As the final week of preseason camp concludes, expectations for these Spartans remain high. Still, an undercurrent of anxiety pervades from inexperience in several key positions.
First and foremost, a new starting quarterback, Andrew Maxwell, must match or exceed the accuracy, leadership and mental toughness of his predecessor if this team is to succeed.
Second, offensive linemen must contain and protect—affording Maxwell time to acquire a foundation of confidence and accuracy.
Third, a chief derivative of Maxwell’s success and team dynamism rests with a relatively young receiving corps. Assuming chemistry of assignments meld, fans will delight as points amass on the new $10 million, multimedia scoreboard at Spartan Stadium.
Fourth, depth of scoring potential across multiple positions is essential to any team’s dimensional attributes. Offensive backs, receivers and special teams must all step up. Since MSU lost leadership from last year’s defense, this roster must respond as a dominant, nationally ranked power, one capable of putting points on the scoreboard.
In 2011, State conquered Ohio State and Michigan, while it split contests with the Badgers. One calculation portends trouble on the horizon for this and future Spartan teams. New, quality prospects are essential to team development, but a growing divide over quality recruits imperils Sparty.
Scout.com, in its 2012 national rankings of recruit quality, lists OSU third, U of M fourth and MSU 38th. Moreover, in 2013, the Spartans' performance languishes even further, with Michigan ranked first, Ohio State seventh and MSU 43rd. The Spartans cannot enjoy consistent success if quality of their talent, especially in relation to conference rivals, falls egregiously short of parity.
This season, Michigan State’s experienced talent—augmented by new, battle-ready soldiers—may provide sufficient horsepower to throttle up the standings. This year’s schedule is a challenge, though, as MSU faces six nationally ranked teams in 2012’s preseason polls—two from Legends Division, two in Leaders and two non-conference teams in Boise State and Notre Dame.
Assuming coaches have this team focused, honed, hungry and toned, and they roll into Ann Arbor with a 6-0 record, this could prove to be a storybook season for these warriors. The reality, though, is that this is collegiate football, where anything can and often does go wrong from serious injuries to a lack of interpersonal chemistry.
Irrespective of challenges beyond this season, State towers over most of its rivals in one critical respect. Specifically, its cohesive, battle-tested coaching staff is a powerful, green/white asset, similar to the coaching style of the dean of Big Ten basketball, the Spartans' own Tom Izzo.
These coaches achieved past success by recruiting nascent, under-the-radar players who excelled on the field and in the classroom (Kirk Cousins being the most glaring, recent example).
Furthermore, symphonic talent development and excellence in orchestration by this trio, possessing 18 years of combined Spartan coaching excellence between them, portends yet another year of Spartan glory—assuming fate provides.
Will Michigan State contend in 2012? I predict they will, provided players stay healthy, Maxwell maximizes, the defense daunts, special teams delight and Dantonio dazzles. Given Coach’s no-nonsense style, performance proficiency and will to discipline, I anticipate a focused display of Spartan ascension, as a potent force for conference disharmony—with MSU atop the standings after a 12-act victory, and the attendant roses for this team’s final chapter.
Beyond this season, though, the horizon for Spartan success becomes murky. Unless coaches gain on its conference competitors in the recruitment wars, and 5-star and 4-star talent land in East Lansing in increasing numbers, 2013 could see the scales tip in favor of Ohio State and the nastiest of vermin to a true Spartan: the Wolverines.