing yards, completions and touchdown passes. His spectacular play under center is one of the reasons why Michigan State made the leap to one of the best programs in the country for the past two seasons, and it will be up to Maxwell to keep the Spartans in that position.
But it won't be easy.
Maxwell was a top-10 QB recruit in 2009, according to Rivals.com. Spartan nation has plenty of faith in the talented junior, but with new faces surrounding him on offense, there will be a learning curve for the entire unit. It will be difficult for Maxwell to replicate Cousins' performance, and that is the biggest reason why Michigan State will take a step back in 2012.