Michigan State was picked to win the Big 10 after it was learned that Ohio State lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller was out for the year prior to the season starting, but the Spartans would come up painfully short of reaching their goals.
Michigan State went 10-2 in the regular season with their 2 defeats coming at the hands of the two teams that ended up playing for the national championship. They lost 27-46 at Oregon in non-conference play and later would fall 37-49 at Ohio State. What really stings is the fact that the Spartans had a lead in both games.
They were able to reverse that trend to some degree, as they erased a 20-point 4th quarter deficit to stun Baylor 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl to finish the year ranked No. 5.
The Spartans head into the 2015 campaign with 14 returning starters (7 offense, 7 defense) in what will be head coach Mark Dantonio’s 9th year on the job. Many believe this is an even stronger team than they had last year, making them a serious contender for both the Big 10 and national titles.
Big Ten (East)
|9/5||@ Western Michigan|
|11/21||@ Ohio State|
Estimated Wins: 9.88
*We take the win chance by using the college football win percentage chart for each point spread
One of the big reasons that Michigan State is even in consideration for the Big 10 East title with Ohio State, is the return of senior quarterback Connor Cook, who threw for 3,214 yards with 24 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions in 2014. Cook is one of the elite quarterbacks in the entire country and in consideration for the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft.
Michigan State may have to rely even more on Cook in 2015, as they have to replace star running back Jeremy Langford, who rushed for 1,522 yards and 22 touchdowns (2,944 yards and 40 touchdowns last two years combined).
With second-leading rusher Nick Hill also departed and the uncertainty surrounding whether or not junior Delton Williams will be available (suspended indefinitely in the spring, expected to be reinstated but may red-shirt), there’s some serious question marks surrounding this unit. For now, it looks like red-shirt freshman Madre London and true freshman L.J. Scott are the front-runners to take over the bulk of the carries.
The Spartans also have to replace their two best playmakers on the outside in Tony Lippett (65 catches, 1,198 yards, 11 TDs) and Keith Mumphery (495 yards, 3 TDs), putting even more pressure on Cook to deliver a big time season. They do get back talented junior tight end Josiah Price and senior wide out Aaron Burbridge, but will need others to step up.
The good news for Michigan State is they should have one of the elite offensive lines in the country. They return 4 starters to the unit which features two of the best in the nation at their position in senior center Jack Allen and junior left tackle Jack Conklin. They also will be replacing their lone starter lost at right tackle with Allen’s younger brother Brian Allen, who earned 1st-Team Freshman All-American honors last year.
One of the big questions going into last year, was how their elite defense from 2013 would handle the losses of 4 of their top 6 tacklers. As expected they regressed, dropping from 13.2 ppg and 252 ypg in ’13 to 21.5 ppg and 316 ypg in ’14.
With 7 starters back on this side of the ball, many are expecting the defense to improve. A big part of that, is the talent they have returning on the defensive line. Much like the offensive line, it’s expected to be one of the best defensive fronts in the country.
Senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun is a big time talent and fellow senior defensive end Lawrence Thomas emerged into a big time presence last year. They also get back senior defensive tackle Joel Heath and are excited about the potential of sophomore defensive tackle Malik McDowell.
While they lose their No. 2 tackler from last year in inside linebacker Tiwan Jones, they aren’t expecting much of a drop off in production at linebacker. That’s because they get back two senior starters in Ed Davis and Darien Harris, and will be adding in junior Riley Bullough to replace Jones.
Things aren’t looking as good in the secondary, where Michigan State loses two 3rd-Team All-Americans in corner Trae Waynes and safety Kurtis Drummond. Even with two returning starters in junior corner Darian Hicks and senior safety R.J. Williamson, this unit is not on the same level talent wise as last year. With that said, they do have a lot of talent ready to step in and should benefit from the strong play from the front 7.
Regular Season Win Total
Big Ten East Odds
Big Ten Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
*Odds updated live on our college football odds page
Unfortunately for the East Lansing faithful, I foresee a very similar 2015 season for the Spartans. Michigan State figures to be one of the best teams in the country, but will likely get left out of the 4-team playoff due to the fact that they will come up short in the Big Ten East with Ohio State looking even better than the team that won it all last year.
The schedule aslo isn’t as kind this time around. While they get to host Oregon in their big non-conference rematch, they have to go on the road in conference play to face Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State. On the positive side, Michigan State does have an impressive 23-9 record in away games under Dantonio, so it’s not out of the question that this team could surprise, especially given how strong they are in the trenches and the talent/experience they have at the quarterback position.
With so much attention being given to Ohio State, I actually think Michigan State is flying a bit under the radar and are a safe bet to clear their 9.5 win total. I think their only loss on the schedule comes on the road at Ohio State, as I see them getting their revenge on a Mariota-less Oregon team, as well as winning on the road at both Michigan and Nebraska.
Big Ten (East)
Big Ten Record
Win Total Prediction
I asked some more experts on Michigan State football what they thought about the Spartans’s upcoming season. Here’s what they had to say.
OVER 9 Wins – Michigan State returns 6 starters on offense and seven on defense plus their kicker. All key players are returning on both sides of the ball. The addition of LJ Scott will give their running game a boost and their defense should be as good as ever. I see nine wins easily on their schedule, which ensures a push, and will need a win against Oregon, Michigan (probable) or Ohio State to get the cover. I am looking at an 11-1 or 12-0 season depending on the Ohio State game. Play on Michigan State over 9 wins this season.
OVER 9.5 Wins – The Spartans come into the 2015 season with the sky as their limit. Statistically speaking, they return the majority of the greatest offense in Spartan history. Quarterback Connor Cook will be among the Heisman contenders and is the best quarterback in the Big Ten. Defensively, MSU brings back a defensive line consisting of Shilique Calhoun, Malik McDowell, and countless others which will be the best in the nation. A 9.5 win line assumes MSU may lose a “gimme” game but this won’t happen. The season will come down to Oregon and OSU like last year. Expect for MSU to have a minimum of 10 wins.
Strengths: QB, WR, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Safeties
Questionable: RB, LB, P/K
OVER 9.5 Wins – This Spartan team is loaded again in 2015. They return 51 lettermen from a team that went 11-2 last year including QB Cook and two very good lines of scrimmage (both offensive and defensive). Their only two losses last year were to Oregon & Ohio State, both of whom made the College Football “Final 4”. Sparty should be favored in every game but one this season and that is @ Ohio State. They host Oregon in week 2 and we project MSU as a small chalk. Most of their other games should be easy wins as we project them as double digit favorites in 8 of their 12 games. Much has been made about OSU’s National Championship run last year but let’s not forget that Michigan State had a better YPG differential in conference play at +191 to the Buckeyes +151. Mark Dantonio has this program rolling with 10+ regular season wins in 4 of the last 5 seasons. This will be one of his best team’s yet and we see them getting to at least 10 if not 11 wins. We like the OVER here with an MSU team that is sort of flying under the radar due to Ohio State’s presence in the conference.
OVER 9.5 Wins – The Spartans come into the season with a heralded QB who could have left early for the NFL in Connor Cook. Shilique Calhoun the feared DE is back after the NFL projected him in the second round and getting little fan fair is star LT Jack Conklin. The NFL craved what most believed would have been a first round pick, but he never even considered the jump.
All American Jack Allen is back at center and the Spartans have perhaps the best OL in the nation, the B1G with no doubt. The Spartans have plenty of experience at WR, that must now prove consistent, but TE combo of Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles are lethal. Who will run the ball is the question.
Gerald Holmes was the man, coming out of spring with suspended Delton Williams out. His status still hangs in limbo although the staff wants him back and he continues to handle some off field issues to get reinstated. Incoming prized recruit LJ Scott very well may make the argument mute. He is the best RB recruit of the Dantonio era, and there have been many and he may just take the job and literally run with it.
Across the DL the Spartans are loaded with not just depth, but talented depth at that. No one including the much ballyhooed SEC can beat this unit and although there are a select few as deep and talented as MSU, none are better.
After back to back NFL #1 selections at CB the Spartans have depth and talent, but not a ton of experience. At safety the Spartans are set with a pair of future NFL players with some quality at backup.
Finally the most underrated part of the Spartans well respected D is their LB unit. Although getting the least attention they could be their best. Riley Bullough (Brother of Max) is anchoring the middle after having the best spring of any player. Darien Harris is a speed demon on the outside and the most electric playmaker on either side of the ball is the other OLB Ed Davis.
Pat Narduzzi is gone, but this Spartan D remains. While betting lines are not there to predict the future, but to get people to bet I say take the over for one reason. Mark Dantonio has not made a practice of losing games he should. He should win ten, and I say he will.
Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive Line, Defensive Line, Safeties, Linebackers
Questionable: Running Back, Punter, Kicker, Wide Receivers