Four-Year Trend: 2008 (9-4), 2009 (6-7), 2010 (11-2), 2011 (11-3)
Notable Player: Denicos Allen. The junior linebacker came from nowhere last season and led a potent Spartan defense with 11 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. Gholston will get all the preseason hype. Expect Allen to make plays once the season begins.
Top Newcomers: DeAnthony Arnett (WR) Aaron Burbidge (WR), Demetrious Cox (DB), Jamal Lyles (DE)
Circle This Game: Michigan State at Michigan [Oct. 20] Michigan State is looking for its fifth win in a row against the Wolverines. Besides being a rivalry and a statement win for either school, the result could decide the Big Ten Legends division. Let us pray Nike and Adidas don’t turn this into another pissing contest.
Why We Like Them: The Spartans lose defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, but return eight starters from a nasty Pat Narduzzi defense that finished fifth nationally in yards allowed per play last season. It should be a Big Ten and potentially a national championship caliber defense. The trouble is the four starters returning on offense.
Best-Case Scenario: The defense dominates. The Spartans somehow cobble together a functional offense through an improved running game. MSU wins four/six against Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Boise State to go 10-2. They win the Legends Division title and play Wisconsin again for their first outright Big Ten championship since 1987.
Worst Case Scenario: The passing game is a mistake prone nightmare with new quarterback Andrew Maxwell (20 career passing attempts in Big Ten play) and a novice corps of receivers. The defense is not quite great enough to carry them when they need it. The Spartans drop non-conference games against Boise State and Notre Dame, laboring to a depressingly familiar 6-6 finish.
Good Fortune: The Spartans have won 11 games each of the past two seasons, yet in both years finished outside the Top 20 in SRS. Why does the math not like them? They won a lot of close games. In games decided by one score or less in 2010 and 2011, the Spartans were an incredible 8-1. Little Giants. Kirk Cousins’ heave to Keith Nichol. Those plays worked. If the Spartans luck swings the opposite way, a marginal decline in raw performance could look like a major one.
Projected Bowl: Capital One
[Photo via Getty]