Predicting Michigan State Football's 2013 Big Ten Outlook

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Predicting Michigan State Football's 2013 Big Ten Outlook
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Andrew Maxwell heads a highly criticized Michigan State offense with multiple question marks.

Alright, time to man up and take responsibility for last year's predictions. Last year, I predicted that Michigan State would make a strong run for the Rose Bowl. At first glance, I was dead wrong—Michigan State went 7-6 in one of the more disappointing seasons for Spartan fans in recent memory. But how close were they to actually reaching their Rose Bowl aspirations? 

The truth is that they were a lot closer than their record indicates. In fact, they were four points or less away from winning five games, and they beat the conference champions, Wisconsin, in their own stadium. 

Can Michigan State's vaunted defense replace two-time second team All Big-Ten defensive end William Gholston?

Michigan State took a 30-14 lead on the Legend's Division champions, Nebraska, late in the fourth quarter before a phantom personal foul call on cornerback Johnny Adams negated a Darqueze Dennard interception return for a touchdown. Before Michigan State fans knew it, a potential 31-14 lead late in the fourth quarter was soon a 24-21 lead, and Nebraska had all the momentum.  

Ball-hawking safety Isaiah Lewis leads a Spartan secondary that finished ninth in the nation in passing defense, and second in the nation in pass defense efficiency.

In similar fashion, an incorrect whistle early in the fourth quarter against Ohio State negated a potential Michigan State run-back that could have put the Spartans up 20-17 in a game that ended 16-17 in favor of Ohio State. With 12 minutes left, Braxton Miller rushed to the right where he was hit by safety Isaiah Lewis at the Michigan State 32-yard line. Miller fumbled the ball, and it bounced right into the hands of Spartan safety Kurtis Drummond who was streaking down the sideline with nobody to beat before an official whistled Miller down. Further review would reveal that the incorrect call was made on the field. 

Now, who really knows what the outcome of those two games would have been had the officials not intervened? Nebraska may very well have made a furious comeback in the final minutes of the game, and it is very possible that Ohio State's offense, which had been stagnant all day, could have put together a final drive to at least get into field-goal range, but the fact remains that Michigan State was potentially, and likely, two unfortunate calls away from beating not only the Big Ten Champs, but the division champs as well as a Buckeye squad that went 12-0. 

Now, most of you already know what happened last year, and saying that they were better than their 7-6 record indicated is based primarily on "ifs" and "buts." That being said, "ifs" and "buts" are extremely relevant when making predictions for next year. 

Offensive Captain Fou Fonoti broke his leg in 2012 in week three against Notre Dame. Instead of opting for the NLF Draft, the offensive lineman chose to return to Michigan State for his senior season.

If Michigan State had a healthy and competent offensive line last year, could they have potentially gone 11-1? The Spartans dealt with injuries to seven of their top eight offensive linemen last season and went most of the season with third-stringers as starters—in fact, the five players slated to start on the offensive line at the beginning of the season never played one snap together as a unit. In 2013, Michigan State will finally get to see the offense behind an offensive line with division one talent on it: Team captain Fou Fonoti (Sr.), Blake Treadwell (Sr.), Skyler Burkland (Jr.), Travis Jackson (Jr.), and freshman first team All-American [FWAA] Jack Allen (So.) are all finally healthy and ready to roll. 

Michigan State's defense will be firing on all cylinders, looking to remain in the top 10 in the nation for the third consecutive year. Michigan State loses two key starters in William Gholston (DE) and Johnny Adams (CB), and two situational but significant seniors in Anthony Rashad White (DL) and Chris Norman (LB). However, they return 21 of their top 25 defenders. Dantonio had this to say to Michigan State writer Joe Rexrode about his defense, "I feel very, very good about our defense—I feel stronger about our defense this year than I did last year going into the season." 

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The general tone revolving around the Michigan State community is very negative based on what the offense showed of itself in the spring game. In the spring game, the Spartan offense looked just as stagnant as it was last year, without the presence of Le'Veon Bell.

That's certainly cause for worry. I will note, however, that the offensive line was just as mangled for each quarterback in the spring game as it was for Maxwell last season. Michigan State simply does not have the depth at offensive line to put five players on each side and expect them to compete with one of the nation's elite defenses, which the Spartans have.

Furthermore, Skyler Burkland and Jack Allen, two of Michigan State's premier offensive linemen, did not play in the spring game. As a result, you had a mix-and-match group of offensive linemen facing off with an extremely deep and talented Michigan State defensive front—it is very unsurprising that Michigan State's offense was overwhelmed by the defense in the spring game. 

Senior Defensive Captain Max Bullough is the catalyst for a Spartan defense that finished fourth in the nation in total defense, eight in the nation in rushing defense, ninth in the nation in scoring defense, and third in the nation in pass efficiency defense in 2012.

So, now that you've been updated on the current state of the Michigan State football program, I'll get on to my prediction for this season. With an ultra-easy conference schedule that avoids Penn State and Ohio State, Michigan State's biggest conference challenges will be on the road against Nebraska and Northwestern. With home games against Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan and Minnesota, Michigan State has a very good chance at going undefeated at home in 2013, and a worst-case scenario would have them losing to Michigan. 

An experienced Northwestern squad that returns a majority of the starters from a team that surprised many by going 10-3 last season will be the biggest question mark, while road games against Notre Dame, last year's national runner-up, and Nebraska, the Legends Division favorites, will likely be losses. Barring excessive amounts of injuries like last season, I fully expect Michigan State to go 10-2 in 2013. 

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