20 Reasons to Get Excited for Michigan State Football
Spartan fans, how long has it been?
How long has it been since we've seen William Gholston demolish a quarterback, Le'Veon Bell spin himself to a first down and Spartan Stadium erupt after a huge touchdown?
More than 200 days, but who's counting?
So now that we have surpassed the 200-day mark it's time to start gearing up for the upcoming season. The Spartans bring back an array of reasons to get pumped for the fall, but just in case you can't find the football fever inside of you, here are 20 reasons to get psyched for Michigan State football.
1. Opening Night Under the Lights
Why not kick this list off with the kickoff to the season?
On Aug. 31 all eyes will focus on East Lansing as the Spartans start the college football season against perennial BCS-snubbed Boise State. The premiere game for the season won't have blue turf, Kellen Moore or anything else that Boise State is known for, but it will still make for one heck of a game.
Instead of opening up with a cupcake team, MSU is starting the season against a team that has proved college football that it can hang with the big boys. Both teams lost their stud quarterback along with other key components to their offense and will look to see if their new offense can step up early.
After a near eight-month break from Spartan football, this game will certainly get Spartan Nation back in the swing of things.
2. The Return of the Defense
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Last year the Spartans were a top-five defense in the nation, only letting up 272 yards per game. In other words, offensive coordinators who saw the Spartans on the other end of the ball lost a lot of sleep during the season.
Well, guess what? They won't be getting much more sleep this year.
Yes, the Spartans did lose defensive tackle Jerel Worthy (who was a bad, bad man), but they return a squad that might eclipse last year's defense. We'll highlight certain players throughout the list, but just know the loss of Worthy will not decimate this defense by any means.
3. The Head of the Defense, Will Gholston
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If you watched two minutes of Michigan State's season last year, you would know William Gholston is the last man in East Lansing you want to upset.
The junior defensive end goes out on the gridiron with one goal and one goal only: to literally make the opposing quarterback explode on impact, and he comes close to this goal nearly every game.
Gholston's presence alone opens up so many options for the Spartans defense by the way opposing teams game plan for him. The double-teams allow for more blitz packages to enter the defensive scheme, and occasionally the offense focuses so much on him that they forget about other weapons like Anthony Rashad White and Max Bullough.
Gholston helped out last year's dominating defense with 70 tackles and five sacks, and those numbers will be higher this season.
Even though Gholston is at the end of the D-line, look for him to be the centerpiece of this defense.
4. Best Linebackers in the Conference
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Plain and simple, the Spartans return the best linebacker corps in the Big Ten.
Spartan Nation saw a lights-out defense last season that was fueled by linebackers Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Chris Norman. The trio will make a return this season, but this time they have 5-star inside linebacker recruit Lawrence Thomas with them.
Thomas was redshirted last season and had the opportunity to learn from three guys who combined for 248 tackles in 2011. The only problem defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will have with this group is figuring out which of the four talented players he will send out for each play.
What a rough life.
5. Andrew Maxwell, the New Face of MSU Football
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Andrew Maxwell came out of high school as a top-10 pro-style quarterback recruit, but has sat the last three years on the bench learning from Kirk Cousins. If you ask me, that's not a bad mentor to sit behind.
Now it's the redshirt junior's time to shine as he takes over an offense that lost three receivers, a running back and its star quarterback. Kirk Cousins left big shoes to fill, but if anyone can step up to the task it is Andrew Maxwell.
Maxwell has seen limited time in the past two seasons, completing 29 of 51 passes with one touchdown and zero interceptions in his career. Only time will tell if Maxwell can be the real deal, but so far all signs point to a bright future for the new face of Spartan football.
6. The Brand Spankin' New Receiving Corps
What's a quarterback without his receivers?
Well, just like the quarterback position, new faces will pop up amongst the wide receivers. The departure of B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Hail Mary specialist Keith Nichol have skeptics believing the Spartans will see a major drop-off, but they could be overlooking the talent that is coming in to East Lansing.
Tony Lippett, who put in some time on the defensive side of the ball last season, looks like he will be moving to receiver full time. Lippett won't be alone in the huddle as a fleet of 4- and 5-star receivers look to join him. Among those athletes are sophomore transfer DeAnthony Arnett and incoming freshmen Aaron Burbridge (pictured) and Monty Madaris. Maxwell will also have Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery, giving him more than five solid targets to throw to.
Michigan State will miss the trio of receivers that graduated, but it will be comforting to see the talent that will be hanging around in Spartan Stadium for the next couple of years.
7. Le'Veon Bell: Heisman Dark Horse?
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All right, we all know Le'Veon Bell is great, but the big question this season will be how great is he?
The junior running back rushed for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011, and those numbers could be higher if he didn't start eight games on the bench. Although those are solid numbers, they still don't do him any justice. Bell was so good he practically pushed would-be senior Edwin Baker out of Michigan State and into the NFL draft, and with Baker off the depth chart this will be Bell's season to shine in the national spotlight.
He has an offensive line that returns four starters, a Tasmanian devil-esque spin move and the No. 1 spot on the depth chart. With all three of those components heading into 2012, this could be a promising season that might even have his name popping up in Heisman talks.
8. Nick Hill, the Ultimate Sidekick
What's a superhero without a great sidekick?
Bell can carry most of the workload for the Spartans, but he can't have the whole running game on his shoulders, and that is where Nick Hill can come to fill in the cracks. Last year was Hill's debut year after being redshirted his first year on campus, and he showed reminiscing signs of former Spartan running back Javon Ringer.
While Bell and Larry Caper can pound the ball between the tackles, Hill will be the guy that will be running into the end zone before the defense even turns around. Jehuu Caulcrick and Ringer were a thunder-and-lightning combo back in 2007, and Spartan fans will be seeing shades of the famous duo in this upcoming season thanks to the blazing speed of Nick Hill.
9. Yet Another Loaded Home Schedule
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For any member of the Spartan faithful that will be heading to East Lansing to watch the home games, this will be one fun year at the stadium. The lineup doesn't feature the Michigan game at home, but it does boast this exciting lineup:
Boise State (8/31)
Notre Dame (9/15)
Eastern Michigan (9/22)
Ohio State (9/29)
Not a bad set for the 75,000-plus that will be in attendance for every game this season. At least two games, Boise State and Notre Dame, will be 8 p.m. ET start, and when the sun goes down on game days the crowd gets a little more rowdy.
10. Can't Forget About the Michigan Game
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Even though the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry will be outside of East Lansing, it should be a dandy to watch. Michigan State has been manhandling Michigan for the last four years, causing Spartan fans to beat their chest and Wolverine fans to go in a state of awkward denial.
The main headline for this game will be seeing if Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson can finally figure out the recipe to beating his in-state rival. William Gholston and the defense will look to shut Robinson down in his last hurrah and keep their crown as the state's best for the fifth year in a row.
Other than that it's just going to be your typical head-bashing, trash-talk-infused rivalry game.
11. Jersey Modifications? We'll See
While on the topic of the Michigan game, let's bring up the wardrobe that stole some of the spotlight from the game.
If you remember, the Spartans wore jerseys that were so out of the box you either loved or hated them. Not having one stitch of white in the jersey upset a lot of the traditional fans, but nonetheless it made for a memorable game.
Unfortunately for the traditional fans, Nike's Pro Combat line probably didn't make its last visit to the football team last fall. For the last couple of years Boise State has worn Pro Combat jerseys, making the opening night for college football a little more interesting.
Both schools are Nike affiliated and both are in the opening game, so could both teams be sporting new jerseys at opening kickoff? We'll have to see on Aug. 31.
12. Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard: Partners in Crime
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With a strong front seven in the middle that's as strong as the Spartans', you would think the talent would fall off on the corners, right?
When teams get jammed at the line by running the ball into a strong front seven, coaches tend to air the ball out a little more to stay away from the middle. Well, with senior Johnny Adams and junior Darqueze Dennard at the corners, coaches may have second thoughts about their career choice when they find out they won't be passing the ball too well, either.
Last season the duo recorded six interceptions, 93 tackles and about 152 headaches for opposing quarterbacks.
Another notable between these two is that is will be Adams' last season in the Spartan uniform since he is a senior. Adams walks into this season as an elite college cornerback and is arguably the best cover man in the Big Ten. Adams stands at 5'11" but plays like he is 6'4" with the way he shuts down receivers on the line and goes up to contest balls in the air.
This will be Adams' last season before he heads to the NFL, and with Dennard at his side it should be another hectic season for offensive coordinators play the Spartans.
13. Isaiah Lewis: Minor Setback for Major Comeback
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Last year junior safety Isaiah Lewis was known for two reasons. The first was being recognized as a second-team All-Big Ten team member. The second, however, tastes a little more sour to Lewis and every Spartan fan that tuned into the inaugural Big Ten title game last December.
In case you need a painful refresher, Lewis committed the roughing-the-punter penalty that put all chances the Spartans had to rest. It immediately turned him into the biggest scapegoat in East Lansing since John L. Smith was in town, and it unfortunately took away from the great season he had.
This season Lewis will remind Spartan Nation what he should be remembered for: his great talent as a safety.
14. Avengence Tastes Like Roses
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Speaking of that nail-biting championship game, let's also remember the Spartans' chance of winning are not thrown out yet.
After the Spartans lost out on the Rose Bowl by three points they said goodbye to a slew of great players, and some people wrote off the Spartans for this upcoming season. Well, to have the Spartans written off is foolish, and I will go as far as saying they are favorites to be in the title game again this season.
The Spartans bring a top-notch defense, a powerful yet elusive running game and a coaching staff that has enough tricks up its sleeves to bring home the roses.
15. Fresh Meat Stepping on Campus
The Spartans said their farewells to some all-time greats, but they welcome in 19 freshmen that look to give MSU a promising future. Here are some players to watch for the next couple seasons:
Demetrious Cox (4-star defensive back): Cox comes in as a talented athlete, but his skill set will only grow by learning from Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard.
Jamal Lyles (4-star linebacker): Lyles is known for his pass coverage and athleticism, but rumor has it we can see Lyles at defensive end. Only time will tell where Lyles will play, but expect him to dominate wherever he lands.
Macgarrett Kings Jr. (3-star wide receiver): Kings' recruitment was kept quiet through his monster senior year, and Michigan State was the lucky team to pick up this Florida native. He could very well replace Keshawn Martin.
Tyler O'Connor (3-star quarterback): O'Connor won't play in the next two years, but he could very well be next in line for the quarterback position. Depending on how he does in practice and game situations, this could be the future face of Spartan football.
16. Anthony Rashad White's Time to Take over
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Last year Jerel Worthy was the big man on defense. Literally.
Now that Worthy is in the NFL, it is Anthony Rashad White's time to shine on the D-line.
Last year Rashad White only recorded 25 total tackles, but keep in mind he had Worthy, Gholston and Marcus Rush hogging all of the stats. This season he will be the man to clog up the middle and halt the run game, and he has the talent to do so.
17. Even the Offensive Line Should Pump You Up
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When's the last time an offensive lineman got you fired up?
Never, you say? Well, get ready for the new feeling because this year's Spartan O-line is worth getting giddy about.
Besides the absence of former Spartan Joel Foreman, the Spartans return four offensive linemen. Last year the offensive line was one of the biggest question marks, but it exceeded expectations. It helped Michigan State rush for more than 1,400 yards and averaged 1.48 sacks a game. Those numbers aren't too shabby, and they set up for a promising year for five unsung heroes of this team.
18. The Mother of All Scoreboards
In 1998 when Spartan Stadium's old video screen was put in, it was considered state-of-the-art technology.
Now, they don't even make the parts for it.
So instead of keeping a video board that barely rivals some home TVs today, the university approved a proposal for a new video board.
The old video board in the south end zone was 567 square feet, and the new one is going to be a whopping 5,412 square feet. If you can't picture the difference in your head, just take a quick peek at this picture.
Yeah, that's pretty big.
The north end zone will also ditch the black-and-yellow video board and integrate two fully colored video boards that hail in at 1,654 square feet a piece.
With that much square footage of high definition video inside the stadium the Spartans could play night games just by turning in the video boards. Probably not going to fly well with the officials, but still a nice fall-back idea if the lights go out.
19. Zeke the Wonderdog
Oh yeah, I'm seriously putting the Wonderdog in this list.
When the Spartans walk into the locker room at halftime with momentum on their side, they need a killer halftime show to keep the crowd energized. And let's face it, what halftime show can be better than watching a dog sprint 40 yards down field to snag a Frisbee?
Nothing. Nothing is better than Zeke the Wonderdog.
20. One Word: Tailgating
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Once you're done reading this, you'll be driving to East Lansing before you even know it, and before you reach your seats odds are that you will be partaking in one of the greatest tailgates around.
With the pre-game party spread around campus, tailgating brings all of Spartan Nation together before going into Spartan Stadium and making life miserable for visiting teams.
So now that you have 20 reasons to get excited for Spartan football to kick back up again, brush off the jersey and get ready to wear it every Saturday. Just be sure to cook up some hot dogs and throw the football around before you head into the stadium to see the Spartans take home a "W."