The Michigan State Spartans kind of got slapped in the face after being left out of the Bowl Championship Series. The men from East Lansing had good reason to feel slighted after establishing a school record eleven wins (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) earning a three-way share of its first Big Ten title since 1990.
The Spartans played a tougher schedule than Ohio State and Wisconsin, but MSU was still knocked out of a BCS bowl game and ended up playing the defending BCS champion, Alabama Crimson Tide coached by its former coach, Nick Saban, in the Capital One Bowl.
The record setting season and the three-way tie for the Big Ten title were both somewhat diminished by how the Crimson Tide rolled over and blew out the Spartans, making the decision to leave MSU out of the BCS Bowls the right call. That is one reason MSU, in spite of numerous key players returning, cannot find themselves ranked any higher than 15th but as low as 23rd. One publication did project that the Spartans would make it to the Rose Bowl.
Another thing many will watch with a concerned eye is the health of MSU’s leader Mark Dantonio. All know he suffered a heart attack last season and a blood clot in his leg kept him on the shelf a little longer as his assistant coaches implemented his plans.
The road to a two-peat will not be easy for MSU. After all, a closer inspection of their 11 wins season finds that too often they fell behind and in a few other cases needed last second gadget plays to squeak out a win.
The Big Ten continues to rebrand itself, first with the Big Ten Network which is the only internationally distributed conference network in the country. Now with the addition of Nebraska the league has 12 teams and had been split into the Legends and Leaders Divisions.
The Spartans are in the tough division Legends Division with Nebraska, Iowa and Michigan. However, this weekend the Spartans should get a reprieve as they open up at home versus Youngstown State. Next, Florida Atlantic comes to East Lansing, but the next week MSU goes to Notre Dame. Following a home contest against Central Michigan, the road to the Rose Bowl tightens up as in consecutive weeks the Spartans will play at Ohio State, home versus Michigan and Wisconsin and them at Nebraska.
With the loss of both of its inside linebackers, the Spartans’ defense was a question, but things appear to be falling into place.
“Our intensity level was very good throughout the scrimmages,” Dantonio said. “We’re really excited about the way the defense has played. Our first-team defense has looked very sharp, pressuring the quarterback, running to the football and tackling in space.”
In particular, linebacker Max Bullough and Detroiters Tony Lippett defensive back (Crockett), defensive end William Gholston (Southeastern) and linebacker Chris Norman (Renaissance) have shined.
The Spartans offense looks to be its strength as quarterback Kirk Cousins, a Big Ten MVP preseason candidate, and running back Edwin Baker, who led the team with 1,246 yards and 13 touchdowns lead the way. Also, the return of tight end Dion Sims should add to a very solid receiving corps.
One thing that Dantonio has built with his team is a sense of family, hard work and togetherness.
“If you had to ask me what was the strength of our team last year,” he said, “what’s the strength of our team this year, right now it’s the chemistry as a group of people, a belief as a group of people that propels us.
“We’re really pleased with the attitude of our football team. You’re never going to be perfect, but you keep striving for perfection. We’re very excited about our toughness and how hard our guys play. With our players’ willingness to work, the execution will come.”