I began by taking a broad overview of the Michigan State program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Spartans will do this season.
Two weeks ago, I scanned over the 2012 Michigan State offense and how it projects.
Last week, I looked at the 2012 Michigan State defense and how it is shaping up.
This week, I'll look at the Spartans' recruiting class and schedule, and I'll give a final breakdown and my prediction for Michigan State in 2012.
2012 Recruiting Class
The scholarships are evenly parceled out, though receivers, offensive linemen and defensive backs took particular priority with the Spartans handing out four apiece to each of those position groups.
One player that will have a chance to see immediate playing time is Jeannette, Pennsylvania safety Demetrious Cox. Cox was Rivals' 13th ranked safety in the country and chose Michigan State over Ohio State, Notre Dame, Iowa and Wisconsin, among others.
MSU's depth is thin in the defensive backfield, and the Spartans under Dantonio have a history of getting early playing time to defensive backs.
Another freshman that will have an opportunity to see the field is West Lafayette, Ohio tight end Evan Jones. Jones wasn't highly recruited, but the Spartans are starting from something close to scratch at tight end this season, and Jones has as much of a chance as anybody to get on the field.
Speaking of starting from close to scratch, the MSU receiving corps was depleted by graduation. In effect, 5'11", 178-pound slot receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. could see time as a sixth or seventh wide receiver or even a return man.
A pound sign (#) indicates a must-win for Michigan State.
An exclamation point (!) indicates a probable loss.
A dollar sign ($) indicates a swing game.
08/31: Boise State Broncos $
09/08: At Central Michigan Chippewas, Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mt. Pleasant, MI. #
09/15: Notre Dame Fighting Irish $
09/22: Eastern Michigan Eagles #
09/29: Ohio State Buckeyes $
10/06: At Indiana Hoosiers #
10/13: Iowa Hawkeyes #
10/20: At Michigan Wolverines $
10/27: At Wisconsin Badgers $
11/03: Nebraska Cornhuskers $
11/17: Northwestern Wildcats #
11/24: At Minnesota Golden Gophers #
Best-Case Scenario: 11-1
In order for this to happen, Michigan State needs:
- The offensive line to come together like no offensive line under Dantonio has. Much like the MSU defense last year, 2012 needs to be a renaissance year for the O-line.
- A clean bill of health for the Spartans secondary. The front seven has a good deal of depth, but an injury to Isaiah Lewis, Darqueze Dennard or especially Johnny Adams could cripple the defense.
- New quarterback Andrew Maxwell to take care of the ball. He doesn't need to win most of the Spartans games with his arm. However, he can't turn the ball over and put the defense in bad situations.
Worst-Case Scenario: 8-4
In order for this to happen, Michigan State needs:
- A so-so performance from the offensive line. It will be the crux of this year's O. There is plenty of experience—most in the Big Ten—but Dantonio's lines have a history of underachieving. The offense will struggle if the line is mediocre.
- Maxwell and his receivers to have trouble adjusting to the front lines. Drops, errant throws, poorly run routes, "unforced" sacks and penalties will be drive killers for a young offense.
- The new free safety—Jairus Jones or Kurtis Drummond— to be unable to fill the shoes left by Trent Robinson coupled with health issues in the secondary.
The Season Will Be a Success If...
MSU wins the conference championship and gets to a BCS bowl.
Those are heady expectations, but despite his success, the conference championship and BCS bowl that goes with it have eluded Dantonio.
In order for Michigan State to truly announce itself as a major player in the college football world, it has to get to a BCS bowl, preferably the Rose Bowl as the conference champion.
This season, in a down year in the Big Ten, MSU has a prime opportunity to make a statement.
This will be the toughest schedule MSU will have faced under Dantonio. Luckily, it won't be as tough as it might have been, given that the Spartans get Notre Dame at home and Boise State in a down year.
Also, they get Ohio State at home and early in the season, and Nebraska at home. That leaves back-to-back road trips to Ann Arbor and Madison as the final arbiter of MSU's fate.
I have Michigan State and Ohio State as the best teams in this season's Big Ten.
Nevertheless, I have neither team going to the conference championship game. The Buckeyes won't make it for obvious reasons.
The Spartans will lose both of the key roadies, leaving them at 10-2 and 6-2 in conference. As I also have Michigan at 6-2 in conference—9-3 overall—the head to head will be the division tie breaker, and that will go, according to my prognostications, to the Wolverines.
The schedule itself will hurt the Spartans in terms of national perception, as it will be tough to rebound in the rankings from back-to-back losses.
Nonetheless, a 10-2 record, coupled with a difficult schedule and MSU's three-year, 30-plus win track record could be enough to push the Spartans' poor traveling reputation into the background.
As I don't expect any non-AQ teams or Notre Dame to make a BCS bowl this year, Michigan State will have a reasonable chance of getting an at-large bid to a BCS bowl. It will depend on who else is in the available BCS pool—the top 14 of the final regular season BCS poll.
Otherwise, it will be back to Orlando for the holidays.
Check out past installments of 2012 Big Ten Breakdown, beginning with the most recent, the Wisconsin Badgers.