MSU Football: Year in review and an early look ahead

The Michigan State Spartans are the 2013-2014 Rose Bowl champions. Yes, you read that right.

After a preseason that was packed with uncertainty, and a regular season start that was everything but stable, Mark Dantonio and the Spartan football program found a way to win the Big Ten outright and become victorious in the 100th Rose Bowl.

Below, isportsweb’s Ryan Squanda and I look back at our season preview and see where we went wrong while giving you a premature preview of what to look for from MSU football in the 2014-2015 campaign.

RYAN SQUANDA

Preseason Record Prediction: 9-3

Finishing Record: 13-1

Preseason Offensive MVP: The Offensive Line

Postseason Offensive MVP: The Offensive Line

At the beginning of the season, I predicted that if the Michigan State offensive line could stay healthy and put their injury woes behind them, they very well could end up the most valuable part of the the Michigan State offense.

Well, four months, 13 wins, a Rose Bowl victory and this goofy touchdown celebration later from Travis Jackson, and the MSU offensive line has done exactly that.

Jackson, Fou Fonoti, Blake Treadwell, and Dan France led a very experienced line that gave Jeremy Langford holes to run through all year long en route to his 1,422 yard, 18 touchdown season. In addition to the tremendous push they gave Langford, they gave quarterback Connor Cook time to throw this season, which was key in his development as a Big Ten quarterback.

Preseason Defensive MVP: MLB Max Bullough

Postseason Defensive MVP: CB Darqueze Dennard

While Bullough was certainly still the unquestioned leader and heart of the Michigan State defense on their run to Rose Bowl Champions, Dennard time and time again came up big for the Michigan State defense.

With a No Fly Zone in effect all year long – no team threw for more than 259 yards on the Spartans this season – Dennard continuously put receivers on an island on his way to his Jim Thorpe award winning year, picking off four passes along the way.

Preseason Freshman to watch: QB Damion Terry

Postseason Freshman of the year: K Michael Geiger

Last season, Michigan State senior kicker Dan Conroy finished the season a disappointing 23/32 in his field goals. And with so many games ending up so close, it left many to wonder what Michigan State’s record could have been if so many field goals weren’t missed.

There was no such problem with that this year. After Geiger took over for Kevin Muma against Notre Dame, Geiger finished the season a clutch 15/16 on his field goals.

Most Improved Player: QB Connor Cook

Seriously, at the beginning of the season, who thought Connor Cook would eventually be named the offensive MVP of the 100th Rose Bowl game?

MSU QB Connor Cook

MSU QB Connor Cook

Well he did just that. Throughout the entire season, Cook improved and gained confidence each and every week with his receivers, finishing the season with an efficient 22 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions.

A look ahead to next season:

Record Prediction: 10-2

Jacksonville State, Win

@Oregon, Loss

Wyoming, Win

Eastern Michigan, Win

Nebraska, Win

@Purdue, Win

@Indiana, Win

Michigan, Win

Ohio State, Loss

@Maryland, Win

Rutgers, Win

@Penn State, Win

Closing Thoughts:

It was a great season for the Michigan State football team, one of the greatest in school history. A magical season with so many things that happened that seemed impossible in August, the Spartans wound up with their first victory in the Rose Bowl since 1988 and a school record 13 wins.

Moving forward, with Mark Dantonio at the helm, the program certainly is in great hands. As for next season, the defense that was so good in the 2013 season may take a step back in 2014 with the loss of starters Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, Isaiah Lewis, Tyler Hoover, and Dennard. Despite these losses though, you can expect defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to have his next line of guys ready to play.

With a sold kicking game and a large part of the offense expected to return, I see at least another trip to the Big Ten Championship game in store for the Spartans, thus potentially giving them another chance to play for the Rose Bowl.

JAMES EDWARDS

Preseason Record Prediction: 8-4

Finishing Record: 13-1

Preseason Offensive MVP: WR Aaron Burbridge

Postseason Offensive MVP: RB Jeremy Langford

Well, with the up-and-down season that the Michigan State receiving corps had in 2013, I believed that Burbridge, the one who showed the most promise during that abysmal season, would have a big year for the Spartans’ offense. And similar to the 2013 season, the MSU receiving corps got off to a bad start, which caused guys to be shuffled in and out for a good portion of the first half of the season.

As the season went on, the receivers began to pick up their play. Bennie Fowler was starting to come into his own, Macgarrett Kings Jr. blossomed into a playmaker and Tony Lippett, the guy who looked like he couldn’t catch a cold at the beginning of the season, began to become one of the more sure-handed players on the team. Burbridge was not able to separate himself from these three, and a hamstring injury early in the season clearly hindered his progress as the season went on.

Now, with the season officialy in the books, it was the unknown Langford who quickly became the Spartans’ MVP on the offensive side of the ball. Langford had the biggest shoes to fill as former MSU running back Le’Veon Bell left school early for the NFL Draft.

During spring practice, Langford was the backup to linebacker-turned-running-back Riley Bullough, but a lower-body injury in the summer sidelined Bullough and allowed Langford the opportunity to take the starting tailback position and run with it.

And that he did.

Langford rushed for 1,422 yards on the season, and led the Big Ten in rushing touchdowns with 18. Along with the offensive line, Langford was the most consistent player for the MSU offense and he gave them a player who had the ability to make a big play every time he touched the ball. His patience as a runner and ability to consistently gain positive yardage was huge for Michigan State, and of course, his signature fourth-quarter touchdowns crowned him “The Closer (not really, but not a bad nickname, right?)”.

MSU junior running back Jeremy Langford (left) and junior defensive end Marcus Rush (right)

MSU junior running back Jeremy Langford (left) and junior defensive end Marcus Rush (right)

Preseason Defensive MVP: MLB Max Bullough

Postseason Defensive MVP: CB Darqueze Dennard

Ryan hit the nail right on the head.

Bullough was without a doubt the backbone of the first-ranked Michigan State defense this season, but Dennard, on his way to winning this year’s Jim Thorpe award, was the commander of the “No Fly Zone,” and shutdown the premier receiver for each opponent on a weekly basis.

Preseason Freshman to watch: RB Gerald Holmes

Postseason Freshman of the year: K Michael Geiger

Based on my Offensive MVP this season, it’s clear that Holmes didn’t make the impact I had thought he would. As a matter of fact, Holmes didn’t record a stat this season and will be a redshirt freshman next year.

Initially, with the uncertainty at the tailback position coming in, I though Holmes had the size and speed to make an immediate impact, but once Langford got the job he never looked back.

As for Geiger, the freshman from Toledo, Ohio, had a tremendous year for MSU. After a bad start to the season from Muma, Dantonio named Geiger the starting kicker after the Spartans suffered their lone loss to Notre Dame — a game in which he replaced Muma and went 2 for 2.

Geiger finished the year making 15 of 16 field goals, and unlike last year, gave the Spartans someone who could get them sure points in the redzone.

Most Improved Player: DE Shilique Calhoun

For this award you could literally close your eyes and point at a random player and make a valid point as to why they are the most improved.

After losing so many key players after the 2012 season, following up in 2013 with a 7-6 record and then finishing 13-1 (8-0 Big Ten) in 2014, there was clearly a lot of improvement across the board.

Calhoun, who was hidden behind former MSU defensive end William Gholston for the first couple years of his career, broke onto the scene this year as he had not just a knack for getting to the quarterback, but a knack for scoring touchdowns and causing turnovers. This season, Calhoun was not only named the Smith-Brown Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, but he earned All-America honors from Walter Camp (second team), Associated Press (second team), SI.com (second team) and USA TODAY (second team).

In his first season as a starter, Calhoun was tied for second in the FBS with four fumble recoveries, including two returns for touchdowns. He was tied for the FBS lead with three defensive touchdowns, and his 17 quarterback hurries led the vicious MSU defense.

Maybe Calhoun was always this good but was just in a situation where he didn’t have the opportunity to succeed. Regardless, nobody on either side of the ball for the Spartans had the biggest turnaround from one season to the next like Coleman… I mean Calhoun.

A look ahead to next season:

Record Prediction: 11-1

Jacksonville State, Win

@Oregon, Win

Wyoming, Win

Eastern Michigan, Win

Nebraska, Win

@Purdue, Win

@Indiana, Win

Michigan, Win

Ohio State, Loss

@Maryland, Win

Rutgers, Win

@Penn State, Win

Closing Thoughts:

Michigan State was a few dubious pass interference calls away from playing for a national championship. Through all the trials and tribulations, the Spartans stuck to their guns, and unlike last season, they were able to win the game of inches.

Led by Dantonio, the Spartans finished one of the best seasons in school history with a victory in the 100th Rose Bowl, their first since 1988, and while doing so, developed players that will play huge roles next season.

Like Ryan said, MSU will lose Max Bullough, Allen, Lewis, Hoover, and Dennard, but if you followed this team for the last six months it’s clear that they have guys that are ready to step in and take on those roles immediately.

While all signs have pointed towards Dantonio and Narduzzi staying put in East Lansing, you never know what can happen between now and April. If all of the coaches return, and with the Big Ten expecting to be down again, the Spartans have the players to make another run at a Big Ten title, and perhaps, another Rose Bowl.

 

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