Coming off the high of the program's most successful season in 25 years, anticipation for the encore runs high in East Lansing. Ticket sales have spiked, the stadium's multi-stage renovation continues, and overseeing it all is Mark Dantonio, the man who has placed himself next to Tom Izzo in the hearts and minds of the Spartan faithful, the man who, in seven years, has turned MSU from a laughingstock into conference and Rose Bowl champion. But where do the Spartans go from here? Has Dantonio maxed out the program's potential? Or is the sparkling new College Football Playoff a realistic goal?
I. Case History and Opening Statement
A. Case History
There are many words that could have described the mood around the Spartan football program a year ago. 'Excitement' would have been pretty far down that list. Closer to the top would have been anxiety, concern, where-is-my-blood-pressure-medication, that sort of thing. The nonconference portion of the schedule bore that out to a great extent.
If you had told me, during the first bye week, that the defense would keep playing the way it was and the offense would become watchable, I don't know if I would have smacked you or kissed you. Both? Yeah, both. And that's how it went down. The sitcom-waiting-to-happen combo of Dave Warner and Jim Bollman got the offense back on the rails, and through fits and starts, got results that at least wouldn't waste the fine efforts of the defense. The wins kept coming, the other division contenders showed more serious flaws, and MSU swept its regular season conference slate to set up a date with the Buckeyes. But since this offseason has established that it's not OK to talk about that game, the ensuing #ROSEBOWL victory, or last season in general beyond a 10-minute period of solemn, demure handshakes and quiet introspection, I'll leave it at this: the defense was great more or less throughout, the offense eventually started to catch up, and the result was the team's best season in 25 years.
B. Opening Statement
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I ask you now to consider the case of your defending champions, the Michigan State Spartans. In light of the evidence I will present to you today, it should be self-evident that my client is the only sensible choice as this conference's chosen and preferred representative in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
I fully understand that my client has presented a similar case in the past, as recently as two years ago. I know perfectly well that my client's historical shortcomings when the stakes are highest will make many of you reluctant to place your confidence in us, having been ranked in the preseason top 15 six times previously and ending all of those seasons unranked. But I submit the following for your consideration.
First, although the defense does lose 6 starters, it is not inconceivable that it will ultimately be a better unit for it, as horrifying as that may be for you to contemplate. First, there is no shortage of star power returning from last year, as DE Shilique Calhoun, FS Kurtis Drummond and CB Trae Waynes all return. And, if you place any value in recruiting rankings at all, Pat Narduzzi has a higher level of talent and athleticism to work with now than he ever has before as players like OLB Ed Davis, SS RJ Williamson, and DL Lawrence Thomas will see more of the field. These are not untested, wide-eyed freshmen, but seasoned veterans stepping into expanded roles. The same can be said for Jim Bollman's soon-to-be-rebuilt offensive line. The projected starting rotation there has a redshirt sophomore, two redshirt juniors, and two redshirt seniors, all with ample playing experience.
Most importantly, these new starters were almost all on the team for the disastrous 2012 campaign. They know full well the price of hubris, or bad chemistry, or forgetting that you're supposed to catch the ball when it's thrown to you, or whatever exactly it was that went wrong there. Having tasted the contrasting extremes of clenching sweet roses between their teeth and being subject to the wing-eating contest at the BWW Bowl, surely these new starters will not permit themselves to be relegated to the latter.
Finally, we ask you to consider the alternatives. Who would you truly send in our place? Ohio State? The same outfit that we bested before sending them to be eviscerated by something called a Dabo Swinney? Surely not. Wisconsin? Yes, that's what this conference needs to represent it on the national stage right now- the team with arguably the strongest record of postseason failure in the last decade of collegiate athletics.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we don't like to phrase it like this, to confront you with this ugly reality. We would prefer you support us through your own volition, with willing hearts. But the fact is, you need us. Unless you want to once again place your confidence in the two teams that have been primarily responsible for the ruination of this conference's national esteem, of course. But I don't think you want that. I think you want the players you're recruiting to know our quality. I think you want to get through the first playoff with something to break the monotony of the ESECPN narrative. There is no one else here who has shown they can get the job done. We can. We have. And we will.
A. What We've Written About Michigan State This Offseason
B. What We Can Learn From Pop Culture
Sigh...as if there was really anything else I could do with this segment.
MSU Football Rose Bowl Post Game Locker Room Celebration (via MSUSpartanAthletics)
C. Pending Docket
8/29 vs Jacksonville State
9/6 @ Oregon
9/20 vs Eastern Michigan
9/27 vs Wyoming (HC)
10/4 vs Nebraska
10/11 @ [REDACTED]
10/18 @ Indiana
10/25 vs Michigan
11/8 vs Ohio State
11/15 @ Maryland
11/22 vs Rutgers
11/29 @ Penn State
Docket Comments: Overall, a reasonably friendly schedule, at least in conference. The week 2 trip to Oregon should be a good expectations-setter for the season; win, or at least keep it close, and sights can be reasonably set fairly high. Get embarrassed, and maybe tone down the playoff talk a little. Still, the three toughest conference games- Nebraska, OSU and Michigan- are all at home.
III. Emotional Plea
I understand it can be a long offseason, especially if your team laid an egg in its bowl or didn't even go to one. I have seen that, for whatever reason, the hot new trend (this summer's planking, if you will) is these pointless pissing matches between some MSU fans and, well, the rest of you. Ladies and gentlemen, the time for these childish diversions is behind us. We sit, now, on the eve of the most glorious time of the year. Now, instead of being mad at MSU fans for bringing up the Spartans in articles not concerning them, you can be mad when Shilique Calhoun breaks your QB's face. I look forward to it.
IV. The Verdict
...is pretty confident in MSU's 2013 encore, as only one respondent predicted fewer than 10 wins. There's a general expectation that MSU will drop the game to Oregon (unless I've assumed incorrectly and some of our writers think we beat the Ducks and lose to Eastern Michigan). There's a bit more division on whether MSU can run the conference table again, but the staff as a whole leaned against that.
|Aaron Yorke||11-1 (8-0)|
|Aaron Rench||12-0 (8-0)|
|Andrew Kraszewski||10-2 (7-1)|
|Brian Gillis||10-2 (7-1)|
|DJ Carver||9-3 (6-2)|
|MC ClapYoHandz||9-3 (6-2)|
|Candystripes for Breakfast||11-1 (8-0)|
|Graham Filler||10-2 (7-1)|
|Jesse Collins||10-2 (7-1)|
|Mike Jones||10-2 (7-1)|