After spending much time on forums, conversation boards, reading articles and hearing what coaches have to say about the Michigan State Spartans, I have come to the conclusion that there is a very common misconception that replacing a quarterback and multiple receivers on offense is equivalent to the death penalty no matter how good your defense is.
Chad Godfrey of isports.web wrote, "They just lost too much on offense…losing a QB like Cousins is going to hurt ... Why they won’t win the Big Ten: a 1st year starter at QB."
Tim Hyland of about.com wrote, "...it's easy to see this offense sputtering both in the opener against Boise and the Week 3 showdown against an improving Notre Dame squad. The back-to-back road tests against Michigan and Wisconsin look pretty tough, too. In short, it's a rebuilding year for Dantonio. Prediction: 9-3."
Athlonsports.com said, "With a brand new quarterback, [and] a completely new receiving corps ... could Sparty be primed for an upset in the first week of action?"
It seems that the collective stigma about Michigan State is that they can't replace Kirk Cousins with a first-year starting quarterback and expect to keep pace in the Big Ten. Spartan fans can hope for the best, there's nothing wrong with that, but don't get too eager, right?
Wrong. In fact, I'm here to tell you why Michigan State will undoubtedly be the best team in the Big Ten while they strike the nation as one of the few teams that can put a doughnut in the loss column next year.
So, first off, let's address the big issue: the departure of Kirk Cousins.
Kirk Cousins yada yada best quarterback in Spartan history yada yada impossible shoes for Maxwell to fill yada yada...did that about cover it? In summary, Cousins was a great quarterback for Michigan State and Maxwell has some pretty big shoes to fill as the starter.
So why am I so confident that a first-year starter can lead an offense of young and inexperienced players to one of the best seasons in team history? Well, because history says it's possible. In fact, recent history says that it's likely.
The last three national champions have been led by none other than first-year starting quarterbacks. That's right, Alabama in 2011, Auburn in 2010, and Alabama in 2009 all had first-year starting quarterbacks. But the comparisons don't stop there.
Actually, the more you compare the 2012 Michigan State Spartans to the past national champions, the more you'll realize that Dantonio has built a squad that could quite possibly compete for the National Championship themselves (that's quite a few steps away from going 9-3 in a "rebuilding" year, right, Mr. Hyland? But to ensure that I'm not spouting off, here are some of the eery comparisons that I've noticed to last year's champion: Alabama.
In 2010, Greg McElroy led Alabama, of the SEC, to a 10-3 record and a bowl win over a Big Ten opponent (Michigan State, ironically) with losses to No. 19 South Carolina by 14, No. 10 LSU by 3, and No. 2 Auburn by 1.
Mark Ingram was the starting running back but Trent Richardson saw almost split playing time. Alabama lost three of their top five receivers going into 2011 and was going to start AJ McCarron (a four star, Elite 11 QB); many people questioned whether Alabama's offense could score despite the loss of a significant running back, three receivers, and starting a new quarterback; what they didn't question, however, was Alabama's defense.
Alabama's defense was ranked in the top ten in nine defensive categories in 2010. The Tide lost defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to the NFL, among others, but returned Phil Steele's No. 1-ranked linebacker corps in the nation.
In 2011, Kirk Cousins led Michigan State, of the Big Ten, to an 11-3 record and a bowl win over an SEC opponent with losses to Notre Dame by 18 points, No. 14 Nebraska by 21 points, and No. 10 Wisconsin by 3 points.
Edwin Baker was the starting running back but Le'Veon Bell saw almost split playing time. Michigan State lost three of their top five receivers going into 2012 and is going to start Andrew Maxwell (a four star, Elite 11 QB), many people question whether Michigan State's offense can score despite the loss of a significant running back, three receivers, and starting a new quarterback; what they don't question, however, is Michigan State's defense.
Michigan State was ranked in the top 10 in seven defensive categories in 2011. The Spartans lost defensive tackle Jerel Worthy to the NFL, among others, but return Phil Steele's No. 2-ranked linebacker corps in the nation.
While I won't go in depth with the other two national champions nor will I say that Michigan State will be as good (or anywhere near as good) as Alabama was last year, I will say that Michigan State has quite obviously built a solid program that has potential to reciprocate the results of the last three national champions.
If you think Michigan State will drop off, I'll gladly tell you that you're wrong. The Spartans will have the best defense in the Big Ten, arguably one of the best in the nation, and a smash-mouth yet versatile running game complimented by an experienced O-line.
The only question marks are the receiving corps (the same receiving corps that boasts three of the top incoming freshmen in the Big Ten) and the man behind the center, the one who steps into the same situation as the past three national championship-winning quarterbacks and comes from the same pedigree.
Bold yet realistic predictions?
Michigan State's ceiling: 13-0, with a National Championship or BCS Bowl appearance.
Michigan State's floor: 11-2, with losses at Michigan and Wisconsin.
My expectations of Andrew Maxwell?
Approximately 220 completions in 315 attempts (about 70 percent completion rate) for 2,500 yards, 18 TD's, and 9 INT's.