Despite going 13-1 last season and winning the first Rose Bowl for Michigan State in over a quarter-century, there is still some uncertainty surrounding the MSU football team. Many key seniors have departed, and the current players are still adjusting to their new roles on the team. Here is a rundown of the three biggest question marks for the Spartans going into next season.
3. WILL THEY STAY HEALTHY?Something that was lost in Michigan State’s historic 2013 season was how healthy the team was all season long.
The biggest injury suffered by the Spartans was Jairus Jones’ MCL tear in the Notre Dame game that caused him to miss the remainder of the season. While Jones was a nice contributor on the MSU defense, he was far from irreplaceable.
The offensive skill positions are where teams, including Michigan State, can least afford significant injuries. Aside from a couple wide receivers missing a game or two, the skill players were extremely durable in 2013.
It’s impossible to predict injuries because they occur mostly due to bad luck, but if you believe in the law of averages it’s hard to believe that MSU will be as healthy in 2014 as it was last year.
If MSU wants to keep it’s B1G and National Championship hopes alive, it will have to avoid injuries like it did last season.
2. WHO WILL REPLACE MAX BULLOUGH?
This question goes a lot deeper than the X’s and O’s of the Spartan defense. Bullough brought something to the team that few people can duplicate. He was not only a talented football player who had a firm understanding of the defensive scheme, but he was also a born leader of men.
The term “coach on the field” is often overused in sports, but when it comes to Max Bullough there is no better way to describe him. He always made the right call and made sure everyone was lined up correctly, which is something that takes time to be able to do. Whoever gets tasked with filling his shoes (Taiwan Jones appears to be the leading candidate) will have a lot of studying to do if they hope to come close to replacing him.
In addition to finding another middle linebacker who can command the defense, MSU will also have to find another team leader. Several players stepped up in Bullough’s absence last year in the Rose Bowl, which showed Spartan fans that life without him is possible, but it’s difficult to recover from losing a once in a generation type player like him.
1. CAN THE OFFENSE CARRY THE TEAM?
The defense is still going to be the strength of Michigan State in 2014, but there will be a lot of new starters on that side of the ball and it could take them some time to build consistency. Most years that would work out well since the first few games of each year are generally played against inferior opponents. However, a week-two matchup against the high-octane Oregon Ducks offense means the Spartan D is going to have to grow up quickly.
The Oregon game will be the first test of how the Spartan offense reacts when the other team is putting points up on the board consistently. In 2013, there was almost never any pressure on the offense because MSU’s opponents were only scoring 15-20 points per game. Now the offense has all the returning veterans and the defense will be acclimating some new members so there may be a few games that turn into shootouts.
Spartan fans haven’t seen their team in an offensive shootout since Kirk Cousins was around, but the way 2014 is shaping up Connor Cook and company will have to shoulder the load a lot more. Led by Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford, the offense should take a step forward next season, but will it be able to handle the pressure of a Big 12-esque shootout? That is the biggest question facing the defending Rose Bowl Champs going into next season.
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