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B1G 2013 // OTE's Michigan State Potluck: What Conspiracy Brings Down Sparty THIS Time?

OTE's writers tackle Michigan State in this week's Potluck....


After considering the mouth-watering Michigan craft brews that Graham posted about this morning, I'm sure we all worked up an appetite. Fortunately, it's that time of the week.....Potluck time.

This week's Potluck is brought to us from East Lansing and the Spartans, which means foil hats have been in plentiful supply this week at OTE. Naturally, with such a surplus of foil, we couldn't resist making all 4 recipes this week involve dishes prepared using foil.

So, read along as the OTE writers discuss how 2012 Sparty was a top 20 team masquerading at .500; measure the ceilings of the Michigan State defense in 2013; cobble together a Sparty offensive identity out of a broken O-line, WRs with bricks for hands, a QB with a crisis in confidence, and no LeVeon Bell; and predict the Illuminati conceived conspiracy that will once again keep Michigan State out of Pasadena.....


1. Ramen Shrimp Pouch: Per Football Outsiders, Michigan State was #15 in the country in 2012 in F/+ ranking. I'm no expert (all I know is that F/+ tries to look at each team statistically on offense, defense, and special teams and weigh each teams' talent/ability when factoring in the varied competition they play), but #15 is a pretty lofty ranking for a team that finished 7-6 on the season. Was Michigan State really just unlucky? Are the Sparty fans right to point to 5 conference losses by just 13 points? Or are the advanced statistics wrong, and MSU was in fact the mediocre 7-6 team we saw last season?

Ted Glover: Bill Parcells famously once said 'you are what your record says you are'. Sparty was 7-6, and that's mediocre. They had a phenomenally good defense, and a phenomenally bad offense, and when you average those two out? Mediocre. People can use stats to shape almost any argument, but MSU struggled last year...a lot...and their 7-6 record is what they deserved. Either the offense or defense let them down at critical times last year, and when that happens, you're going to lose games.

Brian Gillis: Sure, Michigan State lost five games by a total of 13 points last year, but they also won four games by a total of 12 points. Or if you'd prefer, they were outscored on the season by teams from BCS conferences plus Notre Dame. Sounds more or less like a 7-6 season. But Michigan State doesn't have the only fan base that seems to remember only the close losses and not the close wins. Many a Michigan fan laments losing "winnable" games against Ohio State and South Carolina last year while failing to mention the last second, final play victories over Michigan State and Northwestern. It goes both ways.

A final note on advanced statistics: Didn't the advanced statistics tell us that Mike Trout was a better baseball player than Miguel Cabrera? ‘Nuff said.

Jesse Collins: So here's the thing. MSU had arguably the best defense in the land last year and that kept them in most every game. They had some unlucky bounces that made close games losses more often than wins. They also had an abomination fo an offense that was hard to watch. Sure, this team had an opportunity to be a ten-win team, but they're kidding themselves if they think it was only the bounces that made them that way. Poor playcalling on offense, a lack of a quarterback who could do anything on his own, and the reliance (to an unhealthy level honestly) on one man to make every play with his legs were far more to blame than anything else. That doesn't necessarily mean they are a mediocre team, but it does mean that a terrible offense can bring down a stellar defense.

Mike Jones: Michigan State's defense over the past few seasons, especially last year, has been nothing short of fantastic. Their offense...uh...well...awful. I don't believe in "bad luck." There are bad beats, shit calls and fluke happenings though. I think Michigan State suffered plenty of those last season and the result was a 7-6 season. Now, are they #15 in the nation? LOL NO. Top 35? Yes.

MNWildcat: I have little sympathy for this "13 points" business. Yeah, congrats, MSU, on holding teams to 16.31 ppg, good for 9th best in the nation. That's pretty awesome. You also scored exactly 20 ppg (108th). In the B1G. If your defense doesn't allow more than 27 points in a game all season (that to a high-flying Indiana offense, no less), it's on your offense. Being awesome on one side of the ball and putrid on the other side averages out to a little better than mediocre; you can point to those 5 losses by 13 points, but it doesn't excuse that fact that it's because MSU, averaged between the offense and defense, was average.

BabaOReally: I think the advanced stats were sort of wrong on this one. I don't see how a team that averages 20 points a game could be fifteenth best team in the country. Yes, the defense was good, but the offense was terrible. So MSU lost a bunch of close games. It happens, especially when your offense can't score enough points to blow anybody out. It's not like the Spartans dominated the games they managed to win; they were usually close as well. Four out of their seven wins were by less than a TD. They played two overtimes against Iowa and scored 16 total points.

MSULaxer27: The defense did everything they could last year to keep MSU in games. "Luck" as it were exists. It seems that if the defense was consistently putting the team in a position to win by holding opposing offenses and getting the MSU offense good field position yet the offense didn't come through then it's not luck. It's poor performance.

Graham Filler: Great Defense, elite Defense. Horrendous O. That's all.


What will Sparty do without the steady hand and dependable play of William Gholston?

2. Stuffed 'n Squashed Mushroom Foil Pack: The F/+ rankings demonstrate that what success MSU had in 2012, it was due to the defense (which Football Outsiders ranked #3 in all college football). While Johnny Adams and William Gholston have left for the NFL, the rest of the returners on defense are fierce and frightening, and continue to be lead by both Mark Dantonio (a pretty great defensive mind in his own right) and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Two questions: (1) What is the ceiling on the MSU defense? Best in B1G? Best in NCAA? Or (gulp) best all time?; and (2) When will Pat Narduzzi get his own team to coach, and where do you see it happening?

Ted Glover: MSU's defense is the best in the conference, and I'd put it up against any defense in the country. I really like Pat Narduzzi and Mark Dantonio, and with the talent they're bringing in, I don't think there is a ceiling to what this defense can do. It's really been one of the few times that I can remember with a Sparty team where they've become a 'next man up' kind of unit, where things like injuries or graduation really don't cause the unit to take a nosedive. Now they need to be able to develop that on the other side of the ball, and they'll be cooking with oil. As to Narduzzi leaving for a head coaching gig, I don't know when, but I think it would be soon. Most Big Ten guys start out in the MAC, but he's rebuffed a couple of MAC schools, so I think he's looking for a low level BCS program--maybe a Colorado-type situation, I don't know. Maybe if Tim Beckman Zookers himself out of Champaign after the 2013 season, he could end up there. Wait, Illinois can't have nice things. Never mind.

Brian Gillis: There's not much not to like about Michigan State's defense - it's hard-hitting and talented. Michigan State's defense should remain strong - but I think they've hit their ceiling. Will they continue to a top five team nationally? That's a tall order. Even taller when you consider that Big Ten coaches (and offenses) are getting better. Michigan State should continue to field strong defensive teams as long as Dantonio and Narduzzi remain in East Lansing and should rank among the best in the conference defensively most years. But perennially in the top five in the country? I don't think so.

Jesse Collins: No, this will not be the best defense of all time. That's absurd and not even a really good conversation until much further down the line anyways. Now, best in the nation this year? Depends on the metrics, but we're definitely in the running. It's an aggressive, smartly schemed, and well coached unit that knows how to make life miserable for any team they play. They run to the ball, make big hits, and they will probably be able to contain most of the Big Ten. As for Narduzzi, I hear he's holding out for a major conference call, but he's going to have to take a rebuilding job if he wants to make that step. It's his time, though. If MSU has another stellar defensive year, his name is going to be on a lot of short lists.

Mike Jones: Michigan State has the potential to be one of the best defenses in the B1G...thus they have the potential to be one of the best in the NCAA. Considering Narduzzi has been coaching in the Midwest for the past decade he'll probably end up at a MAC school in the next 3 years.

MNWildcat: Ceiling's as high as #1. The best offenses they'll face are Michigan, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa, and they handled them reasonably well last year. Not best all-time, but they could be damn good. I can't believe Narduzzi hasn't bolted yet, but I can see him running somewhere in the Pac-12 or Big XII if an HC gets the ax pretty soon.

BabaOReally: (1) The ceiling is best in the B1G. (2) Pat Narduzzi will be trying to bring some defense to the MAC at Eastern Michigan pretty soon.

MSULaxer27: MSU will have the best defense in the conference and one of the top defenses in the country. Narduzzi will be the next head coach at MSU. 1-11 baby. 1 and 'MF 11.

Graham Filler: You can save the "BOAT" thoughts for those once in a hundred years defense that combines a superstar, veterans, and no injuries. Like one of these Bama D's from the last few years, or Michigan '97...But the ceiling is so high as long as the Spartans continue developing individuals as well as they have.


This is the picture you get when you type "one-dimensional offense" into Google Images....

3. Swordfish Baked in Foil with Mediterranean Flavors: Last year's MSU offense was LeVeon Bell....and hope the defense finds a way to score. This year? The Spartans lost LeVeon Bell, so....CAN WE HAZ MOAR INTERCEPTIONS FOR TOUCHDOWNS PLEEZ? Given how good the MSU defense was, why did the offense (which practiced against it every day) struggle so badly in 2012? Is all the blame to go on Andrew Maxwell the QB? An injured (and thus porous) offensive line? A receiver group lacking in talent? Dan Roushar? And what do co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner and (gasp) Jim Bollman do to make the MSU offense middling (which would probably make Sparty an elite team)?

Ted Glover: Andrew Maxwell couldn't throw, his receivers couldn't catch, and former offensive coodinator Dan Roushar couldn't call a game. Other than that, it was a pretty solid offensive unit. Now was Roushar hamstrung a bit by a lack of confidence in the section of his playbook he called 'passing'? Maybe, but his formations were pretty vanilla, and his tendencies made it easy to stop an offense that all too often went out of their way to shoot themselves in the foot. The early returns on Dave Warner are positive, and, well, I won't bash Jim Bollman here. He's not going to be calling the plays, and maybe he just needed a change of scenery. I will be very interested to see what happens with the MSU offensive line this year, though. Still, I'm not a fan of the MSU quarterback or receiver situation as I don't think they've done anything to really upgrade or improve either position, and with LeVeon Bell gone, I'm having trouble believing this unit will be any better than last year.

Brian Gillis: Andrew Maxwell's struggles are well documented, but what doesn't get mentioned enough are the drops by his receivers. Dion Sims was a trustworthy, if somewhat under-utilized target and Aaron Burbridge showed flashes of greatness (I expect big things out of him), but as a whole, MSU's receivers hung Maxwell out to dry more often than not. Granted, Maxwell made enough poor throws to fan the flames of discontent among the Spartan faithful, but he often didn't have a lot of help. I think Maxwell has a better year in 2013 and I don't buy that by virtue of his relief performance in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, Connor Cook has proven he's the better QB. But the guy I really like is incoming freshman Damion Terry. Terry may not see much (if any) action this season, but I think as he grows into the starting quarterback role, the Spartan offense begins to open up.

Jesse Collins: They need to play to their own strengths. One of the funniest things to watch is when coaches out-coach themselves, and Roushar was really good at that. Bell is having a good day? Let's change things up and have our inexperienced and mistake-prone quarterback mess with the rhythm of the game by chucking into quadruple coverage. I know that Bollman is universally mocked by the Big Ten, but Spartan fans have some optimism on hand. Bollman may be the most boring OC ever who almost anyone could scheme around, but he played to the notion that his defense could keep the other team out of the endzone and his offense just had to control the ball. If MSU can do that a bit more with whatever creativity Warner comes up with, Sparty will be just fine. Then again... Maxwell y'all. Good times had by all (other B1G teams).

Mike Jones: As a team that has Greg Davis as offensive coordinator I don't feel I have the right to answer a question about a poor offense.

MSULaxer27: It looks like our top RB might be a freshman linebacker. Gulp. We might see quite a few 3-2, 7-6 games this season. Hopefully though, another year of work will build cohesion between Maxwell and his very talented group of receivers. A middling offense (instead of poor) will result in a great season.

Graham Filler: Don Treadwell is always, always missed. When you thought the Spartans would pass, he would run. When you thought they would stick to basics, he would run a trick play (See Texas Tech bowl game against the injury depleted Spartans). He's gone and so is the originality and swagger which came with Treadwell's offensive brain...and Kirk Cousins.

Andrew Maxwell was told to make safe throws last year. GregDavisesque throws. A torn up O Line and young WR's contributed to that too, not to mention Maxwell's skittish pocket behavior.


Much like "money in the banana stand," there's always foil in East Lansing....

4. Foil Wrapped Pears with Caramel Sauce: I personally think that Michigan State is going to win 10 games in 2013....minimum. That's how much I believe in Sparty's defense (and Dantonio, for that matter). Since my predictions are frequently wrong (but not as wrong as Mr. "Purdue - 1-11" MSULaxer27), we now know that MSU will not win 10 games in 2013. What we don't know is why. Come up with the craziest, conspiracy fueled scenario that prevents MSU from reaching a bowl game (much less 10 wins) in 2013.

Ted Glover: I really like their defense, too, but that same defense only got them to 7 wins last year. How about they don't have the talent on the roster to get to 10 wins? That's not conspiracy fueled, but when you look at their schedule, and look at that offense minus LeVeon Bell...I see 3-1 in the non-con (loss to ND), and as far as conference play goes I just don't see them going 7-1. I'd call it 4-4, or maybe 5-3. And heck, you could even talk me into a 3-5 conference record.

I won't believe there's a conspiracy to destroy Sparty's season until Mark Dantonio makes Jim Bollman the offensive play caller. Then I'll know Sparty fans everywhere were right all along. Wait, I promised I wouldn't say anything bad about Jim Bollman...

Sorry, Sparty.

Brian Gillis: I'm not sure what underhanded conspiracy will keep MSU from achieving what is rightly theirs this season, but I think we all know it will involve Michigan.

Jesse Collins: I see what you're doing Chad. You're trying to let the cat out of the bag and give Sparty a heads up on the Emperor's plans for ruining Michigan State once and for all. I knew someone was going to turn on the collective and alert those pesky East Lansing folks of our plans, but I didn't think it would be our friends from Northwestern. Just know that you don't get away with turning your back on the Illum... I've said too much already. We're watching you, Chad. We're always watching you.

Mike Jones: The offense completely falters, a dorm incident happens, Dan Roushar goes Greg Davis and the Spartans lose every road game except @ Illinois. Unfortunately, they also lose to Purdue, Minnesota and Michigan. BOOM. NO BOWL GAME. No, that's not going to happen. But I honestly do see the Spartans going 7-5/8-4. Until they get a quarterback I'm not changing my mind.

MNWildcat: Michigan State starts out hot -- they steal one from Notre Dame in South Bend as the defense scores 3 TDs on an INT, fumble, and INT, while Andrew Maxwell somehow finishes with -42 yards on the day. No one quite understands or remembers how, but it becomes the stuff of legend. A weak schedule through Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, and Illinois sees Sparty run its record to 8-0, before an urgent sealed letter comes across Jim Delany's desk:


After a phone consult with Bud Selig, Delany announces the suspension of 3 MSU defenders for the next two games, citing "They know what they did" as adequate reasoning. Devastated, Sparty drops three straight to Michigan, Nebraska, and Northwestern (even with all three defenders back...SHOTS FIRED), torpedoing themselves from the B1G title race. Still devastated, MSU travels to face a 5-6 Minnesota team, desperate to get bowl-eligible.

In a surprise move, Ted Valentine and Jim Burr arrive to referee the Spartans/Gophers tilt. Despite Tom Izzo standing on the field for most of the game, constantly cajoling and berating the crew (about which Dantonio does nothing), several suspicious calls go against Sparty, including a flag on 4th and 24, when a Spartan is flagged for running into the punter. Izzo's protestations to the contrary that it was, in fact, Michigan State punting the ball, TV Teddy will hear none of it, somehow awarding Minnesota two free field goals. Minnesota wins the game, 12-9, after a safety and an INT return for a touchdown aren't enough to carry Sparty to victory.

Dismayed, Michigan State travels to the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and in front of 13,000 fans in the Cotton Bowl and 20,000 more viewers on ESPU, defeats TCU 8-3 in a game marked by 4 safeties and a TCU field goal. Kirk Ferentz and Joe Paterno's corpse blush as Dantonio orders Andrew Maxwell to pooch kick on 1st and 10 from the TCU 30, only to see Michigan State stop the TCU running back for the fourth safety of the evening, salting it away for Sparty.

BabaOReally: During the same batch of previews in 2011, a former OTE writer named Chadnudj predicted Northwestern to go 11-1, so it's not like Laxer's 1-11 was the only terrible prediction to ever show up on this site. Anyway Michigan State does not make a bowl next year because the powers that be in Michigan decide there's only room in the state for one good football team. The secret cabal that runs the state will make it impossible for the Spartans to succeed. The police will arrest players constantly, the attorney general will bring up bogus game-fixing charges against Andrew Maxwell and Mark Dantonio will be imprisoned on Mackinac Island.

MSULaxer27: Well, it all starts with Zxxrkkkkkkkkkj Zreeeeeeeeeeeech Vreeeeeecjjjjkk...Damn. my tin foil hat shorted out again.

Graham Filler: Beaumont Tower is actually used by genius University of Michigan scientists to emit energy waves onto the field at Spartan Stadium, making all the balls thrown by Spartan quarterbacks go sideways instead of down the field.