MSU (4-0, 0-0 Big Ten) @ Wisconsin (Big Ten): L
Looking at positions, the Big Ten may have caught a break at tailback.Â Sophomore Lance Smith has been suspended indefinitely after being charged with false imprisonment, battery and robbery, stemming from a late-night argument with his girlfriend.Â Lauded recruit John Clay has been reported academically ineligible, although this is currently being disputed by head coach Brett Bielema.Â If this remains the case heading into the season, freshman Zack Brown will be the only scholarship player backing up sophomore standout P.J. Hill.
Whatâ€™s truly scary about this team is the number of starters returning.Â The only concern on offense is quarterback, but with Hill in the backfield John Stoccoâ€™s replacement will always have an option available to him.Â Safeties could prove to be a liability, but that doesnâ€™t seem to factor in too well with coach Dantonioâ€™s more conventional attack.
What is not in doubt is this: Wisconsin crushes bottom-feeders.Â Unfortunately, thatâ€™s what Michigan State is, according to the 2006 Big Ten Standings.Â A great deal has changed since December and the talent and execution may have improved dramatically, but the Spartans of late have not demonstrated an ability to respond well to adversity.Â Consider this the barometer for how Dantonioâ€™s changing the attitude of the program.Â If the Spartans can come right back after a Badger TD or INT and not fold up early, things are on the right track.
MSU (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (Big Ten): W
As much as this should be a landslide victory, Northwestern is going to have a huge axe to grind when they come to East Lansing.Â After humiliating the Wildcats by spotting them 35 points before starting to play real football, MSU fired the coach responsible for the biggest come-from-behind victory ever.Â This will also be the first winnable Big Ten game for Northwestern, playing @ Ohio State and vs. Michigan the previous two weeks.Â The spread offense will look familiar and so the Spartans should have a handle on what to expect.Â Iâ€™m tying to think of an argument in Northwesternâ€™s favor, but aside from heart I canâ€™t really find it.Â Oooh, hereâ€™s one: Tyrell Sutton.Â Heâ€™s been the integral part of the offense, averaging roughly 1250 yards and 40 receptions each season.Â With the Wildcats line shaky, quarterback C.J. Bacher will be at a disadvantage.Â In any case, the likely scenario is that the Buckeyes and Wolverines will beat up their linemen and Michigan State will reap the benefits, getting to play â€œSee ball, get ballâ€ for another week.
MSU (5-1, 1-1 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (Big Ten): W
The Hoosiers lost a great coach this past season in the form of Terry Hoeppner.Â From a football standpoint, I was worried about him.Â Things were going well and that loss in Bloomington last seasons looked to be the start of a trend.Â It still very well might be.Â Iâ€™ll be interested to see whether now-head coach Bill Lynch lights a fire under his playersâ€™ feet.Â Itâ€™s uncertain whether Hoeppnerâ€™s death will drag the players down or serve as inspiration for the coming fall.
What is certain, however, is that Spartan Stadium will be a madhouse.Â Night games have always been exciting, but with it being Homecoming there is little question what the mood will be.Â To add to the mix, Indianaâ€™s spread offense will be on display.Â Their offensive line is questionable but will solidify in the coming seasons.Â For now, though, they are an opportunity waiting to be exploited.Â Meanwhile, Dantonioâ€™s offense should match up favorably with the Hoosier defense.Â Indiana has been placing a premium on speed and the cost of strength and size, particularly at linebacker.Â Sophomore Will Patterson is impressive, with 40+ tackles last season, but if the oppositionâ€™s making at least three yards a carry that effort is for naught.Â The change from the spread offense to the current plan of attack will be a big asset to Michigan State.
This wonâ€™t be a blowout, and Iâ€™ll be interested in seeing how tight ends Kellen Davis and Eric Andino handle the speed of Indianaâ€™s linebackers, but the Old Brass Spittoon should be staying in East Lansing this year.
MSU (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) @ Ohio State (Big Ten): L
This is the game I dread most this fall.Â If Iâ€™m on the money up to this point MSU will have started the season wonderfully.Â People will be exaggerating about conference championships and thereâ€™ll be an overall feeling that MSU is back.Â This can be the game that shuts everybody up or, worse yet, change their tune to â€œhere we go again.â€Â Remember that while Dantonio learned from Tressel and may have an insight into his play calling, Tresselâ€™s the one with the workhorses.Â Ohio Stateâ€™s D-line may look a little green (for them), the safeties should be inconsistent enough that MSU has the chance of winning, but it will require a near perfect game, especially in Columbus.Â A victory here would be monumental, but itâ€™s not in the cards, at least not yet.Â Expect Tressel to be a very gracious host to his former Defensive Coordinator.Â The 100,000 in the stands, however, will be slightly less forgiving.
MSU (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten) @ Iowa (Big Ten): W
Iâ€™m questioning the versatility of Iowaâ€™s offense.Â Their running game remains strong with senior running back Albert Young returning, but with Drew Tate off to the Saskatchewan Roughriders the Hawkeyes are going to have to rely on either sophomore Jake Christensen or redshirt freshman Arvell Nelson to move the passing game along.Â Christensenâ€™s numbers in the Northern Illinois game are nice (19 for 30, 256yds, 2TDs, 1INT) but his tendency to stay in the pocket is going to make him a huge target for some defensive players eager to please.Â Iowaâ€™s line looks to be shaky.Â Will they have injuries like last season?Â No, but two returning starters and playing musical chairs with the depth chart does not an offensive line make, which is good news for the Spartans.Â Head Coach Mark Dantonio: â€œWeâ€™re extremely thin at defensive tackle. Itâ€™s extremely tough to play inside as a true freshman, but we might not have a choice this fall. We might be forced to get the job done by freshman committee this fall.â€Â Guys, I donâ€™t know if youâ€™re reading this but if you are, recognize that this is a big opportunity for you not only to gain some momentum heading into the Michigan game but to make a case for more playing time next season.Â As for a game prediction, Spartans pull off a narrow victory.
MSU (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten) vs. Michigan (Big Ten): ?
To say Iâ€™m concerned about this game is an understatement.Â Itâ€™s late in the year, Michigan Stateâ€™s depth issues will have become noticeable and Michiganâ€™s offense is almost certainly going to be clicking.Â Iâ€™m not a fan of Henne, heâ€™s overthrown and underthrown enough receivers for my taste; however, he has the benefit of an admirable WR corps and a line that refuses to be taken lightly.Â In any event, he and senior Mike Hart will keep moving the ball towards the end zone.Â Given the Dantonio quote in the Iowa review, the logical place to stop the charge would be in the secondary.Â Safeties Otis Wiley and Nehemiah Warrick must make plays for the Spartans to win.Â They must be given the opportunity, a Michigan player must make a mistake.Â The mistakes from the wide receivers are going to be minimal, which means itâ€™s the responsibility of the guys up front to disrupt Henne and make him panic enough to make some errant throws.Â Michigan Stateâ€™s offense should keep this close and will eat up the clock, but there is no getting around the fact that the defense MUST perform in order to entertain the possibility of a victory.
As far as intangibles go, there are two things that lie heavily in Michigan Stateâ€™s favor.Â The first is that this game means a lot more to Michigan State than it does to Michigan.Â Letâ€™s face it, when you start going 4-0 against your second or even third rival, it loses some of itâ€™s luster.Â When youâ€™re 0-4 against public enemy number one, including a pair of mind-numbing heartbreakers, you want a victory in the worst way.Â Most have heard of the countdown clock in the Daugherty Building and how the mindset of the team has changed for the better.Â Accuse me of drinking the green kool-aid if you want, but Iâ€™m a lot more eager to see this game come around than I was last season.
The other intangible comes down to coaching.Â There are five men who know what it means to beat Michigan and know how to do it; Jim Tressel, Jim Tresselâ€™s co-defensive coordinators, Jim Tresselâ€™s offensive coordinator and (hereâ€™s the important one) Jim Tresselâ€™s former defensive coordinator who helped lead a team to a national championship.Â Dantonio has learned under some of the best and by all accounts is doing everything right so far.Â If thereâ€™s a coach who can make Lloyd Carr worry about Michigan football, itâ€™s should be this guy.
Hereâ€™s my dilemma; My heart says MSU wins.Â My head says wait until next year when the Wolverines have to deal with a new quarterback, a new running back, some new receivers and possibly (probably?) a new head coach.Â Iâ€™m going to cop out and chalk this up as a 50/50 while noting that the state of Michigan will probably look a lot greener in the coming seasons.
Michigan State (7.5-2.5, 3.5-2.5 Big Ten) @ Purdue: W
Before writing this article I admittedly didnâ€™t know too much about Purdue aside from their quarterback, Chris Painter.Â When reading up on them I think I found the reason why.Â Check out the following quotes from the Scout.com profile for the 2007 Boilermakers:
QB â€œWeakness: Elliott doesn't have any appreciable experience. He's seen a little time here and there, but not enough to feel comfortable if Painter is slow getting up.â€
RB â€œWeakness: Depth.â€
WR â€œWeakness: Depth.â€
OL â€œWeakness: Depth.â€
Anybody seeing a trend here?Â Michigan State benefits in a big way by having this game late in the season.Â While Iâ€™ve never known one to help a team, virtually any lasting injury will greatly impact Purdue, creating an opportunity for any defense willing to take charge.Â Itâ€™s going to be a busy season for the one or two backups called into active service.
Michigan State (8.5-2.5, 3.5-2.5 Big Ten) vs. Penn State (Big Ten): L
Linebacker U seems to be having a bit of trouble on the offensive line as of late.Â Last year saw the debut of four new starters, which potentially led to now-senior quarterback Anthony Morelli underwhelming last season. Â This year they need to replace Levi Brown, the #5 pick in the NFL draft.Â The line will be better than it was last year without question.Â Time and experience lends itself to chemistry and the ability to work together.Â As a result Morelli should have more time in the pocket, more completions and ultimately a better season.Â Meanwhile the defensive line is in trouble with only one returning starter, having lost a pair of tackles and defensive end Tim Shaw.
On a side note, safety Anthony Scirotto faces felony charges stemming from a burglary/fight (this incident, which involved a number of other PSU football players, led to Paternoâ€™s ordering the football team to clean the stadium after each home game).Â If removed from the program the secondary will suffer a considerable blow.Â His departure wonâ€™t be enough to make other teams pass happy but the ensuing position changes might create a dent or two in the Nittany Lionsâ€™ armor.Â Ultimately though, the secondary will remain strong and the linebackers, despite the loss of Paul Posluzny, likely save the day for 80-yr old Joe Paterno.
SEASON WRAPUP: Michigan State (8.5-3.5, 3.5-3.5 Big Ten)
Ultimately I believe that we will see consistency in the Michigan State program.Â The Spartans will win the games theyâ€™re supposed to win, lose the games where the opponents are heavily favored and will pull some minor surprises along the way.Â One thing will be made clear:Â Under Mark Dantonioâ€™s watch, there will be no more of this up and down unpredictability.Â Play time is over.