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You can read the entire team preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 Big Ten magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#32 Michigan State
Big Ten Legends PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mark Dantonio , 51-28 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dan Roushar | DEF. COORDINATOR: Pat Narduzzi
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio spent the offseason searching for difference-making inches after a 7–6 campaign that saw the Spartans lose five games by a combined 13 points. Dantonio shuffled his offensive staff and looked to add explosive dimensions to his scheme while insisting on more mobility at quarterback. Longtime Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, who spent last season at Boston College, will split coordinator duties with Dave Warner, who coached State’s quarterbacks last season.
The quarterback derby could trickle into the early schedule, which is relatively light compared to the back end of the Spartans’ slate. Senior Andrew Maxwell is the favorite to retain starting duties, but sophomore Connor Cook directed the game-winning drive in a come-from-behind 17–16 win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor brings mobility, as does incoming freshman Damion Terry, and both will get a look.
Playmakers need to step up at the skill positions. Running back is up for grabs, with 230-pound redshirt freshman Riley Bullough, a former linebacker, entering the mix in spring drills along with juniors Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill. They will try to hold off a trio of incoming freshmen in the quest to replace Le’Veon Bell.
Senior Bennie Fowler and juniors Keith Mumphery and Tony Lippett are the top returning wideouts and give the Spartans an experienced trio of targets who have grown more reliable as their careers have progressed. The younger wideouts might ultimately be the most dynamic.
The offensive line, which could be the most improved unit on the team, will benefit from the return of fifth-year senior Fou Fonoti and junior Travis Jackson, both of whom missed significant portions of last season due to injury.
The Spartans lost two full-time starters up front, but coordinator Pat Narduzzi insists that the front wall will remain sturdy. Seniors Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds, junior James Kittredge and sophomore Lawrence Thomas will form a solid tackle rotation. Marcus Rush is a proven technician at one end, while sophomore Shilique Calhoun is a rising star at the other end.
The linebacking corps is at the heart of a defense that finished top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and against the run and pass. Senior Max Bullough anchors the group from the middle and is flanked by Denicos Allen and NFL prototype Taiwan Jones (6'3", 240).
The secondary serves as the backbone of Narduzzi’s “Quarters Press” scheme, and it’s loaded with talent and experience. Projected first-round NFL Draft pick Darqueze Dennard and promising sophomore Trae Waynes will form a top-flight cornerback tandem. Redshirt freshman Demetrious Cox is a promising addition who will see the field when the Spartans use the nickel package.
If freshman Michael Geiger lives up to his billing as the top-rated prep placekicker, the kicking game should flourish. Punter Mike Sadler is a valuable special teams weapon. He led the Big Ten in punting with a 43.3-yard average.
Michigan State’s close losses last season (five by four points or less) are well documented. But the Spartans also won four games by four points or less. The margin for error for this team was razor thin. The 2013 season could look a lot like the ’12 campaign. The Spartans will once again be outstanding on defense, but issues remain on offense. The hope is that the improved offensive line will help the rest of the unit flourish. The schedule is favorable, but on paper it’s tough to project this team to finish higher than Michigan, Nebraska or Northwestern in the division.
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