Hi everyone! My name's Pete and I write for SB Nation's Michigan State blog, The Only Colors. Graham asked me to write on a couple of topics, and I chose this one. Before we begin however, one note: SINCE THE NICE FOLKS AT OTE HAVE GIVEN ME THE POWER OF EDITOR, TROLLS WILL BE BANNED. Please and thank you! Here's the idea I chose for this column:
Many people have made a big issue that MSU's 11-2 team was actually an 8-4 team because a) they weren't really great at one thing, b) they got killed in two important games, and c) they got lucky to beat NW, ND, and Purdue, three unimpressive teams. What say you to this? What does Spartan Nation think about 2010?
A. They weren't great at any one thing, just very good at a lot of things- and that was good enough.
Looking at my handy-dandy Phil Steele's 2011 College Football Preview, Michigan State's offense was good to very good at times, and their stat rankings in Big Ten games confirm this hunch. While Michigan State only ranked third or better in two categories (2nd in pass completion percentage, 3rd in sacks allowed), they only ranked below sixth in one category, which came in at 7th in the conference. The defense was better, as they ranked either 2nd, 3rd or 4th in all categories except one, turnovers forced, in which they were sixth. Aaron Bates, Dan Conroy, and Keshawn Martin were all special teams players par excellence, and you're most likely aware of the play calling.
One thing you shouldn't complain about? Michigan State Cheerleaders. See our feature piece with Spartan cheerleader Kailey Forbes today on OTE.
Here's my point - Michigan State did everything either well or well enough to have no glaring weaknesses. You know who did one thing really well? Michigan, and that got them to 7-5 and a shellacking by Mississippi State in their bowl game.
B. They got killed in two important games - this is something that happened. I can't deny that.
First off, on Alabama - most teams in the nation would've been killed by that Crimson Tide team in Orlando this New Year's Day. This was a squad that was mentally the antithesis of the team that got nicely seared by Utah two years previous. They took a few losses in the SEC because they were banged up a bit, but got healthy by Christmas and responded by knocking not one, but two Spartan quarterbacks out. Spencer Hall said that he felt legitimately scared for MSU in this game, and I'd have to agree with him. Before I develop PTSD, let's move on.
On Iowa - yes, this was a bad, bad loss. MSU's offensive line couldn't block at all this game, resulting in 50 rushing yards on 20 attempts, and helped pressure three interceptions out of Kirk Cousins (forgotten about this game - Cousins was 21 of 29 for 198 yards in this game. There's always a "but" though). Likewise, Iowa exploited the Spartan defense on long drives and short. To sum up how soft MSU's defense was on the day, Ricky Stanzi had a 26 yard RUN.
The only defense I have to these losses are that they are the only blemishes on the 2010-2011 season. For every loss there were 5.5 wins, which is a pretty darn good ratio if you ask me. This leads into a point I'll make in the next section - no matter how sloppy, wins are still wins gosh darn it.
C. They got lucky to beat NW, ND, and Purdue, three unimpressive teams.
You make your own luck, Gig. You know what makes a good loser? Practice. - Ernest Hemingway
Yes, there was an element of luck involved in all three of those wins. HOWEVA, it wasn't all luck. In the Notre Dame and Northwestern games Mark Dantonio had the gumption (the coarser among you may refer to gumption as "balls") to pick up a win and fourth down respectively on fakes. The Purdue game turned on a punt block, as Michigan State recovered the ball on the Purdue three-yard line and scored the winning touchdown from there.
So while Michigan State needed a bit of luck to escape with wins in all three of those games, the coaches' decisions on special teams (this statement assumes the coaches called for a punt block against Purdue) put Michigan State in a position to win.
And as I said before, they were close wins - and I'm going to put this in all caps because I've heard this criticism more than once - AT LEAST THEY WERE WINS. There were only three Big Ten teams to have less than five losses last year. Michigan State was one of them, and I'm pretty sure that means something.
Michigan State probably won't go 11-1 in the regular season - they go to Notre Dame, Nebraska, Iowa, Northwestern, and open the Big Ten in Columbus against Ohio State players who didn't have a second source of income. That's a lot of road games in hostile environments (save Northwestern) to overcome. They're not the flash in the pan the 2007 Illini were though, and will contend for the Big Ten North (not Legends) title this year.