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The Only Colors Q&A: What will the new offense look like, How many wins for Michigan State, and more

Michigan State Spartans Football Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

We’re trying out a new experiment here at The Only Colors, and if it goes well, we may make this a regular feature. Earlier this week, I asked TOC community members and Spartans fans to submit their questions to us (submissions are now currently closed), and I will now feature said questions and do my best to answer them — I apologize in advance for how lengthy I got with some of these responses, but I couldn’t help myself.

Joe G. from Center Line, Michigan asks:

“With a major change-over in coaches on the offense, how do you think plays/schemes will look different from previous years?”

Our answer: Excellent question, Joe! I have a lot of thoughts on this, so please bear with me in this long-winded response.

This has been a strange offseason. Mark Dantonio retired one day before National Signing Day, Mel Tucker was then hired, and already a bit behind due to the timeframe. Tucker then put a strong staff together. Just a while later, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and, among other things, players and staff were forced to go home. As a result, spring ball was canceled. So we are yet to see what new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jay Johnson’s offense will look like at Michigan State, but here’s what we do know and can infer moving forward:

  • The offense will be multiple: Both Tucker and Johnson have said on numerous occasions that the offense will be “multiple” and they’ll fit it to the personnel on the roster. Being multiple means that the offense will not be tied to any one particular scheme such as the pro-style, Air Raid, West Coast, etc. The coaching staff will use many different formations, personnel and plays throughout the course of a game.
  • However, we can still expect to see certain formations more often than not: Under Johnson last year, Colorado used a lot of “11” personnel, which means one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers, and seemed to be quite comfortable out of the “Pistol” alignment (which is basically a shotgun formation with the running back still behind the quarterback). So I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of that at MSU this season, but again, it will vary throughout each game and we’ll see multiple looks, and may see some things like two-tailbacks in one formation (21 personnel). I think we can also anticipate more spread concepts than in previous years with Dantonio’s pro-style philosophy.
  • The offense will be balanced, but may lean ever-so-slightly toward the running game. Last season, Colorado ran the ball about 51 percent of the time (436 attempts on 847 total plays) and passed the ball about 49 percent of the time (411 attempts). So it was pretty evenly split. The Buffaloes averaged 150.3 rushing yards per game in 2019. CU had three players with at least 65 carries, and two tailbacks who each had over 100 carries in 2019. This year at Michigan State, the hope is for improved offensive line play under the tutelage of new offensive line coach/run game coordinator Chris Kapilovic, and if MSU gets consistency and stays healthy on the offensive line, there will be a slight emphasis on the run game. The passing game will of course still be important, and judging off of Johnson’s play-calling last year, we should still expect about 25-30 passing attempts per game, minimum, in most cases.
  • Read Option Plays: Johnson ran a ton of inside and outside zone read plays last year at Colorado, where the quarterback reads the defensive end and either keep the ball and runs with it himself, or hands it to the running back to gain yards. It will be a key element for CU in 2019— Colorado quarterback Steven Montez rushed the ball 65 times last season. We can probably expect to see a lot of that, and even some run-pass-option plays thrown in there.
  • The fullback position is now obsolete. Last year’s fullbacks, Reid Burton and Max Rosenthal, are currently listed on the roster as tight ends. We may seem them in a sort of an H-back hybrid role where they could lineup as a traditional fullback, “move” tight end or play on the line of scrimmage.
  • (Insert joke about no more jet sweeps to the short side of the field): In all honesty, Johnson and company will get the ball into the hands of their playmakers any way possible — wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. ran the ball 23 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns for Colorado last season (he is now a Jacksonville Jaguars). Let’s just hope this staff does it more responsibly than the previous staff.

There will be many other elements to this, and we’ll hopefully learn more about the offense throughout the summer, and of course in the opening game against Northwestern, but this is what we can expect for now.

Douglas Cowles from Oscoda, Michigan asks:

“Who is the highest rated player Michigan state has a legitimate shot at getting?”

Our answer: I assume we are talking about 2021 football recruits here. With on-campus recruiting visits on hold, it’s hard to predict exactly, but I have some ideas. A lot of MSU’s big targets are right here in the state of Michigan. The name to watch is four-star outside linebacker out of Belleville, Jamari Buddin. His recruitment seems to be coming down to Michigan State and Penn State, but perhaps other schools such as Minnesota have an outside shot. Buddin is the No. 21 outside linebacker in the 247Sports Composite Rankings, and No. 9 player in Michigan. Tucker and the staff have put a huge priority on Buddin, and the Belleville pipeline to Michigan State has been strong. He is expected to commit, or at least announce the date of his commitment, in early July.

Other in-state names include four-star running back Donovon Edwards (West Bloomfield), four-star offensive/defensive lineman Rayshaun Benny (Oak Park) and three-star wide receiver Andrel Anthony (East Lansing). All three players rank in the top-12 in Michigan. Of those three, Anthony — the homegrown product — is the most likely to become a Spartan in my opinion.

Out of state, Louisiana four-star wide receiver Keon Coleman (Opelousas Catholic School) is trending toward the Spartans, and would be a huge addition. His offers list is strong as the No. 48 receiver in the 2021 class, and he recently included Michigan State in his top-six, along with Florida State, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Kansas and South Carolina. He is also a target for Tom Izzo and the MSU basketball program.

Another highly-touted out-of-state prospect to keep an eye on is four-star guard Geno VanDeMark (Montvale, New Jersey). The COVID-19 shutdown has put his recruitment on a bit of a pause, so he may not commit for a while, but MSU is certainly in the mix. Rutgers, the hometown choice, seems to be leading his recruitment. Three-star tight end Mitchell Evans could be a future Spartan as well.

If you’re talking about 2021 basketball recruits, MSU has been picking up a lot of steam with five-star shooting guard Max Christie (Rolling Meadows, Illinois) — the No. 1 shooting guard in the country and the No. 11 player nationally, per the Composite rankings. Four-star in-state guards Kobe Bufkin (Grand Rapids Christian) and Jaden Aikins (Farmington), are the other names to watch. The Spartans recently offered four-star shooting guard Jeremy Sochan (La Lumiere School in Indiana — where Jaren Jackson Jr. played), and he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Greenie71 from Woodbridge Virginia asks:

“What is TOC consensus on the number of wins this football season? Several media predictions have us going to a lesser bowl, yet others have MSU at three to four wins.”

Our answer: The consensus is exactly six wins — 54 total wins divided by nine participants (we had a couple who did not participate). I asked each of our staff members to provide their expected win totals this year, and it ranged anywhere between four wins (low) and eight wins (high). The most common answer was six. My personal prediction (or I should say the optimistic side of me thinks) is that the Spartans fight their way to a 7-5 record and land in some kind of December bowl game, but after an offseason that didn’t allow for much on-the-field development given the COVID-19 situation, a brand new coaching staff and a question mark at the quarterback position, I would not be surprised in the slightest to see the team miss a bowl game.

Douglas Cowles from Oscoda, Michigan asks:

“Is the over under six games on Michigan state’s football season?”

Our answer: Thank you for the support on this Q&A experiment with the double-dip, Doug. I truly appreciate it. You mean wins, not total games played due to the virus, right? I would set the over/under right at six wins — see above response. Like I said, I think MSU finishes with seven wins, so I would personally take the over, but a smarter betting-person would probably take the under.

Bob K. from Okemos, Michigan asks (or should I say requests):

“Ask your best writer, Paul, if he can run a Monte Carlo sim on MSU winning a national title in football based on recruiting and historical win rate (expected wait in years, over/under 10-50-100 years?). I remember viewing historical trends until 2 a.m. after the Texas Tech 2010 bowl loss and just shaking my head, asking myself when MSU would get its special run; well the missing run started nine months later. I’m hoping to cause a repeat of that.”

Our answer: First of all, ouch. I would like to point out that Paul has a great editor to make sure his writing looks good enough to go along with all of his great data. Just kidding, I am very thankful to have Paul on our staff (of course, I am thankful for all of my staff), and I truly believe his extremely robust and downright intriguing data-driven articles are some of the best pieces of content I’ve ever seen on this website since I started writing for The Only Colors in 2017. I cannot even begin to process how he is able to formulate that level of thought and ingenuity — math is not my strong suit, but it certainly is his. Paul has been a tremendous addition to our team.

In any event, I have informed Paul of your request, and he was compelled by it. No promises at this point, but he is going to think of the best way to do this, and if he can somehow come up with a way to get the sort of data you’re looking for, he will write about it.

G. from “someplace overseas” asks:

“While watching last year’s (Penn State) game in which (Theo) Day played I remember thinking that the play-calling changed for him (and he was moving the ball well). What’s your guess on the likelihood that his, “not knowing the play,” was deliberate on his part and a bit of face-saving from Coach Dantonio? Thanks!”

Our answer: If I recall correctly, the weather in that Penn State game was awful — rain, swirling winds and dropping temperatures. The signal from the sideline would have been easy to miss in those kinds of conditions, so that is certainly possible. However, Day has spoken out about how difficult the transition has been for him from high school to college, and I just never got the sense he had a full handle on the playbook, proper protections, checks at the line of scrimmage, etc. He said this in December, which I have written about recently, so sorry if I sound like a broken record: (via MLive):

“The signal got mixed up, I missed the signal. I guess it’s just part of the process of getting in and getting in your first plays, but I’ll definitely learn that.”

That quote is a bit interesting. He says the signal “got mixed up,” and that could mean it was unclear from the coaches on the sideline, but then he immediately says “I missed the signal,” so he is taking responsibility. As you’re alluding to in your question, Day probably isn’t going to call out Dantonio, or Brad Salem, who was the offensive coordinator at time, even if they were responsible, but it sounds to me like this one was on him. I don’t think he would have been pulled out so quickly if he wasn’t the one to make the mistake. But we really have no way of knowing what truly happened in that odd situation.

Day also said this leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl:

“Definitely when you first come in here, it’s just so much different than high school ball. There’s so much more to learn, there’s so much more that goes on with your reads and when to get the ball out, protections – all that stuff. Just learning the game of football as a whole compared to high school is completely different. That’s one thing I think I got a lot better on.”

Day is inexperienced, so mistakes can and will happen. This is an area Day even admitted he needed to get better at, though, and even though he hasn’t been able to get on the field, hopefully he used this offseason to learn Johnson’s new playbook and got better in the mental aspects of the game — which is of the utmost importance for the quarterback position.

Robert Keto from Hyde Park, New York asks:

“If Spartan Stadium is only 25 percent to 30 percent full the entire season — how will that affect the other sports that depend on the revenue from football and basketball.”

Our answer: This is a well thought-out question, and one I am not sure I have the qualifications to answer, but I’ll do my best (another long-winded response, sorry!). Football is, of course, the biggest revenue-generator for Michigan State athletics, and most other big universities. The money the football program brings in helps fund the other sport programs at the schools, and it’s basically been that way forever. Athletic director Bill Beekman did confirm on a recent Zoom call that as of right now (things can change one way or another), the athletics department is expecting to fill 20 to 30 percent of capacity on game days at Spartan Stadium, using proper social distancing procedures. So that is roughly 14,000 to 21,000 thousand people versus about 70,000 for a full stadium.

I don’t have numbers on how much revenue the football team generated last year, as that information is not publicly available, but MSU averaged $87 million in overall revenue, and $44 million in profit in the three previous seasons (2016-2018). We can probably guess that number was similar, and likely slightly higher in 2019, but I am unsure how much of that was generated by ticket prices, concessions and other game day revenue. Collectively, it has been estimated that the 65 Power Five NCAA football programs could lose as much as $4 billion, with at least $1.2 billion in lost ticket revenue, due to COVID-19.

Beekman did not speak about how other, less-revenue-generating athletics programs may be affected by the COVID-19 crisis, but we have seen it take a toll on schools with less of a budget that are in smaller conferences, such as the MAC: Central Michigan recently had to cut its men’s track and field team, while Bowling Green initially cut its baseball program, but has already reinstated it after a strong fund-raising effort. Meanwhile, Kent State is expecting to cut 20 percent (or roughly $6 million) from its athletics budget, but not planning to cut any sports programs.

One of our other contributor, Kevin Knight (SpartyOnHuskers) offers this:

“An MLive article said that sales revenue from football home games accounts for as much as 50 percent of total revenue for the sport. Bearing that in mind, MSU has averaged $87 million in revenue per season for the four seasons prior to 2019. Given the increased excitement in a new coaching hire along with Michigan and Ohio State in EL this season it would stand to reason ticket sales would have been in demand so I will keep the revenue projection in a normal world at that average though it may have been higher this season.

“Using that information handy, the math would suggest that at 30 percent capacity MSU would expect to lose $30.45 million in ticket revenue from football this fall. Going off of the $133 million in total revenue across the entire athletic department from a few seasons ago, MSU would look to take a single academic year hit, even with all other revenue from TV rights, etc. to their budget of around $14 million as a result. However, it will likely result in more than that because of increased staff costs for the new football coaching staff. MSU can possibly incur the hit for one season and continue without any significant cuts to other sports beyond possible delays in facility upgrades and maintenance type projects combined with a helpful donor fundraising push.”

I hope this helps somewhat, but it’s impossible to know all of the repercussions at this point.

Cara O. from Livonia asks:

“If football is happening in the fall with the stadium filled at partial capacity each game, how will they decide which games season ticket holders get to go to?”

Our answer: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you to my lovely wife for showing support because she probably thought nobody else would ask me a question, haha. Anyway, this is actually an extremely valid question, as she is a season ticket holder, just like many of you.

On the aforementioned Zoom call, Beekman somewhat spoke about this situation, but things seem unclear at this point. If the stadium is only 20 to 30 percent full, which we said above is roughly 14,000 to 21,000 fans, who gets priority for seats? Well, students come first, according to Beekman, which makes sense. He then said MSU would “accommodate” season ticket holders and big donors to the best of the athletics department’s ability, but also said that “it’s hard to know,” right now, given the fluid situation with COVID-19. He also said that he expects a decent number of season ticket holders not to renew this year, given safety concerns, which would open more seats up.

So, we do not yet know exactly how it will be determined who gets to go to which game, so. I don’t have a great answer to this. There are seven home games this season. Will it be some sort of lottery where names are drawn for each game, or an every other game type scenario where season ticket holders and donors are split into groups and alternate games, or something completely different? All we know at his point is that season ticket holders are a group that MSU plans to somehow prioritize. We will hopefully find out more soon.

Because I am me, instead of writing three or four sentences for each response as I intended, I turned this post into a novel. One last thing before you go: Looking for some honest feedback, please:


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