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Spring Football: Michigan State looks to be Big Ten elite again

mark-dantonio

First Practice: March 19
Spring Game: April 20

Michigan State suffered through a disappointing 7-6 season thanks to one of the nation’s most anemic offenses.

Even more disappointing was a 3-5 record in the Big Ten, just one season after competing in the inaugural championship game. The Spartans did get a little boost going into the offseason by defeating TCU 17-16 in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

It will take the Spartans some time to crack the rankings in the fall, if at all, as expectations are mediocre at best right now.

Stability Factor (1=chaos, 5=rock solid): 2.5

Coach Mark Dantonio has become a soothing presence on the sidelines, and I’d argue he’s one of the game’s most underrated coaches. So with that in mind, you have feel the Spartans can turn things around.

Michigan State also has a legitimate Top 20 defense that should keep the Spartans in most games.

If the offense can hang on to the ball and score touchdowns instead of kicking field goals, the Spartans could be a conference title contender again.

Under the Microscope: Andrew Maxwell, QB

The 6-foot-3 quarterback struggled to find any consistency throwing the ball last fall, but there are those who still feel he can lead the Spartans (just not many of the Sparty fans).

Maxwell finished with 2,606 passing yards and 13 touchdowns, but he also had nine interceptions and a poor completion rate.

Dantonio has pledged his faith in his returning starter, but if Maxwell struggles early no one should be surprise to see him get yanked for Connor Cook.

Locked and Loaded: Defense

Even with the loss of Will Gholston and Anthony Rashad White, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has eight returning starters to work with.

This unit allowed just 16.3 points a game in 2012 and first team All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough is back to wreak havoc.

The Spartans will need to find a replacement for all-conference corner Johnny Adams. If Trae Waynes can fill that void this defense has the potential to be as good as last year.

Jockeying for Position: Running backs

When Le’Veon Bell chose to pass up his senior for the NFL, it was clear that Michigan State didn’t have a clear-cut choice to replace him.

The Spartans might go with Nick Hill or Nick Tompkins, but that’s why we have spring practice.

A possible surprise could be to put former running back and converted receiver Jeremy Langford back at his original position. It would make sense considering his breakaway speed.

True freshman R.J. Shelton could be a surprise out of the backfield if he gets acclimated to the college game.

Shelton has good size (5-11, 185), quick feet and the power to punish defenders. He’s the type of home-run back the Spartans need.

Name to Know: Jim Bollman

This offseason, Dantonio made an interesting decision to hire Jim Bollman, who was the offensive coordinator under Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Bollman’s offenses (or more accurately Tressel’s offenses) were not known for a wide-open attack.

Bollman has probably been brought in to simplify the playbook and put Maxwell and the rest of the offense in a comfort zone that didn’t exist last year.

So it appears that Dantonio would prefer to go more conservative and allow the defense to win games.

Spring Will Be a Success If …: Sparty can build confidence on offense

Michigan State could have won the Big Ten last season if the offense had performed up to par. Dantonio and staff need to improve on the offensive line and help Maxwell believe in himself.

If the offense can get on a roll, then the Spartans defense will believe every game is a potential win.

That feeling doesn’t exist right now, but much like baseball’s spring training, everyone can believe in the spring.

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