#7 Michigan State Football 2015 Preview

Michigan State Spartans

Overall Rank: #7
#2 Big Ten

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Michigan State had another big season in 2014. It was the fourth time in five years that the Spartans won at least 11 games. Losses to Oregon and Ohio State in the regular season kept Michigan State out of the playoff picture, but the team dominated just about everybody else on the schedule. One team they did not dominate was Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, but they mounted a huge comeback to win 42-41 and now head into 2015 with a lot of momentum.

2014 Record: 11-2, 7-1
2014 Bowl: Cotton Bowl vs. Baylor (W 42-41)
Coach: Mark Dantonio (75-31 at Michigan State, 93-48 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jim Bollman, Dave Warner
Defensive Coordinator: Harlon Barnett, Mike Tressel

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Delton Williams, RB, 326 yards
Passing: Connor Cook, QB, 3,214 yards
Receiving: Macgarrett Kings, WR, 404 yards
Tackles: R.J. Williamson, S, 59
Sacks: Shilique Calhoun, DE, 8.0
Interceptions: R.J. Williamson, S, 3

Other Key Returnees: TE Josiah Price, OL Jack Allen, OL Jack Conklin, LB Ed Davis, LB Darien Harris, K Michael Geiger

Key Losses: RB Jeremy Langford, RB Nick Hill, WR Tony Lippett, WR Keith Mumphery, OL Travis Jackson, DB Kurtis Drummond, CB Trae Waynes, LB Taiwan Jones, DE Marcus Rush, P Mike Sadler

With quarterback Connor Cook and an experienced and talented offensive line, the Spartans offense should be solid, although probably not too spectacular. Cook threw for 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior. He is a great leader on the field and rarely makes mistakes. Cook does lose his top target from a year ago, Tony Lippett, but there are other options ready to step up. Macgarrett Kings is an experienced senior and the hopes are that Aaron Burbridge could have a breakout year like Lippett did in 2014. R.J. Shelton, DeAnthony Arnett and A.J. Troup have talent even though they have yet to live up to their potential. Replacing running back Jeremy Langford and his 1,522 yards and 22 touchdowns will not be as difficult as it seems. Perennial backup Nick Hill, who rushed for 622 yards and nine scores as a senior, is also gone. However, there is talent. Redshirt freshman Madre London is a great talent and so is true freshman LJ Scott. Scott was not around in the spring, so he will need some time. The more experienced options are Delton Williams and Gerald Holmes. Coach Mark Dantonio will find a running back, or two, and you know Michigan State is going to run the ball effectively behind their talented offensive line.

The Spartans were the best team in the nation against the run, allowing just 88.5 yards per game on the ground. An extremely talented front four will keep this defense among the best in the nation, but the rest of the unit has big holes to fill. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun tallied 8.0 sacks last year and former tackle Lawrence Thomas will slide over to the end spot to replace the departed Marcus Rush. Joel Heath is the experienced option at tackle and he could be joined by emerging sophomore Malik McDowell. At linebacker, Taiwan Jones needs to be replaced after tallying 60 tackles and 4.0 sacks in 2014 and Ed Davis is out for the year with an injury. Darien Harris is back at outside linebacker and Riley Bullough, a former running back, will need to emerge as a productive leader in the middle. The biggest concern is in the secondary on a team that ranked 11th in the conference in passing yards allowed per game; and that was with safety Kurtis Drummond and cornerback Trae Waynes. R.J. Williamson and Montae Nicholson should be solid at the safety spots, but the cornerback position is lacking experience outside of junior Darian Hicks and he is not a lock to start anyway.

The Bottom Line:
Michigan State’s season could again come down to games against Oregon and Ohio State. The Spartans host the Ducks in week two and travel to Ohio State the second to last game of the season. The other road trips this year are at Western Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan and Nebraska. The latter two could be interesting, and Western Michigan and Rutgers are not terrible teams either, but it seems quite likely that a trip to the Big Ten title game will be on the line when Michigan State goes to Columbus on November 21st.

Projected Bowl: Rose Bowl

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 235.2 (19th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 265.6 (35, 1)
Total Offense: 500.8 (11, 2)
Scoring Offense: 43.0 (7, 2)
Rushing Defense: 88.5 (1, 1)
Pass Defense: 227.3 (60, 11)
Total Defense: 315.8 (8, 4)
Scoring Defense: 21.5 (22, 3)
Turnover Margin: 1.46 (2, 1)
Sacks: 3.23 (8, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 0.85 (4, 1)

Madness 2016 NFL Draft Rankings:
#9 Shilique Calhoun
#10 Connor Cook
#27 Jack Conklin
#35 Jack Allen

Madness 2015 Recruit Rankings:
#60 L.J. Scott
#196 Raequan Williams


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