Michigan State seized its second conference title in three years, filled its trophy case, and broke into the playoff. However, a raft of cornerstone players depart, and that playoff appearance was an abject disaster. Where does the program go from here?
I. Case History/Opening Statement
A. Case History
If 2014 was about a program catching its breath after finally cresting a long-pursued goal, 2015 was all about conquering the next summit. With a third-year starting QB and two lines studded with veteran talent, the preseason consensus gave MSU a shot at dethroning conference and national champs OSU and writing their own names in the stars, but only if everything went right.
Unfortunately, the same injury deities which had been merciful in 2013 and 2014 shifted their collective gaze upon East Lansing and demanded expiation. Ranging from a preseason season-ender to All-Conference caliber LB Ed Davis to minor injuries to 4 of the 5 starting OL, MSU’s persistent injury problems kept them from hitting on all cylinders for most of the year.
And yet, the Spartans piled up the wins, many of them notable: a better-than-you-remember early-season game with Oregon, the historic punt block-six in the Big House, a walkoff FG in the Horseshoe, and finally pinning Iowa after a slobberknocker for the ages teed up MSU’s first berth to the playoff.
No, said playoff appearance didn’t go well. But there aren’t many programs that can call a 12-win, conference championship season a failure.
B. Opening Statement
This offseason’s treatment of MSU has provided yet another benchmark for how far this program has come under Mark Dantonio. Despite getting blown out in dispiriting fashion in their season finale and sending more than half their starters off to graduation or the draft, most observers believe this team will be better than fine.
With Connor Cook gone, it’s now officially Tyler O’Connor’s team. Given the way his first career start turned out, one doubts the moment will be too big for him.
B1G Receiver of the Year Aaron Burbridge is gone, but he, and Tony Lippett before him, had emerged from relative obscurity anyway, and there’s promising candidates from which a successor could emerge.
Lose 3 starters on the offensive line? Well, the whole plan has been to play 8 guys up front as insulation from injuries and roster turnover, so even there, the lack of experience might not be as bad as it looks.
Defensive line is, perhaps, the key to the season. Three graduations and a pair of dismissals will give the group a very different look, but if a blend of youngsters and transfers can coalesce around Malik McDowell, the rest of the defense should be strong behind them.
C. Timeline of Events
Friday, September 2: vs Furman
Saturday, September 17: @ Notre Dame
Saturday, September 24: vs Wisconsin
Saturday, October 1: @ Indiana
Saturday, October 8: vs BYU
Saturday, October 15: vs Northwestern
Saturday, October 22: @ Maryland
Saturday, October 29: vs Michigan
Saturday, November 5: @ Illinois
Saturday, November 12: vs Rutgers
Saturday, November 19: vs Ohio State
Saturday, November 26: @ Penn State
Because opponents backed out of series scheduled many years ago, MSU had to improvise its schedule. They start the season with an FCS fill-in, and then go to their bye week in week 2, with a midseason matchup with BYU mixed in. That’s...not ideal, and running through 11 straight games is a good way to lose a game you really shouldn’t.
The early-season tilt with Notre Dame should be a good measuring stick. Keep it close or pull the upset, and MSU could be in business in the conference picture yet again.
Beyond that, the 4 of the 5 more difficult conference games on paper - OSU, Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern - are all in East Lansing.
A. What We’ve Written About Michigan State This Offseason
III. Emotional Plea
For the 3rd season in a row, Michigan State’s seniors have a good chance at setting a new school record for career wins. As the predictions below imply, this program has now reached a point where, even with a slew of standout players leaving, nine or ten wins and conference competitiveness are assumed.
The story is the same, guys. It’s either us or the Buckeyes or Wolverines, and you know the second either of them returns to the top, we start getting sprotstaeks on when the Big 2, Little 12 will return (hint: never, you cultish fantasists).
Any of you could be us with the right coach and sustained effort. Well, probably not Indiana. Or Rootjars. And it kind of feels like Purdue has a ways to go. I’m getting sidetracked here. MSU is proof that your team, too, can taste sweetest success. Line up behind your champions, and know from experience that we will rule justly.
IV. The Verdict
Aaron Yorke: 8-4 (6-3)
Andrew Kraszewski: 10-2 (8-1)
StewMonkey13: 9-3 (7-2)
WhiteSpeedReceiver: 10-2 (8-1)
Brian Gillis: 9-3 (7-2)
MNWildcat: 9-3 (7-2)
Creighton M: 9-3 (7-2)
DJ Carver: 9-3 (7-2)
AlmaniasIV: 10-2 (8-1)
Candystripes for Breakfast: 11-1 (9-0)
Graham Filler: 9-3 (7-2)
Babaoreally: 10-2 (8-1)
Jesse Collins: 10-2 (7-2)
Zuzu: 9-3 (7-2)
Thumpasaurus: 11-1 (8-1)
Speth: 9-3 (7-2)
GoForThree: 10-2 (7-2)
Hm. Well that’s probably about right HEY WAIT WHAT IS THIS oh I get it, you pukes are trying to close the disrespect lines, starve the program like a fire in a vacuum, eh? Thankfully, Aaron gives us a couple crucial lines of bulletin board material in a prediction board otherwise bereft of program-sustaining chips.