Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: #6 Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State LogoI know that it’s difficult to say that an 11-2 season is better than a 13-1 season but that’s exactly what the 2014 season was for the Michigan State Spartans. In 2013 they finished 13-1 with the Big Ten Championship and a victory in the Rose Bowl. Last season the Spartans lost only two games all season long and both losses were to teams who reached the College Football Playoff in Oregon and Ohio State but finished the season with a 42-41 win over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. This season Michigan State is set for another run at the Big Ten Championship game and have the pieces to do it with.

Michigan State Senior Quarterback Connor Cook
Michigan State Senior Quarterback Connor Cook

Offensively the Spartans are set to have a fantastic season with the return of senior quarterback Connor Cook who finished last season with over 3,200 yards and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 24 to 8. If Cook can replicate or improve on those numbers in 2015, the Spartans will be one of the best teams in the country. Cook will be protected by four returning offensive lineman led by Remington Award candidate and senior center Jack Allen who is one of the unquestioned leaders of this Michigan State team. The skill positions is where Michigan State will need some new faces to step up and take charge after losing three of the top rushers from last season as well as the top two receivers. Redshirt Freshman Madre London will get the tab as the starting running back and the coaching staff is anxious to see him get his chance at this level after being a stand out tail back at high school football factory St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Out wide the Spartans do return three players who didn’t start but did see a lot of playing time in 2014 in seniors Aaron Burbridge, Macgarrett Kings and Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett. If the skill players on this team are as good on Saturdays as they are talented, this Spartan offense can be one of the best in the Big Ten and college football.

Michigan State Senior Defensive End Shilique Calhoun
Michigan State Senior Defensive End Shilique Calhoun

On defense the biggest loss will be former defensive coordinator now Pittsburgh Panthers Head Coach Pat Narduzzi who had been the defensive coordinator in East Lansing since 2007. That position was filled from within with Harlon Barnett who has been with the Spartans for 9 years and will look to continue the lock down defense that Michigan State has become known for but also breathe some new fresh life into the unit. He’ll have a good group to work with as the Spartans return 7 starters from a defense that only allowed 21.5 points and 316 yards per game. Up front the leader is senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun who is one of those players that offensive coordinators design schemes to get away from. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Calhoun finished the season with 39 tackles, 8 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss and it poised to improve on those numbers vastly in 2015 with the help of seniors Lawrence Thomas, Joel Heath and sophomore Malik McDowell on the defensive line. Settling in at linebacker will be senior Ed Davis who finished up with a good season of his own in 2014, 58 tackles, 7 sacks and 5 tackles for loss. He will be flanked by junior Riley Bullough and senior Darien Harris to complete one of the best linebacking corps in the all the country. Michigan State has been cranking out top flight cornerbacks and safeties the last couple years and junior Darian Hicks is looking to keep the lineage alive in 2015. He and Demetrius Cox will hold down the outside while sophomore Montae Nicholson and senior RJ Williams (59 tackles in 2014) will handle duties at safety.

Michigan State Spartans Head Coach Mark Dantonio
Michigan State Spartans Head Coach Mark Dantonio

The 2015 Michigan State schedule is action packed with tough road games. The Spartans open the season on the road against up-and-coming Western Michigan on the first Friday night of the season before their home opener against the Oregon Ducks who defeated Sparty 46-27 last season in Eugene. Michigan State welcomes the Air Force Academy to Spartan Stadium the following week for the first meeting between the two schools ever. The Spartans finish out the month of September against the Central Michigan Chippewas who Michigan State actually lost to back in 2009. October brings the beginning of conference play for the Spartans with the Purdue Boilermakers making the trip up to East Lansing who will be looking for their first win against Michigan State since 2006. It’s back-to-back road games for the Spartans the next two weeks when they travel to New Brunswick, New Jersey, to play the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and then over to Ann Arbor to face off against the hated Michigan Wolverines. It’s been two years since Michigan State traveled to Ann Arbor but last time they did they were beaten 12-10 marking the fewest points allowed in a loss since 1993. Its back home the following week to welcome the Indiana Hoosiers before the bye week on the final Saturday in October. Four tough games make up the November slate for Michigan State with a road game in Lincoln, Nebraska, to take on the Cornhuskers first up in a game that has slowly turned into a small rivalry between the two. The Spartans are back home against Maryland the following week before the big trip to Columbus to take on the reigning National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Michigan State has beaten the Buckeyes twice in the last four seasons, one of which being in the Big Ten Championship game back in 2013. Michigan State will then head home to finish out the regular season against the Penn State Nittany Lions who should be much better in year two under head coach James Franklin.

Michigan State is in a good spot this season. All of the spotlight and media attention is southeast in Columbus, Ohio, which has allowed a very good football team to fly completely under the radar. If the defense can find its identity under the new defensive coordinator and the skill players on offense can provide the big plays necessary to win ball games, don’t be surprised if the Michigan State Spartans are just one November road win away from making a serious run at the College Football Playoff.

Spartan Stadium - Capacity: 75,005
Spartan Stadium – Capacity: 75,005

2015 Michigan State Spartan Schedule

Sept 4th            at Western Michigan (Fri)
Sept 12th          (7) Oregon
Sept 19th          Air Force
Sept 26th         Central Michigan
Oct 3rd             Purdue
Oct 10th           at Rutgers
Oct 17th            at Michigan
Oct 24th           Indiana
Oct 31st            BYE WEEK
Nov 7th            at Nebraska
Nov 14th          Maryland
Nov 21st           at (1) Ohio State
Nov 28th         Penn State

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