With the Spartans kicking off their season in 10 days at home against Western Michigan, we here at isportsweb.com have put together our season preview and predictions for the Michigan State football 2013-2014 season.
Below are the thoughts of isportsweb’s James Edwards (senior writer) and Ryan Squanda (sophomore writer):
Western Michigan, Win
South Florida, Win
Youngstown State, Win
@Notre Dame, Loss
Western Michigan, Win
South Florida, Win
Youngstown State, Win
@Notre Dame, Loss
Edwards: Aaron Burbridge, WR
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound sophomore receiver showed glimpses last season that he has the ability to become a big-time wideout in the Big Ten conference. With receivers shuffling in and out of the lineup due to inconsistencies for most of the 2012-2013 season, Burbridge, then a true freshman, took advantage of his opportunity. On Oct. 6, Burbridge posted an eight catch, 134-yard game against the Indiana Hoosiers after only catching two balls prior to that point in the season. He followed that game with a five reception, 89-yard game in a loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes the following week. He was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team by ESPN.com and BTN.com.
With noticeable improvements from the receiver position this offseason, Burbridge seems to be a frontrunner for one of the two starting receiver spots, and the big-play ability that he showed he possessed last season could be exactly what the Spartans need with the departure of running back Le’Veon Bell and tight end Dion Sims to the NFL.
The second-year player led all MSU receivers with five catches for 113 yards in the annual Green-White game, and he’s been named to the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List (nation’s most outstanding receiver).
Squanda: Offensive line
With questions at pretty much every position on the offensive side of the ball, if they can all stay healthy, the offensive line certainly has the most experience of any other position on the offense.
Getting Travis Jackson and Fou Fonoti back from injury will be huge. And Dan France, Blake Treadwell and Jack Allen fill out a very experienced and talented Michigan State offensive line that will be key to Michigan State’s 2013 success. Again, if the Spartans can put their offensive line woes that have plagued them over the past several years behind them, they could very well wind up being the most valuable part of the Michigan State’s offense.
Squanda: Max Bullough, MLB
This is definitely a pretty big no-brainer. Bullough is the absolute heart and sole and leader of this Michigan State defense that has been so good over the past few years. Last year, Bullough anchored one of the best defenses in the country, accounting for 111 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 1 interception.
This year, Bullough has already been named to a plethora of preseason award watch lists including the Butkus Award (top linebacker), Lombardi Award (college lineman/ linebacker of the year), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (nation’s best defensive player), Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year) and Lott IMPACT Trophy (defensive impact player of the year). Expect another big season this year from the senior Traverse City native.
Edwards: Max Bullough, MLB
Like Ryan said, barring any injuries, senior Max Bullough will lead the MSU defense all season long. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound middle linebacker has led the Spartans in tackles for the past two season, and it’s almost guaranteed that he does it again.
POSITION TO KEEP AN EYE ON:
The quarterback race seems to be the biggest news coming out of MSU’s camp this preseason, and with a little over a week until the season starts there is still no clear leader. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has stated that he isn’t afraid to play three quarterbacks early in the season until someone separates from the pack, however, with the emergence of true freshman Damion Terry in the Spartans second closed-scrimmage this summer, Dantonio may have to play four quarterbacks.
Andrew Maxwell, the starter last season, hasn’t separated himself enough from the pack to earn the starting job despite his experience. Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor also performed well in the Spartans second scrimmage and has impressed coaches with his ability to make plays. 6-foot-4, 218-pound sophomore Connor Cook has had his name in the discussion all offseason and even saw time last year when coaches put him in for Maxwell in the Spartans 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl victory over TCU.
Terry’s improved play as of late has shaken this race up even more (and possibly saved him a redshirt season), and it will be interesting to see how this race for the starting job plays out in the first few weeks of the season. Unless someone separates themselves before next week, don’t be surprised if you see all four quarterbacks play on opening night.
This is a problem. A big problem. What is Coach Dantonio going to do? The quarterback race right now is incredibly wide open it’s now been coined as a “four horse race” and has some joking that Michigan State should play a different quarterback for each quarter.
A competition that got started when the Spartans, after a mediocre season from quarterback Andrew Maxwell, were trailing in their bowl game against TCU. In need of a spark, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio took a chance and brought the inexperienced redshirt freshman Connor Cook off the bench and thrust him into the game.
The competition continued in the spring when redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor impressed in spring practice, adding more fuel to the fire, all the while Maxwell and Cook didn’t do enough to separate themselves from each other in the Green-White Spring Game.
And now the competition has gotten even more interesting with the arrival of true freshman Damion Terry, who lit things up in the Spartan’s second preseason scrimmage and has made this competition into the now well known “four horse race.”
There is no doubt that Dantonio has a lot of work to do this season in figuring out who his starting quarterback will be this year. He will certainly need to figure something out. If he doesn’t, Michigan State could find themselves in the midst of another lost season.
FRESHMAN TO MAKE THE BIGGEST IMPACT:
Squanda: Damion Terry, QB
Well, if he plays, expect big things from the talented 6’3”, 222 lb quarterback from Erie, Pennsylvania. If he doesn’t play, well you’ll have to look elsewhere for this category. Last year as a high school senior, Terry played out of his mind, leading his school to a 15-0 record and a state championship, all the while accounting for 3,599 yards, 50 touchdowns and only eight interceptions through the air and 699 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
While starting a true freshman at quarterback could be risky, with growing pains and freshman mistakes likely to come with it, Terry is definitely a big talent and will certainly make an impact at Michigan State sometime down the road. Having accounted for 280 yards in the team’s’ first scrimmage and having gotten some reps in with the first team, Dantonio has stated he has no problem playing a freshman. Case in point, watch out for this Damion Terry guy.
Edwards: Gerald Holmes, RB
The chase for the starting running back position is another battle that has been very intriguing in MSU’s camp. It was announced earlier in the summer that former redshirt freshman linebacker turned running back Riley Bullough would be the Spartans starting tailback heading into August, however, he suffered an upper-body injury early in August that has hindered his progression and has allowed junior’s Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill to gain ground. Also, freshman Gerald Holmes and Delton Williams have impressed their fellow teammates and coaches as of late, and both have a real chance to emerge as the starter.
This could be a shot in the dark, but even as a freshman, Holmes seems to have what it takes physically to be the premier tailback for the Spartans. At six-feet, 212 pounds, Holmes, a Flint, Mich. native, has a nice mixture of speed and power that could separate him from his peers.
As a senior at Flint Carman-Ainsworth, Holmes rushed 94 times for 1,023 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also recorded five 100-yard rushing games in his final year in high school. In the Spartans two scrimmages, Holmes has combined for 96 yards on 14 carries, second in yards behind Langford.
Keep an eye out for him.
With uncertainties at several positions on the offensive side of the ball, the Michigan State defense will have to carry this team early on in the season. What’s new, right?
Offensively, inexperience has haunted the Spartans the past two seasons. It may take two or three weeks into the season before the quarterback, running back and wide receiver starters are set in stone and rotations are locked. The defense led by seniors Bullough and defensive back Darqueze Dennard are going to have to limit their mistakes until the offensive can get settled and into a rhythm.
A schedule that is free of games against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State could be perfect for a Dantonio team that is looking to make its seventh consecutive bowl game. However, while I think this team will get eight wins, don’t be surprised if they end the season with six. The fact that there could be another starting quarterback for the Spartans with little to no experience could be a major cause for concern with the still unproven receiving corps and inexperienced tailbacks.
It may not be until the Oct. 5 matchup against Iowa that we find out who this Michigan State team really is. And while the defense and offensive line of the Spartans are the two most reliable spots on the field, it will take a breakout season from someone at the quarterback, receiver or running back position to get the Spartans to eight wins or greater.
At the end of the day, this Michigan State team has more questions surrounding them than any other Dantonio team has had in the past. But even with that fact one thing is certain: the defense will be stellar. Led by senior linebacker Max Bullough, the defense should once again be among the best in the country.
On the offensive side of the ball though, well, that’s a different story. There are a ton of questions there. With things looking a little better at the wide receiver position, there is still a lot left to ponder at the the quarterback, running back and tight end positions that Michigan State will have to figure out.
In conclusion, Michigan State has a relatively soft schedule, with no Ohio State, no Wisconsin, and no Penn State, the Spartans could wind up with a pretty good record and find themselves in contention for another Big Ten Championship but only if they sort out some of their glaring questions.