It is that time of the year. The time when you have national news outlets throwing piles of steaming #Disrepekt on every Michigan State fan in the world. Where you hear endless talking heads and read novels of think pieces of why Mark Dantonio and the Spartans have no shot of being in the Playoffs at the end of the year. Despite wins in multiple B1G Ten Championship games, wins in the Rose Bowl and the Cotton Bowl, wins at both Ann Arbor and Columbus, and making the playoff last year as a three seed MSU is one of the teams, according to ESPN, that "Has no shot of making the tournament this year."
According to the boys in Bristol, Sparty does not have the talent to make it to the final four this year and get another shot to redeem themselves after the showing last year against the ultimate National Champion Crimson Tide.
Lack of Offense
While yes, the Spartans lost a great deal in the 100th overall draft pick, Connor Cook, it is far too soon to assume that the hole left will not be filled to a point. The battle between last years back ups Damian Terry and Tyler O'Connor is set to be a good one. While neither of them are the pure passer that Cook was, they both have years with the playbook and a relationship built with the current staff and roster. Not only that but you can not underestimate the confidence that comes along with the win last November in the Horseshoe. Looking at that stat line for both quarterbacks will not blow you away, but the leadership on the field and the trust a win like that can build will go far in the locker room.
That being said if you take a look back to 2012, the year that Cook got some snaps behind Andrew Maxwell, he was 9 for 17 for 54 yards with a touchdown and an interception. If you compare that to O'Connor (who I think will be the starter this September) and his performance this past year he was 13 for 24 for 133 yards. He also added 2 TDs and 1 pick. Terry, who was used more in the wildcat formation, still added 15 yards in the air and 68 yards on the ground. MSU may not have a draft ready QB, but they have two guys, ready to step up.
Last year was not the best year for the Spartans defensive secondary. We are well removed from the days of the "No-Fly Zone" and Narduzzi looking down from the coaches box on a top 5 defense. This past season the MSU pass defense ranked 71st in the country allowing 233 yards per game. While this is not that far of a drop from 2014 where they ranked 61st on 227 yards a game it is no where near the 2013 season where they held opponents to 169 yards per game and were ranked fourth in the nation.
These trends are not ideal but when looking at the events that have led to this drop off it is not surprising. Michigan State graduated multi-year starters in Drummond, Denard and Wanes, Defensive Coordinator and coverage mastermind Pat Narduzzi took the head coaching job at Pitt, and there is a maturity process when it comes to the physical play that Michigan State looks for from their secondaries. With a returning Jalen Watts-Jackson and another year of maturity for Hicks, Cox, and Gaines you are looking at a bolstered secondary looking to get back to the days of the No-Fly Zone.
Departure of Talent
There is no doubt that Michigan State gave a great deal of talent to the NFL this off-season. From the obvious departures of Connor Cook, Shilique Calhoun and Jack Conklin, the quieter departures of Aaron Burbridge and Jack Allen, even to the decision of Knox to hang up his cleats and focus on law enforcement, it is no question that Michigan State is going to look different on both sides of the ball this year. While MSU may have not been hit as hard as our B1G Ten East rival Ohio State, there are some major gaps to fill.
This is not the first time that MSU has needed to fill this gap though. As many people look back to the end of the 2011 season, MSU was graduating Kirk Cousins. In 2012 the Spartans said goodbye to Le'Von bell (and with him our running game, apparently). The Spartans filled the Kirk void with Maxwell for a year and then Bell with Jeremy Langford. No one really saw either of those as long term fits, but here they are again. Losing a major offensive presence, youth in our secondary and not sure where the running game might come from. A good spring from LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes, the 22nd ranked recruiting class according to ESPN, and home games this year against Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State leave Michigan State in a much better spot that many think.
Prepare for a summer of articles of how Michigan is going to run the table and Harbaugh will soon be anointed King of the playoffs, but sleep well Spartan Nation, Fall is coming.