Repeating as conference champions is a feat that few teams are able to accomplish. Wisconsin was able to get to three straight Rose Bowls prior to 2013, but had it not been for sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State the Badgers wouldn’t have been able to keep that streak alive.
Between the division realignment and an overall tougher schedule, Michigan State is facing an uphill battle when it comes to repeating as B1G Champions. Although the odds may be against them, the Spartans still have what it takes to get back to Pasadena.
These are the biggest reasons why Michigan State can repeat as B1G Champions in 2014.
At the start of the 2013 season Michigan State didn’t know who it’s starting quarterback or running back would be, and none of the wide receivers seemed capable of catching the ball. A year later the Spartans boast arguably the top quarterback/running back duo in the conference and have a bevy of talented wide receivers.
The Spartan offense steadily improved throughout the conference season in 2013 after getting off to an anemic start in the non-conference schedule. Connor Cook took control of the offense and the rest of the unit accepted him as their leader and grew alongside him. This allowed the offense to make vast improvements during the year.
In 2014, the offense returns all of it’s skill players besides wide receiver Bennie Fowler. The biggest blow to the offense is the loss of three starting offensive lineman, but there are talented players like Jack Conklin and Donovan Clark ready to step in. With a full year of experience as well as an entire offseason to improve, the offense will look a lot sharper in 2014 than it did last season.
Connor Cook will be able to get his timing down with all of his wide receivers without having to split reps like he did last fall. While that may seem minor, it could make all the difference when Cook and the offense are forced to get back into a game through the air.
SHILIQUE & COMPANY
Although the Spartans lost a lot of talent from last years defense the defensive line looks to be as good, if not better than 2013.
Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush return as the starters on the ends, and Damon Knox and James Kittredge will be competing to start in the middle. Although there will be two new starters playing between Calhoun and Rush, the ridiculous amount of talent MSU has at defensive end should make up for any deficiencies up the middle.
Aside from Calhoun (the 2013 B1G defensive lineman of the year) and Rush (a 3-year starter) the Spartans have spring standout Demetrius Cooper, Lawrence Thomas and 5-star recruit Malik McDowell as options at defensive end. With that kind of depth along the defensive line Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi will be able to constantly rotate in fresh guys who are just as talented as the one before them.
MSU’s defense will be the key to winning another B1G Championship, and the extraordinary talent the Spartans have along the defensive line will give them yet another elite defense in 2014.
There is something to be said about college players having experience on big stages. Michigan State played in more than a couple high-stakes games last season and it didn’t seem to phase them. In fact, many of the players including Connor Cook played their best games when the lights were shining the brightest.
Cook threw for over 300 yards in both the B1G Championship Game and the Rose Bowl–the first two times he surpassed that mark in his career.
Michigan State played with the pressure of a perfect B1G season all of last year and never let it affect the team. They went out and handled their business on a weekly basis and didn’t think about anything beyond that. That type of mentality is what it takes to handle the expectations that come along with winning a conference championship, and come out and win another one the next season.
After such a magical 2013 season culminating in a Rose Bowl victory, it is hard to imagine any situation Michigan State could be put in next year that would rattle them.
Repeating as B1G Champions won’t be easy for the Spartans, but an improved offense as well as big-game experience could propel the Spartans to another special season.
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