Meet The Spartans: The Big Ten's Best-Kept Secret is Michigan State

Pete Dymeck@PeteDymeckAnalyst IAugust 17, 2008

If the Big Ten has a team of destiny, it is the Michigan State Spartans, not the Ohio State Buckeyes.

While I can not disagree with the fact that Ohio State is the team to beat in the Big Ten and will be for the foreseeable future, I must let out my gut instinct in a huge belch that says the Buckeyes program is built on a house of cards.

Michigan State is the best-kept secret in the Big Ten.

There was a hesitation on my behalf to write this article, knowing all too well that my belief in the Michigan State Spartans could flop like the movie "Meet The Spartans."

In regards to such idiosyncrasy, the Spartans finished 2007 with an extremely average 7-6 record. The difference between winning and losing in each of the six Spartans' losses was just one touchdown.

That's right folks, the Michigan State Spartans were just one touchdown away from going undefeated when you size up their losses a year ago.

Add in the fact that they gave Ohio State a run for their money in the "Horseshoe" and knocked off a very experienced Penn State squad, exciting things may be in the future for second-year head coach Mark Dantonio's football program.

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What does this all mean for 2008, and why is Michigan State the best kept secret in the Big Ten? With 13 returning starters, it means that Michigan State can slide into the forefront of contention in the Big Ten, albeit silently while the major media pumps up Juice Williams and Illinois.

On offense, the Michigan State Spartans feature a well-balanced attack led by senior running back Javon Ringer. Ringer has a small frame (5-foot-9) but he has sub-4.4 speed and is quarterback Brian Hoyer's safety net out of the backfield when it comes to checking down targets.

Ringer rushed for 1,447 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. He also caught 35 passes for 295 yards.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer will have an extremely talented No. 1 target to throw the ball to, so all is well in East Lansing since they lost wide receiver Devin Thomas to the 2008 NFL Draft. That talented wide-out is none other than super sophomore Mark Dell.

He will follow in the footsteps of all-time great Spartan pass catchers, including Andre Rison, Charles Rogers, and Plaxico Burress. The other wide receivers to be on the look out for are freshman Fred Smith and senior Deon Curry.

Michigan State is known to produce quality tight ends who can split out wide and be reliable red-zone targets. After losing Kellen Davis to the draft, Brian Hoyer will look to depend on sophomore Charlie Gantt.

Speaking of which, we have yet to discuss Brian Hoyer. He tossed the rock for 20 scores and 11 picks last season, but accumulated more than 2,700 yards passing. He is a traditional, pocket passer.

His consistency was inadequate last season, his first year as starter. In the Champs Sports Bowl, he threw four interceptions against Boston College.

Those picks ended up being very costly since the Spartans lost out to the Eagles by a field goal. Hoyer could have a breakout season if he improves on his consistency and completes his passes for a higher percentage.

The offensive line is built around juniors and seniors. They are led by starting right guard Roland Martin.

Defensively, the only key defensive back loss was safety Nehemiah Warrick. He will be replaced by junior Roderick Jeanrette. Senior safety Otis Wiley is well-groomed and should terrorize the defensive backfield in the Big Ten.

The Spartans lost their two sack leaders to graduation. Defensive end's Jonal Saint-Dic & Ervin Baldwin combined for 18.5 sacks in 2007.

They will likely be replaced by Brandon Long (senior) & Trevor Anderson (junior). Justin Kershaw and Oren Wilson will fill out the rest of the defensive line.

The linebackers are systematically solid and helped make the 2007 group the best in stopping the run since 2003. Led by sophomores Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, look for the speedy pass rushers to make some noise.

With a much tougher non-conference schedule, featuring a showdown against the Golden Bears at California and a home stint versus the up and coming Florida Atlantic Owls, the Spartans will need to prove from the get-go that they can hang with the best in the nation.

Avoiding a let-down versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is mandatory too. The last five games of their schedule is brutal: vs. Ohio State, at Michigan, vs. Wisconsin, vs. Purdue, at Penn State.

While this program is on the fast track to becoming a contender, they will have to exceed expectations. Still though, they are the best-kept secret in the Big Ten. Our ears are pushed to the highest decibel with the Ohio State Buckeyes while we are force-fed the rest of the Big Ten. 

Pour in some of Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines. Mix that with Ron Zook's Fighting Illini. Stir some of that with Wisconsin's P.J. Hill and Purdue's Curtis Painter. Toss in a pinch of Joe Paterno. Throw it all in an oven and the end result will be some humble pie for those who refuse to recognize Michigan State's potential for contention in the Big Ten.

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