With a new quarterback under center, the Spartans will have to win with defense in 2012.
By: Athlon Sports | 5/10/12, 5:45 AM EDT
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#18 Michigan State
Big 10 Legends PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Mark Dantonio , 44-22 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dan Roushar | DEF. COORDINATOR: Pat Narduzzi
An improved running attack should help Michigan State continue its recent winning trend while the Spartans replace three NFL Draft picks at quarterback and wide receiver. Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell has the tools to succeed Kirk Cousins nicely, after serving as his backup for two years and watching Cousins lead Michigan State to a share of the Big Ten title in 2010 and the Big Ten Legends Division championship last year. Maxwell is a strong-armed pocket passer with better athleticism than Cousins, and the ability to throw on the run. Cousins’ leadership will be missed, though.
Five talented receivers are in line to replace the graduated stars, with junior Bennie Fowler presenting a big target and game-breaking explosiveness, despite last year’s foot injuries. Tall and athletic Tony Lippett is blossoming at wide receiver after spending last season mostly at cornerback. Sophomore Keith Mumphery is a star on the rise, and freshman Andre Sims Jr. was the most productive of an injured bunch in the spring.
With four returning starters up front, the Spartans will have a mature, established offensive line for the first time in the Mark Dantonio era. Left tackle Dan France and center Travis Jackson are emerging stars. Chris McDonald is an established stalwart at right guard. Jumbo-sized tight end Dion Sims has excellent talent and wants to improve on last year’s injury-plagued performance.
What Will the Spartans' Division Record be in 2012?
The Spartans return eight starters from a unit that ranked No. 6 in the nation in total defense, and led the Big Ten in rush defense, sacks and interceptions. Michigan State won’t be as dominant at defensive tackle as last year, but will be quicker to the ball at eight of the other nine positions. Sharp tackling, physical play in the box and excellent zone coverage in the secondary will continue to be Spartan staples.
All-America candidate William Gholston is tall, strong and swift at defensive end. He stops the run, commands double teams as a pass-rusher and added quickness in the offseason. He walked away from a scary rollover car accident in May. Anthony Rashad White is coming off a strong bowl game and has the horsepower to help replace Jerel Worthy at tackle.
Edge-rushing Denicos Allen, gap-stuffing Max Bullough and rangy Chris Norman give Michigan State one of the top linebacking corps in the country.
Technically sticky and packed with burst, cornerback Johnny Adams is an All-America candidate. Honorable mention All-Big Ten corner Darqueze Dennard, a Georgia native, had a pick-six in the Outback Bowl win over his home state Bulldogs. Isaiah Lewis is a lights-out hitter at strong safety.
Kirk Cousins, QB
No quarterback has thrown more touchdowns in Michigan State history than Cousins’ 66 scoring strikes. He played in his final 41 games in a row and finished his career 3-0 against in-state rival Michigan as the starter. Midland (Mich.) High School product Andrew Maxwell will be the man charged with steering the Sparty ship in place of Cousins.
William Gholston, DE—Dominant at times last year as a sophomore, Gholston has a vast ceiling of potential.
Johnny Adams, CB—Terrific in coverage and tough against the run, Adams is good enough to be playing in the NFL right now.
Le’Veon Bell, RB—Gives the offense much-needed consistency, dependability and punch.
|Aug. 31st||Boise State|
|Sept. 8th||at Central Michigan|
|Sept. 15th||Notre Dame|
|Sept. 22nd||Eastern Michigan|
|Sept. 29th||Ohio State|
|Oct. 6th||at Indiana|
|Oct. 20th||at Michigan|
|Oct. 27th||at Wisconsin|
|Nov. 24th||at Minnesota|
Punter Mike Sadler and placekicker Dan Conroy are proven commodities. Sadler averaged 41.1 yards per punt as a freshman and put 11 punts inside the 10-yard line. Conroy has made 32-of-39 over the past two years including three 50-yarders. Nick Hill helped the Spartans rank No. 4 in the Big Ten in kickoff return average.
If Maxwell proves to be as good as the coaches expect, the Spartans have a strong shot to achieve double-digit victories for a third straight year. A terrific defense and a strong running attack should take pressure off Maxwell, but establishing a rapport with the new receivers will be a key. Back-to-back road games at Michigan and Wisconsin in October will test the Spartans’ championship mettle.