Entering Year 12 of the Dantonio Era, Michigan State continues to search for consistency. It took three years to build a functional roster. The following 6-year run featured three conference titles, a Cotton Bowl, a Playoff appearance, and the last real Rose Bowl. Since making the Playoff in 2016, however, MSU has yet to be the same thing from one year to the next. The utter calamity of 2016 gave way to another 10-win season in 2017, but with most of that team returning, the 2018 Spartans muddled to a 7-6 finish, weighed down by unbelievable offensive ineptitude. Dantonio has shuffled his coaching deck; with experience once again essentially across the board, what’s in the cards for MSU this year?
I. Case History and Opening Statement
A. Opening Statement
If there’s much to say in the positive about Michigan State’s 2018, it would be that they at least told you who they would be pretty darn quickly. Week 2, in fact.
Why, after all, would you not want to take a trip to Tempe as a major conference opponent? Never mind the fact that a Big Ten team has never won there, it involves multiple time zones of travel, and it’s in the damn desert, in September. I hear they party, and they were roundly mocked for hiring a washed-up NFL coach, let’s go!
Cut to 3 am local time the night of that game. MSU had just stumbled around in 100-degree heat and found their way to a 16-13 loss after, inevitably, the defense just couldn’t quite keep Arizona State off the board, and it was costly: LJ Scott would barely play the rest of the year, Cole Chewins managed one snap and then came off the field, and most critically, Jake Hartbarger took a helmet to the ankle and was lost for the season.
And that became the theme: guys getting hurt, the offense flat-out sucking, and the defense fighting an uphill battle before ultimately giving up just a few too many points - not many in total, just more than the punchless offense could ante in response.
Michigan State only gave up 30 points or more once last season, in the opening game against a Utah State team the Spartans definitely overlooked. But they only cracked 30 themselves 3 times, and all of those were before the calendar turned to October. In all 6 of MSU’s offense, they failed to score 20. The end of the season, well, was not a crescendo, and the only reason their pathetic showing in the RedBox Bowl is not more widely ridiculed is because of its quick eclipsing by the glorious Cheez-It Bowl.
B. Opening Statement
What, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, are we to make of the riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a DAVE playcall on every first down?
The answer, as the attached discovery illustrates, was to give everyone new nametags, and folks, at first I had the same reaction as you: how very like Mark Dantonio. Glower with even more stubborn determination, stick to what you know whether the game may or may not have passed you by, and gamble it all on your conviction and execution prevailing even if doing it that way made it harder than necessary.
Recent details came to light which suggest maybe Dantonio doesn’t intend to let his faithful assistants drag them down with him if they aren’t able to get their respective acts together. Fresh details of his assistants’ new contracts indicate they are now on rolling one-year contracts. This makes it substantially easier on paper for Dantonio to cut bait if any of the guys under scrutiny - namely, the entire offensive staff - continue to be, in the industry parlance, really bad at their jobs.
You may notice that, to this point, I’ve not named a single player in the context of MSU’s 2019 season; that’s not an accident. A lot of them are the same, and on defense, that’s a positive thing. ILB Joe Bachie, OLB Tyriq Thompson, S David Dowell, CB Josiah Scott, DE Kenny Willekes, DT Mike Panasiuk, and DT Raequan Williams are all candidates for All-B1G recognition of some kind, and even the less-established guys like S Xavier Henderson and LB Antjuan Simmons are eagerly anticipated in Spartan circles.
The offense is likewise familiar, though its success is certainly not as assured. WR Felton Davis III will be missed - but also went down with an injury halfway through last season anyway. RB LJ Scott is no longer around to tease with his vast potential and disappointing results, but, again - they already had a full season without him. Almost everyone else is back, and presumably healthy, but when you have an offense as flaccid as last season’s, it’s definitely fair to wonder if new blood might serve this group better.
A. What We’ve Learned This Offseason
B. Pending Docket
August 30 Tulsa
September 7 Western Michigan
September 14 Arizona State
September 21 @Northwestern
September 28 Indiana
October 5 @Wisconsin
October 12 @Ohio State
October 26 Penn State
November 9 Illinois
November 16 @Michigan
November 23 @Rutgers
November 30 Maryland
Docket Protocol: Two ways to look at a schedule like this. If you don’t view MSU as a conference title contender, you probably want your easier games at home and tougher ones on the road to solidify your outcomes. If you believe this team should at least be in the division race when you go to Ann Arbor, as I do, then the trips to Ohio State, Wisconsin, and even Northwestern are not things you want to see.
The first three and last two games had damn sure better be a sweep. Between those, Illinois is the only game you can pencil in as a near-sure thing.
III. Emotional Plea
Allow me to place this in entirely self-serving terms for you lot of narcissistic hedonists: if you’re reading this, it’s very likely that you’re either a fan of Michigan State itself, or a fan of a team that plays them. Don’t you want a more watchable product, even if it increases the peril to your team? We know this defense is going to be excellent. We know that even if the play design is a little better, the tempo is probably going to remain glacial. But as much as we all like to chuff away about the platonic ideal of football being single-digit totals, it’s actually, truthfully just miserable to watch and you cannot convince me that you actually believe otherwise. Never mind the results on the scoreboard right now, and the fact that a better MSU offense would be bad news for most of you. Join me in lending your will to a functional Michigan State offense in 2019. Peace in our time.
IV. The Verdict
87Townie: 8-4 (5-4)
Aaron Yorke: 9-3 (6-3)
Babaoreally: 7-5 (5-4)
beezer07: 7-5 (4-5)
BigRedTwice: 6-6 (4-5)
Boilerman31: 9-3 (6-3)
BrianB2: 8-4 (6-3)
Brian Gillis: 9-3 (6-3)
Candystripes: 9-3 (6-3)
Dead Read: 7-5 (5-4)
MNWildcat: 8-4 (5-4)
Ray Ransom: 7-5 (4-5)
Stewmonkey13: 8-4 (5-4)
Thumpasaurus: 7-5 (4-5)
WhiteSpeedReceiver: 8-4 (6-3)