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TOC Mailbag: The Future is Uncertain

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In the first ever TOC mailbag, we discuss the run game, the Spartans' future and our favorite flavors of Faygo.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

We're trying something new here at The Only Colors. Every week, readers will be able to e-mail questions to us for the weekly TOC mailbag. In this week's inaugural mailbag, we discuss heavy topics such as the Spartans run game, the outlook for MSU and the rest of the Big Ten, and of course, Faygo pop.

Should we be concerned about the lackluster run game? Or is it similar to last year and we wait until the offensive line gels? -Dave Taylor

Jameson Draper: No, I don’t think so. The run game’s not even too bad. As a team MSU had 211 rushing yards against Jacksonville State and 123 against Oregon. For an offensive line that’s decidedly inexperienced and yet to fully gel, as you said, that’s pretty damn good. Neither of MSU’s opponents yet have had great defenses, but I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. MSU has a lot of speed and strength in the backfield, and their run game will probably be significantly above-average once Big Ten conference play comes around.

Pete Rossman: So MSU averaged 4.4 yards a carry during the Jacksonville State game and 3.6 yards a carry against Oregon. Needless to say, that's not the best. Keep in mind that Travis Jackson missed a big chunk of the game against JSU, and that Oregon is one of the best teams in the country (even if their defense isn't as highly regarded as their offense). So while it's natural to have some concern at this point, keep in mind that the Spartans have a bye this week, and will play against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming before they kick off the Big Ten season against Nebraska. If the O- line looks like it's struggling against Wyoming, worry. But for now, hold fast and keep the faith.

Joe Tuohey: This is a really tough question because the two data points we have are so disparate. Here's the sack-adjusted YPC for the past two games: 4.2 (versus JSU), and 4.1 (versus Oregon). The reason the JSU number is so low is because of garbage time and the quick passing scores. The reason the Oregon number is so low is because it's Oregon in Autzen. So I'm really not even sure if the running game is necessarily lackluster just yet, it's just two weird situations.

As far as gellin' goes, I'm a little confused about the offensive line rotation. It seems like Jack Conklin and Kodi Kieler are going to hold down the tackle spots, but we saw many combinations of Travis Jackson, Donovan Clark, and the Allen brothers inside. Maybe that has something to do with finding the right combination, and maybe it has something to do with getting Brian Allen some reps at different spots in a tough environment.

Will that improve over the course of the year? It's really hard to say, especially since we don't know how long Connor Kruse will be out. The offensive line rotation will be something to watch closely against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming.

What are the realistic chances of the Spartans (or any Big Ten team) making the playoffs? -westblade

Draper: Well, I don’t think any Big Ten team is going to make the playoff. However, if there is one team that could reasonably make it, it would be Michigan State. I say there’s about a 40% of the Spartans making it, but they’d have to win out soundly in the Big Ten and have the Pac-12 beat up on each other all season. As far as other Big Ten teams go, I don’t think that there’s much of a chance any of the others make the playoff. The committee doesn’t like Ohio State without Braxton Miller and unless Penn State or Rutgers runs the table in the Big Ten, there’s no chance at all of another Big Ten team making the playoffs.

Rossman: Oof. Let's cover the Spartans first. MSU would need to win out, and win out decisively to have any hope of making the playoffs. On top of that, they would need the leading teams from the other four "Big" conferences to lose at least one game, and possibly two games depending on how big the losses were. In sum, I'd give MSU about a 5% chance to make the playoffs, but to quote Lloyd Christmas, "so you're saying there's a chance!"

Tuohey: If I was the committee, here's how I'd rank the power 5 conferences: SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC, Big Ten. There are 4 playoff spots, so if there are 4 one-loss teams from the 4 conferences above the Big Ten, those would likely be chosen over a one-loss MSU team. There were at least 4 such teams in every year going into bowl season between 2008 and 2013 with the exception of 2010. So, there's a 1 out of 6 chance.

This doesn't include the likelihood that MSU goes undefeated in the regular season. This is also very unlikely. Using Massey Ratings for win percentage chances, there's about an 17.8% chance of MSU winning out (although MSU is favored in every game).

Combining these two chances gives MSU about a 3% probability of making the playoff. But there are a couple caveats: what if the SEC champion has two losses? Would they hop MSU? And, how much will the committee value traveling to Oregon and/or winning the conference? Still, a very rough estimate of about 3% sounds about right.

What is your favorite Faygo pop and why? -Buma1389

Draper: Best question of this mailbag by far. Rock & Rye is a favorite of mine because of its overpowering sweetness and the mention of it in a Grateful Dead song. The only downside of the pop is that after one bottle it starts getting a little sweet. I've been drinking it all my life and I will never, ever stop. I think I actually have some in my fridge right now. After I finish these questions I'm probably going to pop one open. Yum.

Rossman: Strawberries are my favorite fruit, so I love Rock 'n Rye, and I'll be Rock 'n Rye until I die.

Tuohey: Rock and Rye, all the way. It's one of the unique flavors in the Faygo arsenal that has no analogue made by the major pop makers. It also doesn't taste like cough syrup, like Redpop does (or maybe I should stop mixing Redpop with cough syrup?).

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Thanks for all the questions, sorry we can't get to all of them! We'll be doing this weekly, so tune in next week for the next mailbag!