It’s only fitting to begin the Big Ten preview by taking a look at the defending champion, the Michigan State Spartans. MSU will still be a dangerous team with Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl MVP Connor Cook taking snaps. As a redshirt junior,Cook will look to improve on his 2755 passing yards in 2013 while freezing defenses with his running ability. Protecting Cook, will be an offensive line stacked with experience, one that is also coming off a season in which they allowed the third fewest sacks (17) in the Big Ten.
Despite having a proven quarterback the Spartans remain a run heavy offense . Jeremy Langford is back after an 18 touchdown, 1,422 yard rushing campaign. Expect Langford to get more handoffs and also catch the ball out of the backfield in 2014.
Also catching the ball from Cook will be a deep, reliable receiving corps that has the talent to stretch the field and create space for the Spartans running attack. Led by senior Tony Lippett,and junior recievers Aaron Burbridge, DeAnthony Arnett and MacGarrett Kings Jr. have the potential to make big plays and catch balls over the middle. If this group can perform in big moments the Spartans will be a contender.
On a defense that ranked in the top three last year the Spartans only need to replace six starters. The secondary will be led by team leader, safety Kurtis Drummond, who has a great nose for the ball and can cover receivers one on one. He won’t be putting people on Revis Island, but he is pretty darn good. Next to Drummond will be sophomore RJ Williams, and
at cornerback the Spartans have Darian Hicks and Trae Waynes, all of whom will make MSU’s secondary one of the best in country and enforce a defense that had the lowest points against last season.
The D-line will be the highlight for the 2014 Spartan team. Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, Shilique Calhoun, can possibly be a top ten pick in 2015. Incoming freshman DT Enoch Smith Jr., will make an immediate impact on the defense. He can play defensive end or defensive tackle and expects himself to be the best player on the field. Calhoun has been showing Smith Jr. how to work this summer so expect improvement from Calhoun. Calhoun’s counterpart on the other side, Marcus Rush, is a four year starter who is determined to prove that Calhoun isn’t the Spartan’s only defensive end to watch on Saturdays. Rush is a balanced end who with 30 tackles and 5 sacks in 2013 can impact the Spartans D in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He swallows up offense lineman, freeing up linebackers and also is the vocal leader of the d-line. The biggest hole this defense has is at the linebacker position. MSU is only returning one starter, Taiwan Jones, and he is transitioning from outside to middle, which is not an easy switch.
All together the Spartans have some serious potential this season. I am not big on predictions and the Big Ten will have a very strong conference this year, but if MSU can limit their mistakes and make big plays when the need to they can make the playoffs.