MSU's football schedule looks pretty favorable this season. Let's hear a prediction for regular season record. What do you see as the key to contend for a Big Ten title (position group, particular opponent, etc.)?
LVS: 8-4 again, I think. I used to think that wide receiver was the key position for us, but I think it's pretty clearly become running back, because nobody stepped up during the spring. If we have a consistent running game, we're a pretty good team. If not, our defense is good enough to win games for us on its own, but we won't contend for the conference, and we'll probably lose another bowl game. (This is another reason why Keith Nichol is the better option: he can scramble, and that'll hold the attention of opposing linebackers at least a bit, even in the absence of a traditional running game.)
Steve: I’m going with 9-3, based on the schedule and also a little faith in the running game and line play. Speaking of which . . .
The key to success is up front on the lines. On offense, Joel Foreman will have to take the next step from reliable freshman to bona fide star. True freshman David Barrent will need to approximate Foreman's contributions last season. On defense, this is more existential. Mark Dantonio's identity is smashmouth, in-the-trenches football, as evidenced by the way he sent Javon Ringer up the gut 7,000 times last year. Defensively, MSU's inability to stop the run isn't just a strategic problem, it affects the team's identity. The Spartans can't take the next step until it improves.
Pete: As I said previously, the right side of the OL has to be decent quickly. Martin and Miller weren't the best linemen, but they were experienced, and did a good enough job to get MSU to nine wins last season. J'Michael Deane, a converted D-Lineman, and Jared McGaha, a redshirt Sophmore, were at the top of the depth chart at spring's end, so I hope you'll excuse my trepidation a bit. I'm also worried about the running backs, but if McGaha and Deane mesh with Joel Foreman, Rocco Cironi and Joel Nitchman, all A.J. Jimmerson, Ashton Leggett, Andre Anderson, Edwin Baker, Larry Caper, or Caulton Ray (or possibly all six at once, in a formation I like to call the breastbone) needs to worry about is holding onto the ball - which still frightens me a bit.
Note: Guh. I forgot to forecast a regular season record. Let's call it 8-4 as of now, I'm still concerned about the running game - Pete
(Note: I should have pointed out in previous round table posts that I'm the only guy who reads everyone else's responses before I formulate my own. I don't want you to think that LVS, Steve, and Pete are all on the outs and refuse to acknowledge each other's answers.)
KJ: I tend to be naturally cautious when setting expectations for the Spartan football team, so I'll agree with LVS and say 8-4. But the table is certainly set for a 9 or 10 win season if everyting plays out in an optimistic but plausible manner. The key may be taking care of business on the road. Last year, MSU flipped a 1-3 conference road record in Mark Dantonio's first season at the helm into a 3-1 record. If, and it's a big "if," the Spartans can run the table against Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue--the four conference teams we play on the road, a special season would be in the offing.
And I'll go along with the consensus on the offensive line being the key position group. At quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, there's a consistent theme: Lack of a returning star, but enough depth to think someone will emerge to make some plays. The trick is having an offensive line in place that allows for those plays to be made.