Michael Conroy/Associated Press
2013 Record: 13-1 (8-0 in the Big Ten)
Mark Dantonio has been patient. He's been building his program slowly but surely over the past seven years. In 2013, it all seemed to come together.
Despite a shockingly bad offensive debut, MSU was able to put together an impressive list of accomplishments in 2013, which included becoming the first Big Ten team in history to defeat every conference foe by double digits. A lock-down defense was key in each of MSU's 13 victories, and it seemed only fitting that the defense made a game-deciding stand on fourth down against Stanford to win the 2014 Rose Bowl Game title.
So what can Dantonio and company do for an encore?
Obviously, winning another Big Ten title is tops on the list. MSU has won two Big Ten titles in the past four seasons (plus another divisional title in 2011). To win a third in five years would certainly put MSU among the crop of the Big Ten's current elite programs. But repeating in the Big Ten is much easier said than done, especially when you're facing a talent drain like MSU in 2014.
MSU will be returning just five defensive starters for 2014. Gone are Tyler Hoover, Micajah Reynolds, Denzel Drone, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, Isaiah Lewis and, of course, Darqueze Dennard.
But if there's one thing Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi (who turned down his own program at UConn to remain in East Lansing) know how to do, it's recruit top defensive talent.
Michigan State put together the Big Ten's No. 4 recruiting class this offseason according to 247Sports.com, and it's flush with some impressive gets. In addition to 5-star DE Malik McDowell, there are a plethora of 3-star and 4-star prospects, all set to join the defensive roster.
If Michigan State's last few recruiting classes live up to expectations and quarterback Connor Cook can build upon the impressive growth we saw over the course of the 2013 season, we fully expect Michigan State to be an early preseason favorite in the Big Ten this season.
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