The Michigan State Spartans will be entering their 2012 football season more confident than ever before, but will confidence be enough?
Looking at their 2012 schedule, the Spartans will once again have a tough road to the Big Ten championship game, and having multiple key contributors from last season leave for graduation doesn't help.
However, MSU does have the right tools and returning personnel to get back to the big game.
Coach Mark Dantonio has set the foundation of the program by setting goals for the team. Here are some he may establish this season.
Michigan State has not suffered a loss in Spartan Stadium since Penn State defeated them in 2009.
Although the Stadium doesn't seem as intimidating as some of the other Big Ten locations, it still brings a loud crowd that can become overwhelming to the opposing team. The shape and formation of the stadium gives the crowd effect a strong impact on the players since the bleachers are so close to the field.
Going undefeated at home for a third-straight season would make Spartan Stadium one of the toughest venues in the country, while also giving the Spartans a greater chance of winning the Legends Division.
Michigan State seems to attract some of the toughest teams in the nation as their rivals, but that simply means that rivalry wins leave the team that much better off. The Spartans have given their rivals good contests over the past two seasons, and most of those contests have gone in their favor.
Head coach Mark Dantonio constantly states the importance of Michigan State's rivalries to his team, and he knows the impact these games can have on a season. The schedule makes the rivalry matches a little difficult, but this goal is very reachable.
The Spartans are looking young and inexperienced on offense this season, but the defense is a whole different story.
Michigan State will feature one of the best defenses in school history returning for another season, and this side could be one of the best in the nation by season's end.
Michigan State will be relying a lot on their defense to give the offense enough time to adapt and discover a consistent attack. Once the offense becomes effective alongside the defense, this team could go further than the critics expect.
The Spartans made it to the Big Ten championship game with a solid offense, but strangely it wasn't with their cornerstone rush attack.
Michigan State ranked 11th out of 12 in the Big Ten for rushing yards, their worst since being ranked ninth in 2009. Passing was efficient in 2011, but the Spartans may take a step back with younger players replacing former stars.
The passing game may be lacking experience, but the rush attack looks to be more prepared than last year. Most of the offensive line returns along with the majority of their running backs.
If they can produce their usual "pound green pound" attitude once again, MSU should easily be in contention for another Big Ten championship visit.
Michigan State has been racking up wins quite well the past two seasons, yet some of their wins were not very satisfying.
The past two seasons have consisted of multiple instant-classic wins and last-minute finishes. Some of their games the past two seasons were won outright, but they have seemed to struggle often in games that they should have dominated.
It's about time that Michigan State goes out on the field and simply punishes their opponent, rather than winning by a touchdown or less. There will always be games that are close, but if the Spartans want to really be an elite team they will have to lower the conservative play and simply take their opponent out of the game.
Running up the score isn't necessary, but it never hurts to establish a beating quickly and decisively.