Max Bullough captains one of the nation's top defenses heading into 2013.
Michigan State was the surprise of the Big Ten last season, as it went from Legends Division champion in 2011 to 3-5 in the Big Ten in 2012 despite returning nearly all of its defensive starters and a handful of offensive starters.
Nonetheless, the losses of Kirk Cousins, Keith Nichol, BJ Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Brian Linthicum proved to be too much as Michigan State went on to field one of the worst Spartan offenses in recent memory.
As such, most of you are probably wondering why Michigan State ranks so highly after this spring's events. To put it simply: I think Michigan State will again be the surprise of the Big Ten and completely turn things around offensively.
Most people know that Michigan State's offense was flat-out horrible last year. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell was one of the least productive quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and Michigan State's offense often moved backwards more than it moved forwards before punting the ball away.
So, after the departure of the nation's third best rusher, Le'Veon Bell, why would Michigan State's offense get any better?
Well, what most people don't know is that Michigan State endured seven injuries to their top eight offensive linemen in 2012. One injury to the starters on offensive line can be dealt with. For the upper-tier teams with loads of depth, even two injuries can be overcome. Three is where it starts to get really shaky, and four is pretty much unbearable.
Michigan State dealt with seven. It's actually quite amazing that the offense came in the top 100 in any statistical category.
Unlike 2012, Michigan State looks to field an offense led by Fou Fonoti (senior), Blake Treadwell (senior), Skyler Burkland (junior), Travis Jackson (junior) and freshman first-team All-American [FWAA] Jack Allen (sophomore). All of them were slated to start last season, but four of them sat out much or all of the season with injuries.
Now that Michigan State has the offensive line to give the skill-position players a shot, we might finally get to see what former Elite 11, fifth-year senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell can do.
Four-star recruit Aaron Burbridge was the 16th best wideout in the country in his class, but he showed some serious potential last season as he appeared to be the only bright spot in the passing game. His talent became evident when he caught eight passes for 134 yards against Indiana in 2012.
The backfield, however, will be a big question. As of the spring game, junior Nick Hill and defensive captain Max Bullough's younger brother, Riley, are competing for the top running back spot. The ground game will likely be an issue for the Spartans.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan State returns nine starters from a defense that finished in the top 10 in every statistical category imaginable.
Remember, Michigan State was one unlucky bounce or bad call away from potentially going 11-1 last season.
With a much, much improved offensive line and a highly intimidating defense, Michigan State will be a serious threat to every single team on their schedule—a schedule that avoids Ohio State and Penn State, nonetheless, which is why Michigan State gets my third spot in the spring power rankings.