WILL BOWL MOMENTUM PROPEL 2013 SPARTANS?
Entering the 2013 season, Head Coach Mark Dantonio remains optimistic. MSU finished spring practice without major injuries while staging some offensive fireworks in the Green and White game.
Offensive fireworks could have made a difference in 2012, when MSU followed back to back 11-win seasons with a 7-6 tally and exemplified Murphy’s Law by losing five conference games by just 13 points (Michigan by 2, Ohio State by 1).
MSU’s offense suffered growing pains, with a new quarterback and new receivers and little stability in the offensive line. But the defense was stellar, ranking among the best units in the country, allowing just 16.3 points a game. After the Green and White game, Dantonio said he felt better about the upcoming 2013 defense than he did a year ago of the 2012 unit, which dominated the Big Ten in most categories.
On paper, the offense returns more experience than it did a year ago. Senior Andrew Maxwell returns as quarterback, challenged by sophomore Connor Cook, who led the final drive in MSU’s 17-16 win over Texas Christian University at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Both Maxwell and Cook were able to make some impressive plays in the spring game.
Sophomore Riley Bullough—brother of senior middle linebacker and Academic All-American Max Bullough—showed power and vision while auditioning for the running back position. While not quite a Le’Veon Bell (yet), he "gives us a powerful punch," says Dantonio, who notes that power running can serve to complement Nick Hill, Jeremy Langford and Nick Tompkins. A trio of incoming freshmen might also vie for this position.
Whether Bullough stays at running back depends on whether a couple of highly touted recruits can back up Max Bullough at middle linebacker. If so, that would allow the coaches to move Riley from back-up middle linebacker to running back.
MSU boasts experience on the offensive line, but the coaches are hoping for more stability than last season, when injuries forced the unit to be reshuffled several times. Jack Allen, Skyler Burkland, Fou Fonoti, Dan France, Travis Jackson and Blake Treadwell all boast starting experience, and some newcomers have looked promising as well. With the departure of Dion Sims, MSU needs to establish a new tight end from such candidates as Evan Jones, Paul Lang and Josiah Price.
This year’s roster boasts a large number of wide receivers, including Aaron Burbridge—last year’s leading receiver—Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery. In the spring game, several receivers, including DeAnthony Arnett and walk-on A.J. Troup, stepped up to make big plays. The group needs to curtail the "drops" that plagued them last season.
Co-ordinating the offense will be Dave Warner and new coach Jim Bollman, former offensive coordinator at Ohio State and former offensive line coach at MSU under Nick Saban. Bollman will help coach the offensive line along with Mark Staten. Brad Salem, recruiting coordinator, will coach quarterbacks, while Terrence Samuels returns as wide receivers coach.
The MSU defense, coordinated by Assistant Head Coach Pat Narduzzi, returns eight starters and is expected to be stout again. Max Bullough anchors the linebackers along with Denicos Allen and Taiwan Jones. "We don’t want to be as good as last year, we want to be better," says Bullough, echoing Dantonio’s post spring game sentiment.
Marcus Rush returns at defensive end, along with Shilique Calhoun, Denzel Drone and Joel Heath. MSU needs to find a replacement for Will Gholston, who left early for the NFL. A number of candidates will vie for defensive tackle, including Tyler Hoover, James Kittredge, Micajah Reynolds and newcomer Lawrence Thomas, who had a stint as fullback last year. Thomas, a red-shirt sophomore, was recruited as a linebacker but has grown into lineman size.
Despite the departure of cornerback Johnny Adams, the Spartans enjoy great depth in the defensive backfield. Trae Waynes, who performed well in the bowl game in place of Adams, will team up with Darqueze Dennard at corner. Kurtis Drummond, Isaiah Lewis and R.J. Williamson are proven performers at safety, while fans await the debut of highly touted redshirt freshman Demetrious Cox.
Helping Narduzzi are assistants Harlan Barnett (defensive backs), Mike Tressell (linebackers and special teams) and newcomer Ron Burton (defensive line).
Special teams return punter and Academic All-American Mike Sadler but need to establish a kicker to replace Dan Conroy. Many fans look forward to seeing incoming freshman Michael Geiger of Ottawa Hills, OH, who was ranked as the No. 1 kicker in the nation by Rivals.com.
One factor that might add to optimism is the schedule, which does not include Ohio State and Wisconsin, two normally tough opponents. Fans were also pleased at the Green and White game to see Sparty running for a first down and, more importantly, Dantonio overturning a referee’s call. "It was nice," admits Dantonio. It was nice to conclude spring practice with the image of a Cheshire cat grin.
THE HOUSE OF PAYNE
With forward Adreian Payne returning for his senior season and foregoing a possible first-round pick by the NBA, most preseason rankings have MSU in the national Top Five for 2013-14. "We have a chance to have a great season with championship goals," says Payne, who stayed along with teammates Keith Appling, Brendan Dawson and Gary Harris. "There's no doubt in my mind that Adreian is not just returning to play at Michigan State, but for Michigan State," says Tom Izzo, who also lauds Payne's community work with young children. "He did everything for the right reasons, not individual publicity." Meanwhile, two promising prospects will join MSU next season--Gavin Schilling, a 6-9, 240 forward who averaged 13.9 points, 9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks at Findlay Prep, Henderwson, NV, and Alvin Ellis III, a 6-4 guard who averaged 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists for Chicago De La Salle High School.
In the 100th year of MSU tennis, the Spartans earned the program's first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament. MSU played its first round in May in Waco, TX. "It means a lot, it's a big year for us," says head coach Gene Orlando. "To clinch our first ever NCAA berth on the 100th anniversary is really special." MSU ended the season winning seven of 10 matches, seven of them against ranked opponents--including No. 16 Vanderbilt and No. 17 South Carolina--and boasting a 6-5 Big Ten conference record and a 14-13 mark overall.
WOMEN'S GOLF EXCELS
MSU women's golf made its 15th straight NCAA appearance while senior Caroline Powers was named the Big Ten Women's Golfer of the Year. In addition, juniors Allyssa Ferrell and Christine Meier garnered second-team All-Big Ten accolades. Powers averaged 73.64 and notched five top tive finishes in MSU's nine tournaments this season. She was runner-up at the Big Ten Championships. A native of Bowling Green, OH, Powers is ranked No. 23 in the nation by Golfweek. Says head coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, "Once again we've established ourselves as one of the best teams in the country, year in and year out, and that's very exciting.
Last spring the Big Ten Conference announced that beginning in 2016, football will have a new divisional alignment. MSU will be in the East Division, along with Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers. The West Divison will consist of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin. Beginning in 2016, each team will play three schools from the other division for a total of nine conference games. East teams will host five home games in even-numbered years, while West teams will do so in odd-numbered years. The conference says the changes were unanimously recommended by conference directors of athletics and supported by the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors.
THE ICEMEN COMETH
Six new icers will join MSU this fall--forwards Jox Cox (Chelsea), Thomas Ebbing (Troy), Villiam Haag (Gothenburg, Sweden), Mackenzie MacEachern (Troy) and JT Stenglein (Greece, NY), and defenseman Chris Knudson (North Barrington, IL) will be suiting up in green and white. "They possess a nice blend of scoring ability, size, speed, toughness and tenacity that will help us continue or evolution into a championship-caliber team," says Head Coach Tom Anastos. Five of the six played in the U.S. Hockey League, while Knudson is a veteran of the North American Hockey League.
ALL-BIG TEN HONORS
Senior softball center fielder Kylene Hopkinds earned First-Team All-Big Ten for the second straight year, while senior third baseman Jayme O'Bryant earned a spot on the second team. Hopkins, of Menifee, CA, led MSU with a .401 batting average and 31 runs. She is the first Spartan to earn First-Team honors in consecutive seasons since Keri Lemasters (1994-96). "Kylene and Jayme were both incredibly deserving of the recognition by the Big Ten this season," says MSU head coach Jacquie Joseph. In addition, sophomore Ellie Stoffer won the Big Ten Sportsmanship award.