Massive Spartans' defensive end William Gholston will be coming at quarterbacks harder than ever in 2012, creating opportunities for the talent behind him to put MSU in position to win every week
The Big Ten features a tremendous amount of talent in 2012 on the defensive side of the football. While last year's most notable defensive story concerned the turnaround at the University of Michigan under new defensive coordinator and former Baltimore Raven's defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, rival Michigan State has enough defensive talent to play with any team in any conference.
The Spartans' D features size and speed at each position, and does not appear to have any blatant holes.
Defensive ends William Gholston and Marcus Rush will get upfield in a hurry, collapse the pocket, and pressure quarterbacks to make ill-advised throws. A well balanced linebacking corps consisting of Denicos Allen (second in the Big Ten in sacks in 2011), Max Bullough, and Chris Norman will greatly contribute to State's run-stopping ability. Lastly, the Spartans boast exceptional talent at the defensive back position. Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams need only contain wideouts down the field, but both offer shut-down ability and will only add to the potency of the defensive line.
Although with each passing year the Spartans' defense seems to grow a bit more impenetrable, there remain teams across the country that have to and will be able to move the ball against them. This article aims to highlight those teams.
The important characteristic that will solve MSU's defense this year is what many like to call "star power".
Note: Michigan State does not play all of the following teams in 2012, but the overall caliber of the group is meant to describe the dominant level of play that the Spartans aspire to.
Matt Barkley will dominate all of college football this year, picking apart any defense at will
Put quite simply, the Trojans have the best quarterback in college football. Although ready to declare himself for the NFL Draft after his 2011 season, Matt Barkley elected to remain USC's gunslinger for one more season. In his last year as the QB for USC, Barkley's goals are set no lower than winning a national championship for his school in its first year of eligibility following previous years' violations of recruiting rules.
Last year, Barkley set a school record by completing 69.1% of his passes (via Michael Lev of the Orange County Register). This year, he aims to build upon his sparkling foundation.
Barkley is already playing at an NFL-level, which helps teammates rise to greater success. He also has a qualified bunch surrounding him.
Coach Lane Kiffin has plenty of weapons for Barkley to utilize, namely reinvigorated wideout Robert Woods as well as newly-added 1,000-yard rusher Silas Redd, formerly of Penn State. If they put it all together, there are few, if any (think, Alabama), teams that could beat them.
While Michigan State's defensive speed will throw off the rhythm of most college offenses, USC is a cut above the rest in 2012. They possess enough offensive talent around Barkley to make his job against top-tier defenses, at the very least, manageable, and given the opportunity, he would find a way to pick State apart.
Wisconsin RB Montee Ball has plans to take over college football this year, and a major opportunity for stardom could eventually come against a vaunted MSU defense
The Big Ten is stacked this year. Fortunately for Wisconsin, their "Leaders" division contains two teams that are currently sanctioned and automatically excluded from potential Big Ten Championship play in Ohio State and Penn State.
This virtually guarantees the Badgers a birth to the Rose Bowl and possibly more if they manage to remain undefeated up to that point.
Wisco's biggest asset lies in running back Montee Ball. Ball had a monster season in 2011, scoring 39 total touchdowns and amassing over 2,200 yards from scrimmage. He is a powerhouse back that plows through the staunchest of defensive fronts—rival Michigan State's included.
In 2011, Ball rushed for 115 yards with a touchdown on 18 carries against MSU, while also catching a TD out of the air.
While no individual is good enough to beat an entire defense alone—especially one as well-rounded as Michigan State's—Montee Ball will wreak enough havoc out of the backfield to provide enough breathing room for whichever QB succeeds their graduated star Russell Wilson.
I predict that in a grinding style that is dominated by the ground game and field position management, Ball would present Wisconsin with enough opportunities to score and win.
West Virginia's versatile QB Geno Smith promises to take the offense beyond the school's record setting 2011 season.
In continuance with the "star power" trend, West Virginia and star quarterback Geno Smith will be a top-5 explosive offense during the 2012 season. Despite setting school records in total offense last year, the Mountaineers have reasonable aspirations as high as a BCS Championship in 2012.
Dana Holgerson will command a tremendously athletic offense, that aside from the fact that Smith also has top-tier receiver Tavon Austin and running back Dustin Garrison alongside him.
With a combination of speed and detail-oriented coaching, Holgerson's "Air Raid" offense would reverse any pressure that Michigan State could hope to apply on Smith.
The Mountaineers will lean heavily on offensive skill to be successful this season, and as a result, will have to strategize to be able to beat top-tier defenses like Michigan State, who finished sixth overall in total defense in 2011.
Although the Mountaineers are going to easily run away with the Big 12 as a result of poor divisional competition, their potent offensive talent would stand up against a stellar Big Ten unit like Michigan State.
Darron Thomas led the Ducks to a Rose Bowl win against Wisconsin last year, and has the chance to make a big impact on the BCS picture against divisional rival USC in 2012
Don't sleep on the Oregon Ducks and their fast-paced spread offense. Seemingly forgotten in the wake of USC's return to championship eligibility in 2012, the Ducks are poised to do even more damage than their 2011 Rose Bowl win against Wisconsin in 2011.
Despite losing key pieces in RB LaMichael James and QB Darron Thomas to the 2012 NFL Draft, Oregon possesses a system that best utilizes plenty of depth of athleticism. RB Kenjon Barner has proved he can be a key cog in the system despite playing behind James all of last season.
Designed to stretch defenses thin, Oregon's offensive schemes would render Michigan State's elite pass rush less effective, effectively putting more pressure on the secondary to be able to contain the athletes on the outside.
Luckily for the Ducks, they can make up for the loss of their top two talents with stellar play from the likes of Barner and returning wide receiver Josh Huff.
I predict that Oregon coach Chip Kelly would be able to solve Michigan State's defense with speed and complex scheming in an effort resembling the Ducks' victory over Wisconsin in their BCS game in 2011.
Michigan QB Denard Robinson must beat Michigan State in the Big House this year if the Wolverines are to have any chance to return to a BCS game in 2012.
For Michigan QB Denard Robinson, second-year coach Brady Hoke, and the Michigan football program at large, the 2012 season represents a legitimate opportunity for the Wolverines to restore the team to its traditional level of excellence.
As the team becomes more familiar with the new coaching styles following the departure of former head coach Rich Rodriguez, I expect Coach Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges to broaden the playbook for their star talent.
The ball is firmly in the hands of QB Robinson.
If the speedy "Shoelace" can improve on his consistency passing the football in 2012, his dominant speed and big-play ability would render the Wolverines as the team to beat in the improving Big Ten conference.
This year presents Michigan with the perfect combination of mature talent in Robinson as well as a chance for redemption against their in-state rival that has seen the Spartans take the last four contests.
As the two teams compete once more for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, greater implications will surely be in mind. The winner of the perennial rivalry game will hold the greatest chance to claim a berth in the Big Ten Championship game against sure-fire Leaders Division representative Wisconsin.
With the Big House at their backs, Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines will find a way to score and win against Michigan State in 2012.