As the calendar rolls on and the dog days of summer become continuously harder to bear, it only means one thing: college football is right around the corner.
And with practices in near-100 degree heat also come predictions from fans and analysts around the country. Every person wants to know how their team is going to do.
Will it be a banner season or another mundane, .500 season with little fanfare?
With a lot of big-time players leaving the college scene to go play in the NFL, it leaves a lot of opportunities out on the table for college football teams looking to shock the world. One such team who could do just that is the Michigan State Spartans.
It will be Mark Dantonio’s fourth season at the helm in East Lansing, a town that has seen its fair share of mixed seasons in the past couple of decades. Expectations continue to rise for the green and white, and while everyone expects a very good year ahead of them, there are still chinks in the proverbial armor.
First, the Spartans’ past holds a key to the future.
I know some programs have major turnarounds from one year to the next, but Michigan State has gone from good to bad, to who knows what. This inconsistency is definitely an issue Dantonio needs to address.
Second, the Spartans’ postseason games have not been up to par in terms of getting national attention. Three bowl games in three seasons as a coach is a good statistic on Dantonio’s resume, but each of those games have been losses. Michigan State needs to learn how to win when it counts.
That brings me to my third point: beating notoriously better teams.
Beating small programs from bottom-feeder conferences is a victory on the schedule, true, but the question is whether a team like the Spartans can compete with powerhouses like Ohio State , Penn State , Wisconsin and, yes, even Notre Dame.
Beating teams with above-average track records may determine the team’s fate in both the national polls and in the postseason.
The fourth potential flaw may be the team’s immaturity.
We all know what happened with the team’s on-campus incident, which eventually led to a loss in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
It was a situation in which Dantonio was persecuted because of his players’ actions, but he did the right thing and took responsibility for their complete lack of judgment. (At this point in time we all realize it was the players’ faults and not the man in charge).
It seems like the current roster has moved past that incident the best way it knows how—by becoming a team again. With leaders on both sides of the ball, like quarterback Kirk Cousins and All-American linebacker Greg Jones, the program and all of its fans should not have to worry about a repeat performance on the judicial level.
And the final potential flaw, which in itself may be the most important, is execution.
Certain games and situations practically dictated the entire course of the season, from Cousins’ crucial interception in South Bend to a last second touchdown against Iowa. If the Spartans find themselves in similar situations this season, will they fold under the pressure once more or embrace the challenge to succeed?
Great sports teams, both at the college or professional level, look adversity in the face and punch it in the mouth. Only time will tell whether the Spartans end the season as the fighter standing, arms raised towards the sky, or the fighter face-down on the mat, down for the count.