CBR’s ‘Way Too Early’ 2014 Top 10
No. 9 Michigan State Bulldogs
You could make an argument that Michigan State was playing as well as anyone at the end of the season, but a loss to Notre Dame cost the Spartans a shot at a national title. However, coach Mark Dantonio is not going to complain about getting that elusive Rose Bowl championship.
Dantonio is one of the game’s best coaches and he seems pleased to stay put at Michigan State. While Urban Meyer at Ohio State gets most of the press, Dantonio and his staff have built a solid program that looks to be on top or near the top of the Big Ten for a long time.
The Good: After years of struggling on offense and relying on the defense to win games, Michigan State finally started to see positive signs from QB Connor Cook and RB Jeremy Langford. Cook was sharp in the 24-20 Rose Bowl win over Stanford as he threw for 332 yards and two scores.
Michigan State will get an early challenge when it travels to Oregon in September, but the Spartans get a huge advantage by playing their toughest Big Ten opponents in East Lansing. It also looks like DC Pat Narduzzi is going to stay put, which is also a huge positive for MSU.
The Bad: If Michigan State’s offense is stagnant or even reverts to 2012 levels, the Spartans won’t even be a Top 25 team. It’s hard to see them slipping that much, but MSU has a history of losing tough-fought, close games.
While it looks like Narduzzi is going to stay put, he’s still a hot coaching option. If the right job opens as coaches are still shuffling around it would be a huge loss.
The Uncertain: Can Michigan State fill the void that will be left by the loss of six starters on a defense that ranked among the nation’s best. The Spartans learned what it was like to be without LB Max Bullough in the Rose Bowl, but they’ll also have replace All-American CB Darqueze Dennard.
If the Spartans defense slips too far it’s hard to see how they can compete at a Top-10 level.
Verdict: If Michigan State can figure out a way to go out to Oregon and get a win then the schedule lines up just right for the Spartans to make a run at making the new playoff system.
The defense probably won’t be as good as 2013, but the unit will still be one of the best in the Big Ten. An early prediction is a 10-2 regular season and probably a spot in the conference championship game again.
Be sure to check out the rest of CBR’s “Way Too Early” Top 10: