College football season is just around the corner. In this column, I will answer some of the biggest questions about Michigan State’s upcoming season.
Question: Will Mark Dantonio have second-year troubles like John L. Smith?
Answer: In a word, no—and here’s why. John L. Smith’s teams were like Pedro Cerrano in Major League II: they had no marbles.
Late-game collapses were the hallmark of his teams. Michigan in 2004, Ohio State in 2005, Notre Dame in 2006…this tortured a fan base that had just gone through the Bobby Williams era.
For those that aren’t as familiar with the Spartans, this was like going to the new Indiana Jones flick and having George Lucas personally kick you in the groin on your way out.
Then Mark Dantonio came along and brought mental toughness (and Jobu). Sure there were some growing pains, but MSU is returning some excellent players.
Greg Jones, Javon Ringer, and Brian Hoyer will all be impact players in the Big Ten. The team was very close last year in Year One of the Dantonio Era. Look for them to begin winning some more of those close games and return to the postseason.
Question: Which players will the Spartans miss most?
Answer: On defense, it’s no question. Jonal Saint-Dic was quietly one of the best players in the entire country.
While national analysts were salivating over South Florida’s George Selvie, Saint-Dic was busy forcing eight fumbles (a Big Ten record) and recording 10 sacks. He anchored a much-improved Spartan defense, throwing opposing quarterbacks out of rhythm and electrifying fans.
And yet, he went undrafted. Kansas City picked him up as an undrafted free agent. I hope he plays next season with a huge chip on his shoulder.
I can see the season unfolding a lot like the ending scenes of The Godfather: a cold, quiet Jonal Saint-Dic silently masterminds the brutalization of half the quarterbacks in the league. Nobody suspects a thing.
Herm Edwards tries to ask him about his business, and Jonal just screams at him.
On offense, the question gets a little tougher. The Spartans lost Devin Thomas (second round, pick two in the NFL Draft to the Redskins), Kellen Davis, and Jehuu Caulcrick, among others.
As great as Thomas and Davis were during the season, I have to say that Caulcrick is the biggest loss. Dantonio used a power running offense, and Jehuu is an absolute beast.
He offered a change of pace from Javon Ringer. Defend the corners to stop Ringer, and Caulcrick would run right down your throat.
Inside the five-yard line, he was basically unstoppable. Twenty-one touchdowns (10 percent of his total carries) speak for themselves. They weren’t always pretty, but he was always a force, wearing down defenses.
Dantonio used him properly, unlike John L. Smith—eight carries, 111 yards vs. Notre Dame in 2006. Remind me again why he barely touched the ball in the second half?
Question: Which 2008 games are potential speed bumps for this team?
Answer: The season opener at Cal sticks out. Sure, Cal didn’t finish the 2007 season very well, but they are always a solid team. It’s not the usual creampuff that teams tend to schedule to open their season (UAB, Youngstown State, etc.).
The final game of the season at Penn State is also a tough one. Their fans are among the best in the country, and they really know how to make Happy Valley an intimidating environment.
Had they been cheering against the Spanish Flu, the 1918 pandemic never would have happened.
Add to the equation the fact that MSU hasn’t won at Happy Valley since Penn State joined the Big Ten, and they’ve got a tough task on their hands.
This could be the year to break the Happy Valley Curse though, riding the momentum of last year’s thrilling come-from-behind victory in East Lansing.
Question: Which traditionally tough games will the Spartans win?
Answer: Michigan. Where to begin? Mike Hart’s laughable "little brother" comments last year added new fuel to the rivalry.
Watching the Michigan players celebrate after barely squeaking by last year proved that the rivalry is alive and well, and Mark Dantonio is a force to be reckoned with.
Michigan has no idea who their quarterback will be, lost their defensive coordinator, and will be going through a coaching transition after losing the coach who brought them their only National Title in the past 50 years.
The conditions are ripe for MSU to roll into Ann Arbor and come away with a win.
I neglected to mention Notre Dame in this answer because they won’t be a tough game. Anybody who saw last season’s matchup knows that MSU is a lot closer to contending than its neighbors to the south.
Question: What’s your prediction for next season?
Answer: Best-case scenario, I can definitely see this team going 10-2. At worst, they’ll go 8-4 and make it to an even nicer bowl than last year.
This may be a surprising prediction for a team that many say overachieved last year. But I don’t buy into the overachiever talk. It implies that the team outperformed its talent, which is simply not true.
The last few seasons, the team has had the talent to win but has been lacking in the mental department. Games in which John L. Smith’s team would have rolled over and lost by 50, Dantonio’s Spartans fought their way back into (Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan…).
A 10-2 prediction shouldn’t surprise anybody when you consider that the 2007 edition of the Spartans was only a touchdown away from going undefeated.
Look for them to turn the corner this season and be in the mix for a Big Ten title.