Michigan State Football: 6 Reasons MSU Will Have Nation's Best D in 2012
In 2012, the Michigan State University football program will look to improve on its No. 11 ranking in the 2011 AP final poll. The Spartans have won 11 games the past two seasons and have earned bowl bids every season since 2007.
The Spartans will look to its defense to lead the team in 2012. Kirk Cousins, arguably the greatest quarterback in school history, has moved on to the NFL. New starter Andrew Maxwell shows promise as a rising junior, but the Spartans defense must play well enough to make Cousins’ departure more manageable.
This year’s defense has received praise across the Big Ten. According to Jeff Seidel of Detroit Free Press, Big Ten players commented on the unit’s versatility, intelligence and energy at the conference’s preseason meetings on July 27.
Michigan State linebacker Chris Norman marvels most at the unit’s speed. According to Seidel, Norman said this about the Spartans 2012 defense:
"If we get faster, I think we will be, like, the best defense in college football history."
Some will call Norman cocky, and others will call him confident, but I think Michigan State will have the best FBS defense in 2012.
Here are six reasons why I think this is so.
As always, I welcome your comments below.
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When college football fans think of the nation’s best defensive coaches, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio does not immediately come to mind. After 2012, that will change.
Dantonio has found success in each of his terms as defensive coordinator or head coach.
Under Dantonio, who became the man in East Lansing prior to the 2007 season, Michigan State has played in a bowl game each season. In 2011, Dantonio led the Spartans to their first bowl victory since the 2001 Silicon Valley Bowl. In each of the past two seasons, the Spartans have finished in the top 14 of the AP final poll.
Prior to Michigan State, Dantonio was the head coach at Cincinnati. In his first season (2004), Dantonio led the Bearcats to their first bowl victory since the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl. Along with Brian Kelly, Dantonio helped turn the Cincinnati program from a Conference USA afterthought into a perennial Top 25 contender in the Big East.
Before Cincinnati, Dantonio was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State. During his time there, the Buckeyes won back-to-back Fiesta Bowls, and one of those was the 2002 national championship.
Dantonio’s relationship with Jim Tressel dates back to their time coaching together at Youngstown State, where the Penguins earned Division I-AA playoff berths in three of Dantonio’s five seasons there.
Today, Dantonio credits what he learned under Saban—also a defensive backs specialist—with what got him an FBS head coaching position.
According to Greg Johnson of The Grand Rapids Press, Dantonio said this before facing Alabama—the team Saban coaches now—in the 2011 Capital One Bowl:
"Coach Saban has probably been my biggest mentor as a coach…And I probably sit here as a head coach because of him bringing me here. I’m very appreciative of that."
Thanks to Saban’s defensive mastery, Alabama has won two of the last three BCS national championships. In 2012, though, I think the protégé will have a better defense than the mentor.
According to Jeff Seidel of Detroit Free Press, Dantonio expressed a lot of confidence in his 2012 defense at the Big Ten media days.
I express similar feelings.
NFL Quality Talent
Michigan State defensive end William Gholston has the highest stock out of all Spartans eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft.
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CBS Sports thinks three players from the 2012 Spartan defense will get drafted:
- Defensive end William Gholston
- Cornerback Johnny Adams
- Defensive tackle Anthony Rashad White
As a rising junior, Gholston is CBS Sports’ No. 30 overall draft-eligible prospect as of July 30.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, the Spartans have seven defensive players ranked in the top 15 nationally in their class at their respective positions.
A lot can happen between now and when these players become draft-eligible, but head coach Mark Dantonio could see many of his pupils from this year’s defense in the NFL someday. Dantonio’s coaching should only improve these players’ draft stocks over time as well.
High Individual Expectations
Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough is one of four Spartans on the 2012 Bednarik Award Watch List.
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Michigan State has four players on the 2012 Bednarik Award Watch List, which ties Alabama and LSU for the most players selected from one school.
The Spartans on the list are:
- Ccornerback Johnny Adams
- Linebacker Denicos Allen
- Defensive end William Gholston
- Linebacker Max Bullough
This is quite an honor for MSU to share with Alabama and LSU. These two schools made the 2012 BCS National Championship Game and are strong national championship contenders again this season.
With so many players getting all-conference recognition—and some getting national recognition—the 2012 defense is expected to make some headlines in FBS play.
Rising senior cornerback Johnny Adams leads a much more experienced Michigan State defense in 2012.
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Michigan State has a lot returning from its 2011 defense, turning experience from a weakness to a strength.
According to Bob Hamar of TheIndependent.com, the Spartans bring back eight defensive starters. Considering how strong MSU was on defense in 2011, the Big Ten must be warned.
According to the profile of Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi from the official team website:
"[Michigan State] ranked among the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Top 20 in seven statistical categories: sixth in total defense, seventh in sacks, ninth in rushing defense, 10th in scoring defense, 11th in pass defense, 14th in tackles for loss and 18th in pass efficiency defense. The Spartans held five teams to their season lows in total offense…on five occasions, MSU limited their opponent to seven points or less."
Of these three players who left the program, two were selected in the 2012 NFL Draft: defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and free safety Trenton Robinson.
Worthy was the No. 52 overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft and was a First Team All-American in 2011. According to Jeff Seidel of Detroit Free Press, Brian Mulroe—an offensive lineman at Northwestern—said the Spartans will not miss Worthy much in 2012. Mulroe also said, “I’m sure who is coming up next is just as good.”
Michigan State’s 2011 defensive starters are another season wiser and stronger, and most of them are back in 2012.
The men roaming the Michigan State sidelines have coached together for quite a while.
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Every defensive position coach on Mark Dantonio’s staff followed him from Cincinnati to Michigan State.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi turned down a chance to become the new defensive coordinator at the newly-minted SEC member Texas A&M, which Graham Couch of MLive.com said would have resulted in a huge pay raise. Narduzzi could become an FBS head coach soon, but as of now, he is staying with the Spartans.
As I mentioned earlier, Narduzzi’s 2011 troops placed in the FBS Top 20 in seven statistical categories. Considering the defense has largely remained intact from last season, Narduzzi can improve on his 2011 result, which could raise his head coaching stock.
Defensive line coach Ted Gill began his coaching career in 1971. Gill has experience coaching in the NCAA, the XFL, the CFL and the NFL. In 2011, Gill mentored one of the best defensive lines in FBS, and his line should only improve in 2012 despite losing Jerel Worthy.
Linebackers coach Mike Tressel will mentor two players on the 2012 Bednarik Award Watch list in Denicos Allen and Max Bullough. Under Tressel, 2011 NFL Draft choice Greg Jones became one of Michigan State’s all-time best linebackers.
Secondary coach Harlon Barnett mentored an excellent group in 2011, which ranked 11th nationally in pass defense. Barnett played for MSU from 1986-89 and in the NFL from 1990-96. He is also a direct descendant of Nick Saban’s coaching tree, as he was a graduate assistant during LSU’s 2003 national championship season.
Coaching stability means a lot in recruiting. Any high school player considering Michigan State should not have to worry about the possibility of wholesale philosophy changes during his time there.
Michigan State will get a rematch of the 2011 Big Ten Championship Game at Wisconsin on Oct. 27, 2012.
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The schedule includes the best of the Big Ten in addition to Boise State and Notre Dame.
If the defense can run through this schedule, then it should be considered amongst the nation’s best units.
Michigan State will face Urban Meyer’s offense from Ohio State, as well as Heisman candidates in Michigan’s Denard Robinson and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. Overcoming this trio of challenges should put the Spartans in great position to win the Big Ten and get into the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season.