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Why Michigan State Will Shock Big Ten in 2012


It’s no surprise—Michigan State is a team on the rise in college football. 

Mark Dantonio has the Spartans at their best since Nick Saban was the head coach in East Lansing.

Dantonio has been called the savior of this team ever since he took over the head coaching job in 2006.  The team was in shambles at the time after John L. Smith seemingly sunk the team and left Spartan fans scratching their heads game after game.

John L. Smith made just one bowl game in four years as head coach and it was a loss.  Dantonio took over and brought the rebuilding squad to a bowl in his first year—their first bowl game since 2003.  He has since brought the Spartans to a bowl five times. He has never missed out on postseason play in his five years as head coach.

It’s a fact, this team has only gotten better in the past five years.  The momentum has definitely shifted in East Lansing since Dantonio took the reigns.

Last year, the Spartans earned their first bowl win since 2001 and beat a solid Georgia team from the SEC that was supposed to outrun the solid, but slightly slower, Spartan defense.

Michigan State is playing at their best level in over 10 years and they are still on the rise.  They are coming off two straight 11-win seasons and have been in Big Ten title contention the past few years.

Michigan State will not only shock the Big Ten this year, but they have the talent to shock the entire college football world.  For two straight years, the players thought they deserved a BCS bowl, but for the past two years, they have been left out in the cold.

Dantonio’s team won’t let that happen this year, and that is a promise.  Here are a few reasons why they will shock the Big Ten in 2012.

1. The New Quarterback

Andrew Maxwell was highly touted out of high school and could end up being better than the former star quarterback, Kirk Cousins.  Maxwell has spent enough time sitting on the bench and studying the X’s and O’s, inside and out, to realize what he needs to do to succeed.

He was mentored by one of the best quarterbacks in school history and one of the best leaders in college football last year.  A mentor like that can only help his skill set and teach him how to become a leader among guys his own age.

Maxwell is a great kid that is an off-the-field presence that Dantonio can be proud of.  On the field, he will be just as good.  Last year in limited play, Maxwell completed 18 of 26 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown.  Although this is a very small sample size, if he can put up numbers like that, but with more yards, game after game, the Spartans could be smelling roses soon enough.

2. The Defense

Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has Michigan State’s defense playing scary good.  Narduzzi had the defense at the top of almost every category in the conference ranks. 

The Spartans were one of only two Big Ten teams to allow less than 300 yards per game last season and topped the conference in that category.  They ranked sixth in the entire country in yards allowed per game with 277.4 yards.  They were also top 10 in scoring defense in 2011—somewhere they would have never found themselves before Dantonio.

The culture has changed in East Lansing.  The Spartans are no longer a soft team that will try to outscore their opponents in order to earn the victory, but they have a good enough defense to play with anyone in the country. 

They also have two projected top 20 picks for next year’s NFL Draft with defensive end and future superstar William Gholston, and also stud cornerback Johnny Adams.

Look out for this young defense that is returning most of the starters from 2011 to be the reasons that they make it to Pasadena in January.

3. The New Receivers and Veteran Running Backs

This is the final category that the Spartans will excel in next season that will earn them the coveted title of “Big Ten Champs”.

You may be scratching your head and wondering why I am putting receivers on this list.  It may be because of the potential of the young receivers, or it may be because there are so many of them that they are bound to have a couple players excel.

This is the youngest and most unproven position on the team, but it is also the one with the most potential. 

Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett highlights the cast and could be a dominant down-the-field threat for Maxwell to throw to.  Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett have been waiting for their turn while they saw receivers such as BJ Cunningham and Keshawn Martin develop NFL talent.

These young receivers could be some of the best in the Big Ten, and even the incoming freshmen could make an immediate impact.

The running backs are solid and plentiful.  Le’Veon Bell is the clear starter because of Edwin Baker’s early departure to the NFL. Nevertheless, Bell would have started even with Baker still on the team.

Bell rushed for nearly 1,000 yards last season while only starting in half the games.  He also finished the season with 13 rushing touchdowns, which was good for fifth in the Big Ten.  He will surely be one of the top three running backs in the Big Ten this season, and he is also considered one of many preseason Heisman candidates.

Larry Caper and Nick Hill are great complimentary backs for the powerful and elusive Bell.  Larry Caper started five games as a freshman in 2009 and saw his playing time reduced drastically because of the solid play of Edwin Baker and then Le’Veon Bell.  He finds himself as the backup this year and could experience more playing time.

Nick Hill is the kickoff returner and he is one of the best in the Big Ten.  He finished the season with 999 return yards, good for second-most in MSU single-season history.  The quick, shifty running back is entering into his sophomore year and could improve on his return numbers this season. 

If he does, the Spartans won’t even need to play offense, because Hill could find himself in the end zone consistently.

The Spartans are a rising team, and for the recent successful seasons they’ve had, it shouldn’t be considered a shock when they do well.  This is the case, unfortunately, and the Spartans could be shocking the entire country next season, not just the Big Ten.

Filed under Michigan State Spartans Mark Dantonio Nick Saban John L. Smith Georgia Bulldogs Big Ten Conference Big Ten Andrew Maxwell Kirk Cousins Pat Narduzzi William Gholston Johnny Adams DeAnthony Arnett Bennie Fowler Tony Lippett B.J. Cunningham Keshawn Martin Le'Veon Bell Edwin Baker Larry Caper Nick Hill

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What MSU Fans Need to Watch During Spring Game

1. Passing Game
The quarterback (Andrew Maxwell vs Connor Cook) and wide receiver (Tony Lippett vs Bennie Fowler vs Keith Mumphery vs DeAnthony Arnett) positions are up for grabs, along with some tight end spots (Dion Sims vs Evan Jones vs Josiah Price. 

2. Offensive Line
As mentioned before, the offensive line should be stable this coming season. Most of the men return for another year, and each position is packed with talented backups. 

3. Running Game
Last season the running game was not very effective due to very few veterans on the offensive line. Now that the linemen have more experience, expect the running backs to carry the ball more often. LeVeon Bell had an excellent season last year with carries split between Edwin Baker and Larry Caper. Baker declaring early to the NFL will give Bell the bulk of the carries this coming season. Bell may have the nod, but the players below him could easily change that. Caper is due for some playing time along with fellow running backs Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford. All of these players will be fun to watch when the spring game begins.  

4. Defense
The whole defense will be something to watch this spring. After ranking in the top 20 in seven statistical categories and being the top defense in the Big Ten, this group is nothing but dominant. A majority of the defense returns this season, but there are some key spots that need replacing. The most critical area that needs to be addressed is the defensive tackle position (after Jerel Worthy declared himself for the NFL draft). 

5. Special Teams (Punt Return) 
The coaches are hoping Nick Hill will be the guy to replace Keshawn Martin. He has great field vision and releases quickly. He averaged 26.3 yards per gain on kick returns he attempted along with five punts returned last year. The most notable loss for MSU is the do-it-all receiver and punt returner Keshawn Martin. 

Filed under Michigan State Spartans College Football Andrew Maxwell Connor Cook Tony Lippett Bennie Fowler Keith Mumphery DeAnthony Arnett Dion Sims Josiah Price Le'Veon Bell Larry Caper Edwin Baker NFL Nick Hill Jeremy Langford Big Ten Jerel Worthy Keshawn Martin

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Michigan State Spartans Football: Why They Will Be Back in 2012

(Bleacher Report)

Following a very disappointing loss in the Big Ten championship game, the Spartans somewhat salvaged the season with a thrilling win against Georgia in the Outback Bowl.

The win sent perhaps the greatest senior class in Michigan State history out with a win and gave head coach Mark Dantonio his first bowl victory.

However, with the departure of three-year captain and senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, many people think the Spartans will have a letdown year next year.

This simply is not true.  

Surely, Cousins’ leadership will be missed by the Spartans. However, they reload the quarterback position with former four-star recruit Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell will be heading into his junior year next year and has very high expectations for both himself and the team.  

In addition to Cousins, the Spartans lose the majority of their receiving core, including wide receivers BJ Cunningham, Keith Nicol, Keshawn Martin and tight end Brian Linthicum.  

Michigan State will fill these holes with sophomore Bennie Fowler and freshman Tony Lippet. In addition to these two, the Spartans signed the No. 1 wide receiver in the state of Michigan, four-star Aaron Burbridge.  

Furthermore, former Tennessee wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett transferred to State just yesterday. The addition of the former Under Armour All-American, Arnett, will surely go a long way in Michigan State’s passing game.  

"Maxwell to Arnett…touchdown MSU!" is a phrase we will hear a lot of in the coming years.

The Spartans only lose one player off last year’s offensive line, senior captain Joel Foreman. The last player lost from the offense is senior fullback Todd Anderson. This hole will hopefully be filled by former Catholic Central back Niko Palazeti.  

The dual-threat run game of Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker will return next year. With their talents, the Spartans hope to have one of the best run games in the Big Ten. (Edwin Baker is leaving for the NFL Draft.)

The Michigan State defense finished the year in the Top 10 of total defense. The scary part is, the Spartans return nine out of the 11 starters from that defense; that is, if defensive tackle Jerel Worthy declares for the NFL draft as he is expected to. (He did declare for the NFL.)

The defense will be led by juniors Max Bullough and William Gholston up front. The secondary loses free safety Trenton Robinson, but it should be okay returning corners Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams and safety Isaiah Lewis.

 Michigan State looks to again have one of the best defenses not only in the Big Ten, but in the entire nation.  

These certainly are exciting days in East Lansing.  

Mark Dantonio has put together a program that will compete for Big Ten championships for years to come. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has turned down a few offers already and appears to be staying on board Dantonio’s staff.  

The sky is the limit for next year’s Michigan State Spartans.

Filed under Michigan State Spartans College Football Big Ten Championship Georgia Bulldogs Outback Bowl Mark Dantonio Kirk Cousins Andrew Maxwell B.J. Cunningham Keith Nichol Keshawn Martin Brian Linthicum Bennie Fowler Tony Lippet Aaron Burbridge Tennessee Volunteers DeAnthony Arnett Joel Foreman Todd Anderson Niko Palazeti Le'Veon Bell Edwin Baker NFL Draft Jerel Worthy Max Bullough William Gholston Trenton Robinson Darqueze Dennard Johnny Adams Isaiah Lewis

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Edwin Baker vs Le’Veon Bell

I think Le’Veon Bell is our guy this year. We have 4 awesome running backs, but in my opinion Bell is doing a much better job than Edwin Baker. So I just can’t figure out why Baker is getting more carries than Bell, when Bell is the one with the better numbers. 

Maybe I’ll have to go back and watch some of the games to see if Baker just has tougher plays to deal with and that’s why he’s not getting the yards that Bell is. But Bell just seems to make the bigger plays especially when those yards are needed. 

Either way, I love our running backs. 

Filed under Edwin Baker Le'Veon Bell Michigan State Spartans College Football

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MSU’s running game needs to exist to win games.

I was discussing MSU football with a new girl I hired the other day. 

She told me she is a HUGE football fan and knows a lot about it, which obviously made me excited to finally have someone to work with who likes football.

So a couple days ago, we were both talking about the horrible loss last week and I mentioned that when we don’t have a run game, we lose games. 

Lets look at some stats from LOSSES

2010 at Iowa (L 37-6)
Rushing - 31 yards
Rush Attempts - 20
Yards Per Rush - 1.6

2011 at Notre Dame (L 31-13)
Rushing - 29 yards
Rush Attempts - 23
Yards Per Rush - 1.3

versus stats from WINS

2010 vs Wisconsin (W 34-23)
Rushing - 175 yards
Rush Attempts - 45
Yards Per Rush - 3.9

2010 at Michigan (W 34-17)
Rushing - 249 yards
Rush Attempts - 42 
Yards Per Rush - 5.9  

2010 at Penn State (W 28-22)
Rushing - 163 yards
Rush Attempts - 39
Yards Per Rush -  4.2

2011 vs Florida Atlantic (W 44-0)
Rushing - 188 yards
Rush Attempts - 51 
Yards Per Rush - 3.7

Then she tried telling me that our running backs are awful and we haven’t had a good running back since Javon Ringer. I laughed and told her that we have amazing running backs in Edwin Baker, LeVeon Bell and Larry Caper, but you can’t be a good running back if you don’t have a good offensive line and our offensive line is YOUNG. Mostly redshirt Freshman, Sophomores, and a couple of Juniors. We lost 2 starting OTS and the starting center after last season. She tried telling me that if you are a GOOD running back you’d be able to find a way to get yards. I told her it isn’t that easy, if the holes are there for you there’s not much you can do.

Then a couple minutes I found out that she SWORE Notre Dame was in the Big Ten Conference and had no idea they were an independent. I don’t think she is as big of a football fan as she claims. 

Filed under Michigan State Spartans Le'Veon Bell Edwin Baker Larry Caper College Football Javon Ringer

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Big Ten Mailblog

Steve from Meridian, Miss., writes: Adam, Edwin Baker looks solid on paper and build. But when looking at his 1201 yds last year, over 37% came out of conference (WMU, FAU, ND and No. CO). Throw in the anemic performances against the Illini, Iowa and Bama (23, 21 and 14yds ouch!), is his potential for 2011 a bigger question mark than reliable fact? Just seems that last year’s close games and two horrible losses MSU had a hard time getting it going on the ground.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, while those performances shouldn’t totally fall on Baker, as Michigan State got beat up at the line of scrimmage in all three games, the junior certainly needs to prove himself against elite defenses. I still wouldn’t discount what he showed in the other games, particularly his blend of breakaway speed and power. But you’re right in that there are some unanswered questions. We’ll find out a lot more about Baker when he goes against defenses like Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin, not to mention what should be an improved Notre Dame D in Week 3.

Filed under Big Ten Adam Rittenberg Michigan State Spartans College Football Edwin Baker

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Nick Hill makes big impression in backfield for Spartans

Nick Hill is facing an uphill battle. Sure, it’s one he’s faced much of his career. After all, the redshirt freshman running back is only 5-foot-6. In fact, his Michigan State teammates have given him the nickname “Mini Mike,” referencing his resemblance of former Michigan running back Mike Hart.

But the real battle for Hill is trying to find carries in a backfield that includes Edwin Baker, Larry Caper and Le’Veon Bell.

Last season, as Hill sat out his redshirt year, Baker was busy gaining more than 1,200 yards, Bell became the standout freshman with 605 yards and eight touchdowns and Caper was bouncing back from injury after leading the Spartans in rushing as a freshman. All told, the trio ran for 1,950 yards and accounted for 24 touchdowns.

Those aren’t exactly numbers that lend themselves to a young player cracking the lineup.

But two weeks into spring practice, the former two-time All-State player from Chelsea is turning heads. "Every time he gets the ball, he makes something happen," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of Hill. 

Even with the talent in the backfield, opportunity still exists for Hill to get on the field. ”I think he had a phenomenal winter and I’m anxious to see him run behind us,” offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said at the start spring practice two weeks ago. “The competition is high.”

It appears Hill is making the most of his opportunity. And he credits the competition as one reason he has been able to improve. ”It is a battle during spring ball and also during the season,” said Hill, who ran for 1,989 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior at Chelsea in 2009. “We all want to get on the field and get a lot of (playing time), but we’re concentrating on getting better. … We’re making each other better by competing. It is a battle, but we’re having fun in the process.”

Bell agrees. ”All of our backs have something to bring to the table,” he said. “(Baker) is very explosive with a low center of gravity, like Nick, and his hard to bring down. Me and Larry are a little longer. We all push each other and just make each other better by competing.”

It might not have been the freshman season Hill had envisioned. He carried the ball once for 2 yards in a season-opening victory over Western Michigan, but at that point the decision was made to redshirt him. But while Hill was used to being the focal point of the offense, he thinks sitting out helped. ”I think I benefitted by getting the offense down and being able to have bowl practice experience and get the pace and speed of the game of college football,” Hill said. “I would say I’m being a little more patient with my blocks and then when I hit the hole, hit it with acceleration and just play the speed of college football instead of high school football and making that transition.”

Hill’s focus this spring is showing the staff he belongs on the field, whether it be carrying the ball or playing special teams. ”He’s got very good ball skills out of the backfield and catching punts and kicks and those types of things,” running backs coach Brad Salem said. “He’ll get his opportunities, we just have another guy to throw into the mix and keep rolling.”

Filed under Michigan State Spartans College Football Nick Hill Le'Veon Bell Larry Caper Edwin Baker Mark Dantonio Dan Roushar Brad Salem

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MSU Spring Football. Defense Wins the First Battle.



 Under overcast skies and temperatures in the low-50s, fifth-year Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio sent his team through a 115-play “controlled” scrimmage in Spartan Stadium on Friday, April 8, as the Spartans completed their sixth of 15 allotted spring practices. Utilizing a modified scoring system, the defense claimed the Green (home) jerseys by winning the first spring scrimmage, 55-45.

The scrimmage format provided the defense with 18 different scoring opportunities, while the offense had 11 ways to put points on the scoreboard, including the traditional touchdown and field goal.

The Spartan first- and second-team defense dominated the early action, as the offense failed to record a first down on its first five series of the 2-hour scrimmage. The defense came up with stops on the first 13 possessions en route to building a commanding 48-29 lead, while recording three sacks, two interceptions and four quarterback pressures.

“The defense played well – tackled effectively, pressured the quarterback and came away with some turnovers,” Dantonio said. “The defense gave up only two touchdowns this afternoon and both came while playing in the red zone. We ran 115 plays this afternoon, so really it was a light day for us. 

“When standing here watching the scrimmage, you never feel like you’re winning because you’re rooting for both sides to do well. There were very few penalties in the scrimmage and that’s a positive. Offensively, we had some dropped passes that killed drives, and we simply can’t have that happen. We also have a number of young guys playing along the offensive line, so if there’s a breakdown up there, things simply don’t work.”

Defensive ends Tyler Hoover (6-7, 274, Jr.) and William Gholston (6-7, 265, So.) combined to record nine tackles, including three for losses (7 yards). Hoover registered five tackles, with two resulting in losses including a 5-yard sack, while Gholston contributed four stops, including one for a loss, and a pass break-up. Linebacker Max Bullough (6-3, 240, So.) also posted five tackles for the first-team defense.

“The front seven played well,” Dantonio said. “At 6-7, 265-270 pounds, both Tyler Hoover and William Gholston can be very good defensive ends. Tyler has been in the program for four years, so he has a good understanding of our system. William has a lot of talent, and he’s really benefitted greatly by playing last season as a true freshman.”

The offense staged a late rally, scoring 10 points on back-to-back possessions during the “red zone” period and adding a touchdown in the “goal-line” period.

The first series of the “red zone” period resulted in a 41-yard field goal by back-up placekicker Kevin Muma (6-0, 189, So.). On the next possession with the first team facing a second-and-13, Edwin Baker (5-9, 208, Jr.) scored on a 22-yard run up the middle. On the first snap of the “goal-line” period, Le’Veon Bell (6-2, 237, So.) raced 6 yards around left end for a TD, utilizing a stiff-arm to break cornerback Johnny Adams’ (5-11, 170, Jr.) attempted tackle.

Baker and Bell, who shared split snaps with the first team, combined to rush 14 times for 50 yards and two scores. Nick Hill (5-7, 182, R-Fr.) paced the second team with eight carries for 36 yards, while Jeremy Langford (5-11, 199, R-Fr.) added 25 yards on seven attempts.

“When the offense got the ball in the red zone, it scored,” Dantonio said. “Edwin Baker had a big run up the middle for a score and Le’Veon Bell had a nice TD run. Both Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford ran pretty well with the twos, so that’s very encouraging.”  

Veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins (6-3, 202, Sr.-5), who was victimized by three dropped passes, completed 6-of-16 tosses for 41 yards and an interception, while back-up Andrew Maxwell (6-3, 208, So.) connected on 15-of-26 throws for 118 yards and an interception.

On his third series, Maxwell managed a 16-play, 76-yard drive that started at the Green 3. He opened the drive by completing his first seven passes for 79 yards, including a 43-yard bomb to Keith Mumphery (6-0, 205, R-Fr.). Facing a third-and-10 from the White 21, Maxwell was intercepted by linebacker TyQuan Hammock (6-0, 227, So.).

“Andrew Maxwell did a nice job managing a 16-play drive by the twos, coming off the 3-yard line,” Dantonio said, “but unfortunately, it ended in a turnover.”

Twelve different receivers caught at least one pass, including Chris D. Rucker (5-9, 175, Sr.-5), who had a scrimmage-best four receptions for 26 yards. Tony Lippett (6-2, 185, R-Fr.) had three catches for 15 yards, while Mumphery and Keshawn Martin (5-11, 185, Sr.) each caught two passes for 49 and 24 yards, respectively.

The Spartans have four practices scheduled for next week: Tuesday, April 12; Thursday, April 14; Friday, April 15; and the second jersey scrimmage on Saturday, April 16.

“We’re really pleased with where the team is after two weeks of spring practice,” Dantonio said. “The players have a great attitude and guys are providing great leadership. We’re getting a lot of work done every single day. We’ve had a limited number of injuries thus far and that’s another positive.”

Michigan State concludes its 15 spring practices with the Green-White intrasquad game on Saturday, April 30 at 1:30 p.m. EDT in Spartan Stadium. Parking is free (in Lots T-79, S-56, P-39/40 and Ramp 5), and the stadium gates (Gates B, C, J and K) open at 12 p.m. Admission is free.

MSU’s spring game will be streamed live on and replayed Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m. EDT on the Big Ten Network, with Will Tieman and Jason Strayhorn calling the action.

I am really excited about how well our defense played. We only have 6 returning starters on our defense, so that puts my worries slightly at ease. 

I am very worried about Kirk Cousins passing efficiency percentage at 37.5%. If the 3 passes weren’t dropped it would’ve been at 56%. Last year he ended the season at 66.68%. But maybe they ran more rushing plays than passing plays. I guess I’ll just have to wait until the spring game to really make a decision.

I am also wondering why B.J. Cunningham didn’t have any catches. Did he not play? Is his broken ankle still an issue? < That wasn’t mentioned in the spring depth chart injury list. 

I am really excited to go to the spring game! I haven’t been to one since I moved to East Lansing. I will definitely take pictures and post about it afterwards.

Filed under Michigan State Spartans College Football Mark Dantonio Spartan Stadium Tyler Hoover William Gholston Max Bullough Kevin Muma Edwin Baker Le'Veon Bell Johnny Adams Nick Hill Jeremy Langford Kirk Cousins Andrew Maxwell Keith Mumphery TyQuan Hammock Chris D. Rucker Tony Lippett Keshawn Martin B.J. Cunningham