2012 Record: 7-6 (3-6 in Big Ten)
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (51-28 at Michigan State, 69-45 All-Time)
Four Year Trend: 8.75 wins and 4.5 losses
Last Bowl Game: 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl: beat TCU 17-16
Stadium: Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, MI (capacity = 75,005)
Home Field Advantage: ranked 42nd out of 69 BCS teams
Toughest Conference Games: 11/2 vs Michigan, 11/16 at Nebraska
Stats to Fear: scored TDs on 52.27% of red zone trips (11th in B1G), had 0 plays of 50 or more yards (last in B1G)
Stat to Cheer: held opponents to 32.26% TD rate in red zone (1st in B1G), held opponents to 30.89% on third downs (1st in B1G)
Advanced Stats (Football Outsiders 2012 FEI Ranking): 23rd out of 124 teams
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Special Teams: 1
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Max Bullough (110 tackles), LB Denicos Allen (79 tackles, 3 sacks), S Isaiah Lewis (80 tackles, 2 INT), CB Darqueze Dennard (52 tackles, 3 INT), DE Marcus Rush (38 tackles)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Andrew Maxwell (2606 yds pass, 52.5% completions, 13 TD, 9 INT), WR Keith Mumphery (42 rec), WR Bennie Fowler (41 rec, 4 TD), WR Aaron Burbridge (29 rec)
CFBZ: Replacing Kirk Cousins last season proved more difficult than some thought it might be. What were the biggest issues with the Spartans offense last season?
@MikeWScout: The MSU offense last season was something of a series of unfortunate events. The offensive line featured a different group from game to game with a pair of season-ending injuries early in the year. The wide receivers struggled to find consistency, especially in the hands department, and no one emerged quickly enough. Andrew Maxwell struggled at quarterback, especially under pressure. It was just a combination of factors that led to an unpleasant situation. The good news for MSU fans, things can only go up … I think.
CFBZ: Last year they had to replace Cousins, this year they have to replace Le'Veon Bell. Who is ready to step up at RB?
After going 11-3 in 2011, it was a bit of a surprise that the Spartans fell to 7-6 in 2012. Five of the six losses came by four or less points so the Spartans aren't that far off but can they find the intangibles that will win them close games this season?
The offense fell off a cliff last year as they went from averaging 31 ppg in 2011 to just 20 in 2012. That tends to happen when you lose a three year starter at QB. In his first year as a starter, Andrew Maxwell struggled and he's going to need to be more accurate (52% completions) this year. At RB, the Spartans must replace Le'Veon Bell's 1793 yards and 12 TD. Everybody is back at receiver, except TE Dion Sims, so there should be much better timing between Maxwell and his receivers. The OL will be a strength as they return 97 starts.
Last year the Spartans allowed just 16.3 ppg and that didn't change much when they played teams with winning records as they allowed just 16.6. The Spartans return seven of their top ten tacklers so you will see continuity on this defense. Expect this defense to be very, very good again this season.
There is a lot to like about the schedule for the Spartans this year. First and foremost is that there is no Ohio State, there is no Wisconsin and there isn't even a Penn State on the schedule. Those are the best three teams in the Leaders division and the schedule-making Gods have shined down upon the Spartans and given them Indiana, Purdue and Illinois from that division (Michigan picked up Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana). They do play Notre Dame out of conference and they have a very tough stretch from Nov 2nd through Nov 23rd (Michigan at home and on the road against Nebraska and Northwestern) but overall this is a very favorable Big Ten schedule. Look for the defense and the schedule to carry the Spartans to a really good season. If the offense shows up then this team could head to the Big Ten Championship Game or more..
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