Much like a Michigan State trip to Pasadena, this week's Potluck is.....delayed. (Not because I ran into a kicker, but because work does not recognize "busy writing a Michigan State potluck" as a viable excuse.)
But here it is.....a nice, filling Greek-themed meal (all meal links direct you to actual Food Network recipes!) before you get Michigan State's Haterade this afternoon. And like the Michigan State defense, it's terrifyingly awesome: over 3500+ words on the team that might, MIGHT be the favorite to win the B1G in 2012.
This week, the OTE writers are joined by Chris Vannini of The Only Colors, SB Nation's excellent source for all things
Little Brother Sparty. Follow us below the jump as we discuss Michigan and Ohio State sucking all of the media oxygen out of East Lansing, dodge cheapshots from William Gholston, shed a lonely tear for Captain Kirk, and I apparently foolishly question whether BCS bowls "matter" in terms of prestige....
(Chadnudj's Update: Due to an error by me, JDMill's responses to this Potluck were not in the original version of this story. They've now been added. Please juxtapose/compare his excellent response to the Appetizer with the picture above the Main Course.....)
Mark Dantonio focuses so hard, he pulls nearby objects out of focus....(Photo Courtesy of Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
1. Saganaki: Intriguing non-conference schedule (featuring matchups against That Team in South Bend and Boise State)? Check. Team coming off consecutive 11-win seasons? Check. Beating your most-hated rival four years in a row? Check. Winning a bowl game against an SEC power? Check. Highly regarded coach who isn't going anywhere? Check. One of the most fearsome returning defenses in all of college football? Check. Doesn't it seem like Michigan State should be a bigger story in terms of pre-season expectations? Why hasn't Michigan State "moved the needle" so to speak in terms of national attention this offseason? Can their 2012 season match-up in terms of quality with 2010 and 2011?
Ted Glover: Losing the B1G championship game? Check. Senior quarterback and unquestioned leader Kirk Cousins gone? Check. Still in the shadow of Michigan and Ohio State, despite beating them both last year? Check. Look, MSU is a borderline outstanding team, and they have a solid coaching staff, good recruiting classes, and a fearsome defense. It's just that the two traditional flagship schools of the conference, Michigan and Ohio State, both generated a lot of buzz this off season, and took almost all the oxygen out of the room. So MSU is flying under the radar again, but I bet that doesn't bother Mark Dantonio one bit. People are also reserving judgement until they see whether or not Andrew Maxwell can get the job done. If he can, they're going to Indianapolis again. If he can't, they won't. Regardless of how good the defense will be. And it will be very good.
MikJones24: Nothing like starting things off with a "rabble rabble rabble we don't get no respect rabble rabble rabble" question. Personally, I think MSU is getting the right amount of pre-season hype. They're a ferocious defensive team that needs to replace a great deal of offense. Their defense alone makes them a top 20 or top 15 team but it's difficult to replace a veteran QB and your entire WR core. This is a "what have you done for me lately" business and what you did last year is irrelevant when you aren't returning the same team. So no, I don't think it's a bigger story. I think they're right where they need to be. Can they live up to '10 and '11? Their defense alone will keep them in games. Whether they can win those games is up to Andrew Maxwell and Le'veon Bell.
MSULaxer27: I think there are two very easy explanations about why you haven't heard more about MSU. The first is that the Spartans lost the majority of their starters in the offensive skill positions (Cousins, Nichol, Martin, Cunningham, Celek, Linthicum, Baker etc. etc.). I'm assuming the national media believes that the past two seasons were the Spartan's high water mark and with the loss of those players they will come back down to earth. The second reason is due to the team in Ann Arbor. After last season's fortuitous bounces and February recruiting championship, many believe that the wolverines are back and the team to beat. Since it has happened so rarely in history, no one believes that both teams can be strong at the same time. With those garishly memorable uniforms and back to back September Heisman trophies, it must just be easier to give all the positive press to the home of the best mansierre this side of Lawrence, Kansas.
Just like last season most are suggesting that the Spartans will fall back to the pack. However with a great defense, experienced offensive line, great running back and a QB who has been in the system for three years throwing to a wealth of talent, why shouldn't they be successful?
KennardHusker: Well, I think the answer to this question is twofold. First and foremost, Michigan State did not go to the Rose Bowl or a BCS Bowl two years in a row which basically keeps the team as far outside of the spotlight as possible, especially in non-B1G territory. It isn't exactly fair, but without a flashy name or season ending win in a big game you are nothing. That leads me to the second part. Even with a flashy defense, it wasn't nearly as sexy a name as Alabama or LSU last year and there is not enough 'HEADLINER' on the offensive side of the ball. Losing Cousins (perennially underrated) makes things even dicier for the guys who do actually know about the Spartans. Throw that in with the fact that MSU is not actually a blueblood, you have the recipe for being underrated. I think that will serve them well, though.
BabaOReally: I honestly haven't thought that Michigan State has been disrespected. The few preseason rankings that I have seen have them second in their division, behind Michigan and ahead of Nebraska. This one has them ranked #11, which is pretty close to where they finished last year if I recall correctly. That's a pretty high ranking for a team that is breaking in a new QB and has a pretty tough schedule next year.
Chris Vannini: There are two reasons MSU hasn't drawn that much national attention during this offseason. The first is that things are going along just steadily. MSU has built a solid foundation over five years under Mark Dantonio, but there's nothing really new. They're not going to win the national championship, but they're not going to miss out on a bowl either. There are some storylines, but they're boring storylines - at least that's how Mark Dantonio is downplaying them. When Dantonio came back to East Lansing, he wasn't trying to build a Michigan or an Ohio State. He was shooting for Wisconsin/Iowa. Not always going to be great, but not going to collapse the way so many MSU teams have done in the past. Neither Wisconsin nor Iowa get much offseason hype, but they're almost always a solid team. That's what Dantonio has done at MSU.
The second reason there isn't much buzz is because of the offensive losses. Last year, everyone could point to Kirk Cousins as the face of the program and get excited. He did interviews everywhere and everyone loved him. Now, there's just a bunch of unknowns on offense.There isn't a Cousins or Denard Robinson to point to. The line theoretically should be good with four starters back, but I'll believe it when I see it first. Le'Veon Bell should be one of the Big Ten's top running backs, but the entire passing game has been replaced. I think the offense will be just fine, but defense wins championships, while offense sells tickets (and gets media attention, unless you're Alabama).
JDMill: Michigan State hasn't "moved the needle" this offseason because, unfortunately for Michigan State, Michigan State is not a "move the needle" program. In other words, Michigan State, it's not your fault... [We know.] It's not your fault... [Don't mess with us, JDMill]. It's not your fault... [/sobbing].
Unfortunately for MSU, Ohio State getting Urban Meyer and facing sanctions is a bigger story than how good MSU could be. Unfortunately for MSU, Michigan returning to alleged prominence is a bigger story than how good MSU could be. Unfortunately for MSU, and for absolutely everybody else who is interested in B1G football, college football in general, or for absolutely everybody in the entire world who has to continue to relive this garbage, Jerry Sandusky is a bigger story than how good MSU could be.
But when it's time to talk about football, actual football played on the field, and who is going to be the team to watch on Saturday's, Sparty will have its day.
When playing Georgia, always do it doggy-style.....(Photo Courtesy Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
2. Greek Potatoes with Lemon Vinaigrette: The Spartan defense....wow are they impressive. As MSULaxer27 noted on Tuesday, the Spartans "finished the season ranked 6th in the country in total defense...[and] were ranked no worse that 3rd in the conference or 19th in the nation in any purely defensive statistic." William Gholston (cheapshots or no) is a beast, Max Bullough is one of the most underrated MLBs in the conference (if not the country...he always seems to be in the right place at the right time), and the Spartans boast senior leadership like Anthony Rashad White and Johnny Adams who will ensure that MSU doesn't miss NFL-bound Jerel Worthy. Is the Michigan State defense the most impressive returning unit in the B1G? In the country? What's the ceiling for the Spartan defense? And what, if anything, will be its weakness in 2012?
MikJones24: The Big 10 is loaded with great defenses in 2012. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State all return at least 8 starters by my count. And while losing Worthy hurts, I think I'll give the nod to Sparty for the best defense in the conference. The nation? You could that argument based upon their number of returning starters but by the end of the year it will probably be an ESSSSS EEEEE SEEEEE team or USC. That being said, there isn't a ceiling for this defense. They could be every bit as dominating as they were last year (or better). The only weakness appears to be the void left by Worthy in the tackle position. Fortunately, they've got Rush and Gholston to pick up the slack.
MSULaxer27: Back in January, Pete from The Only Colors posted the projected MSU defensive two-deep and looking at that the only thing I fear (besides of course, fear itself) is a rash of catastrophic injuries. We've got talent and depth. Nothing is static, as other teams are always improving as well, but this should be a top ranked defense nationally again and could be one of the all-time great defenses in program history.
Chris Vannini: The evolution of the MSU defense has been a funny thing. Through Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi's first three years, the defense was a mess. Narduzzi seemed to stubbornly stick to the same formations (4-3 defense against five-wide constantly) and would just say that players need to make plays. With players he recruited (not all highly-ranked) now filling the roster, Narduzzi has become one of the top defense coordinators in the country. Without a doubt, it has to be considered the top returning defense in the Big Ten, and one of the best in the country. They return all three starting linebackers and three of four in the secondary. The question heading into the year is the defensive line, specifically the inside. Both ends return, but the tackles need to be replaced. Jerel Worthy's loss hurts, but so does the loss of Kevin Pickelman. Anthony Rashad White will fill one spot, while the other might be split between a few players. The hope is that William Gholston, (and maybe Marcus Rush) could draw some double-teams to help the new tackles. On the other hand, MSU is a blitz-loving team, so it might not be a big difference.
JDMill: Is MSU the most impressive returning defensive unit in the B1G? Has to be. In a conference known for staunch and physical defenses, MSU's was the staunchiest and the physicalest. (I made both of those words up because MSU's defense deserves its own superlatives.)
Don't be sad, buddy.....I miss Kirk Cousins too. (Photo courtesy of Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
3. Greek Lamb with Yogurt Mint Sauce: Last year, I/we questioned Michigan State's offensive line (which was replacing starters at center and both tackle spots). This year, save Le'Veon Bell, the question marks for the Sparty offense are at the skill positions. I'm personally a believer in Andrew Maxwell, but replacing Kirk Cousins (as both a leader and as an accurate, effective QB) is going to be a huge hurdle....and that's without addressing the question of who will catch the ball in East Lansing, as 6-foot-5, 280 pound Dion Sims replaces underrated TE Brian Linthicum, and relative unknowns Tony Lippett, Andre Sims Jr. and DeAnthony Arnett try to replace B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin, and Keith Nichol at WR. Will the combination of Bell and and experienced offensive line provide Maxwell with enough of a safety blanket to produce a passing attack as (or nearly as) effective as Sparty was with Cousins under center? And just how effective does the offense even need to be with MSU's fearsome defense and (in the past, at least) very effective special teams units?
MikJones24: I think Maxwell will be better than Cousins because quite frankly I thought Kirk got way more hype than he deserved. Cousins was serviceable. That's all I'll say. Still, it's never easy to replace a quarterback who was around forever regardless of how good his successor is (or is supposed to be). Last time I looked, Bell was on the "larger" side and Sparty always seems to pump out great running backs (they're like the anti-Iowa). I think they'll produce enough presence on the ground through Bell or [insert great MSU backup RB here] to give Maxwell time to mature. The only concern I have about Maxwell is his targets. Who is he going to throw it to? Regarding the effectiveness of the offense, I'd say "just enough." When you have a defense that good you don't have to blow away the other team by 40 points. All you have to do is not screw up. Hey, it worked for Trent Dilfer...
MSULaxer27: If anything this season MSU will relay on their defense and special teams (a.k.a. "Tresselball") more than any other part of the team until Maxwell and his receivers gain a little more game experience. As the O-line jelled last the year the team improved, I see the same thing happening this year as Maxwell and his targets have time to work together.
KennardHusker: Count me in the skeptical camp. Changing to a new QB (even one in the, 'system') is a lot more difficult than one might think. With a new core of receivers and TEs trying to get to know the new guy, you're going to have a lot of hurdles ahead. Now, Chad brings up a great question. How good does the offense need to be? The only thing I can think of is 2009 Nebraska. They allowed around 11 points per game that season and still ended with four losses because their offense was absolutely abysmal as they leaned in on a RB to do pretty much everything. Soooooooo yeah. If you keep putting the defense back on the field because you're not doing anything, you'll see just how fast the defense becomes less good. This will be one of the most important part of the legends race in my opinion.
Chris Vannini: Just like you mentioned, I don't have any worries about Andrew Maxwell. He studied under Cousins for three years, and by all accounts, he's a better thrower and runner than Cousins. The problem is who he will be throwing to. The presumed No. 1 receiver will be Bennie Fowler, who basically missed all of last season with a foot injury. No one else has much game experience. There isn't a lot of tight end depth, but Dion Sims could be a security blanket for Maxwell early in the season. While rushing the ball has been a problem the last few years, the offensive line typically doesn't allow many sacks, so that should help. Dantonio has always wanted a run-first team, but issues in the trenches have prevented that. He'll finally have a complete and healthy line, while Bell and Larry Caper should provide a solid rushing attack. At least early on, the defense may have to carry the team, especially with Boise State and Notre Dame in the noneconference schedule. But Maxwell's future is bright.
JDMill: MSU's defense is going to do a good majority of the heavy lifting for this team, but because of how good they have the potential to be the offense is also going to be getting plenty of chances, and probably with good field position a fair amount of the time. I don't see the passing attach being nearly as effective as when Cousins was under center for the simple fact that Cousins was just that effective of a leader to go along with his 64% career completion rate. Having said that, it won't have to be that effective for the offense to do it's job. MSU is going to win a lot of low scoring games and because the defense will be controlling those games, the offense won't be required to score huge points or score quickly.
At the Rose Bowl, you get Disneyland and the Rose Parade. At the Outback Bowl, you get to visit the Mons Venus strip club.....hence Mark Dantonio's cold shower. (Photo Courtesy of Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
4. Rolled Honey and Lemon Three-Nut Baklava: Michigan State fans are understandably angry after missing BCS bowls in 2010 (when they should have gone based on results on the field according to many, and surely would have gone had the OSU violations come to light earlier) and 2011 (where a Michigan team that MSU beat snuck into the Sugar Bowl after MSU's heart-breaking B1G Championship Game loss to Wisconsin). But MSU did get to go to the Outback Bowl last year, got to play an impressive Georgia team (who, coincidentally, also lost their conference championship game), and came away with a victory in a very exciting/close game. I'd argue that beating Georgia in the Outback Bowl was better/more impressive than what Michigan did in the "BCS" Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech. So my question -- with the exception of the Rose Bowl for obvious tradition reasons, does "making a BCS" bowl really matter? In other words, what's more important -- playing in a "BCS" bowl (or higher "name" bowl)...or having a good opponent, good game, and/or win in whatever bowl you end up playing in?
Ted Glover: Yes, making the BCS matters more than getting to a 'regular' bowl.. They are the traditional 'big time' games, even though the selection process is flawed for the at large bids. That said, should MSU have gone to the BCS over Michigan last year? Yes. Was MSU's win over Georgia more impressive than Michigan's win over Va Tech? Yes. And you can argue that MSU-Georgia should have been a BCS game, as both teams were more deserving than both UM-Va Tech were, but MSU made the most of their opportunity. Don't run into the punter next time, Cubby.
MikJones24: I'd rather play in a BCS Bowl due to all the bonuses. The team gets more TV time, more money, a great locale, great stadium (Dolphin Stadium or whatever they're calling it these days aside) and the opportunity to play another fantastic team. Listen, it's not Michigan's fault they had to play Virginia Tech. I think Michigan could've beaten Georgia. That's the BCS's fault. I wouldn't even care if I got beat like a redheaded stepchild in the game (See: Cincinnati vs. Florida), I'd still be happy I played in a primetime bowl. Finally, why is a Northwestern fan talking about bowl wins? What do you know? /troll troll troll troll troll
MSULaxer27: I think it most certainly does matter to play in a BCS bowl. Most fans can name the big four: Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta (although if they're over 75 they may say Cotton instead). All the others are just the "whatever sponsor" bowl in whatever off beaten podunk town they hold it in. Quick, what is the name of the game played in Shreveport, LA.? What about El Paso or Memphis? I know what they used to be called but not so much anymore. People tune into the BCS bowls. Dedicated fans tune in the Pizza bowl or Outback or Poulan Weed Eater Classic.
To put a fine point on it, after 2010 when OSU was selected over MSU for the Sugar, Tressel could point to MSU with a recruit and say, "MSU just had the best season in school history, we had a down season for us, and we went to the Sugar bowl over them." "Which school do you want to go to, son?"
KennardHusker: Sorry Sparty, I get the idea of trying to make the Outback Bowl being a, "better" game than the Sugar Bowl because Georgia was a marquee matchup and it was a good game, but you'd be wrong. The major bowls will always be more important than the non-majors and the Sugar gets more prestige and eyeballs than things like the Outback bowl. Winning is great and probably more important than losing (as it generally goes) but you'd be kidding yourself that the better bowl is not the most important thing. Look at what it did for the Wolverines. Now they're a fringe National Championship contender (kinda) and are getting more press than everyone not named Urban Meyer. So yeah, BCS matters because the Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, and Rose (and honestly the Cotton if we're talking prestige) will always mean more to casual fans and pundits than other bowls. It's not fair, but it's how you build prestige.
BabaOReally: I don't put much stock into the BCS bowls. The Rose Bowl is a big deal and the National Championship game is a huge deal. The Sugar Bowl is not necessarily a bigger deal to me than the Cap One or the Outback. It depends on the quality of teams playing. Moving up or down one slot from where the team should be placed based on the standings isn't a big deal to me. Michigan State has a valid argument that they should have played the Hokies last year, but it's not like they are 1998 Kansas State, who lost their conference championship game in OT and went from playing for the national championship to losing the Alamo Bowl. MSU got to play in a nice stadium against a good team and came home with a trophy. Just because Michigan got to play in a BCS game doesn't mean that everyone will forget that MSU beat them in the regular season and won the division.
Chris Vannini: I think most would agree that MSU's Outback Bowl win was the conference's most impressive in the bowl season. While the win certainly helped legitimize the MSU program, the BCS hurdle still is one that needs to be climbed. For all the success Dantonio has had, MSU hasn't reached a BCS-style bowl since the 1988 Rose Bowl. That's the next step for the program. Even if all the money is split up and the Capital One/Outback opponent could be a better team, it's a mark of prestige that MSU still is missing. But it's a process. First came winning seasons and consecutive bowls, then came a Big Ten championship, then came the school's first bowl win since 2001. Even if the Sugar/Fiesta/Orange Bowls don't have the same feel as the Rose Bowl, it's still a badge that MSU would love to have. From this point on, winning another lesser bowl wouldn't mean as much as making a BCS game.
JDMill: A good bowl with a good opponent is great for a program, but a BCS bowl really does matter. Look, the BCS won't exist in a couple of years. Hell, the Outback Bowl might not either. If you are looking at an MSU program "resume" a few years down the road you will see "Beat Georgia in Outback Bowl," and you might ask yourself: Was Georgia any good that year? Was the Outback Bowl a good bowl to go to? If you instead saw "BCS Bowl Winner," it doesn't matter the bowl or the opponent, you know what that means.
It especially matters for a program like MSU because they aren't traditionally a "move the needle" program, but they are making incredible and real strides toward moving that direction. Had they made, and won, a BCS bowl last season, that progress has a real status and a real name.