The start of the 2013 college football season is less than two weeks away. We finally have a chance to talk about the games and not just arrests and autograph scandals. Teams all over the country are looking to several players — new and returning — to make the necessary strides for their team to have success.
Michigan State is one of the teams in that position. The Spartans, which went 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten in 2012, are looking to have a bounceback year. MSU, which opens the season Aug. 30 against Western Michigan, will be without workhorse running back LeVeon Bell, who accounted for 127 percent (roughly) of the Spartans’ offensive production. The team has questions at tight end, wide receiver and on special teams.
So who needs to step up in order for coach Mark Dantonio’s MSU team to have a solid 2013 campaign? Here’s a breakdown of the five players who could prove vital to the Spartans success.
You’ll notice no defensive players profiled in this piece. That’s because I expect that unit to be as strong as it’s been the last few years. MSU has fielded a top 10 defense (statistically) the last couple of seasons and this year should be no different. The Spartans’ defense has even been compared to those found in the SEC. For MSU’s defense to remain in that conversation, it must create extra possessions for the Spartan offense and score some points on its own. MSU’s defense has scored four touchdowns since 2010. All of those came in 2011. The Spartans’ defense has been solid for some time. If MSU wants to have a legit shot at its first Rose Bowl since 1987, it may need to be spectacular.
LeVeon Bell ran as hard as he could for 13 games last season behind what would be considered a patchwork offensive line. Before Bell, there was Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick. Before them, there was T.J. Duckett. So who’s going to step up and into the featured back role in East Lansing? Nick Hill is headed into his senior season. He has 51 total carries (3.2 yards/rush) and one touchdown to his credit. Redshirt freshman Riley Bullough converted to running back from linebacker and three first-year rushers (Gerald Holmes, Delton Williams and R.J. Shelton) have been a part of the discussion since fall camp began. MSU will need to develop a strong running attack – no matter who gets the bulk of the carries. As we have seen in recent years, the Spartans are at their best when they display a balanced offense. The MSU offensive line comes in in much better shape this fall, so that should help, as well.
4. Aaron Burbridge (Soph. WR)
The Spartans’ wide receivers, as a group, were pretty bad last year. On a game-by-game basis, no player in the MSU receiving core stepped up to help out quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who barely completed 50 percent of his passes in 2012. Burbridge looks to be the most ready-for-prime-time player in the group. Maxwell earlier this summer told the Detroit Free Press Burbridge, who had 29 catches for 364 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, has all the talent in the world. Burbridge himself in that same story said he believes he’ll have a big year in 2013. In order for the Spartans to rebound from a disappointing 2012 campaign, the Farmington Hills Harrison grad will need to back up that talk.
MSU has similar issues at running back and tight end — newcomers coming in on the heels of difference makers. Junior Andrew Gleichert and redshirt freshman Evan Jones are battling for the No. 1 spot. It’s vital whoever gets the nod is able to serve as a security blanket for Maxwell. Both will see the field, I’m sure, so Gleichert and Jones must show they can block, as well.
2. Michael Geiger (Fr. K)
In 2012, MSU lost five games by a total on 13 points. In two of those games, vs. Ohio State and at Michigan, a made field goal by then-senior Dan Conroy would have given the Spartans two more wins. Conroy went 23 for 32 on field goals last season. True freshman Michael Geiger seems to be in line to get the job, with Dantonio even giving him props after a recent practice. Nine of MSU’s games in 2012 were played within four points, with the Spartans going 4-5 in those contests. I hope Geiger’s ready to perform in some pressure-packed moments.
1. Andrew Maxwell (Sr. QB)
Both the college and pro games have become very much quarterback centered. That means all of the praise and all of the blame is more often than not heaped on the signal caller. Despite what has been said by coach Dantonio recently that the starting QB job is up for grabs, I expect senior Andrew Maxwell to win the job. Maxwell completed just 52 percent of his throws last season. Yes, we know some of that falls on his receivers, but that percentage has to improve by about eight percent if the Spartans want to be a factor in the Big Ten title race. History is on Maxwell’s side, though. In the last two occurrences MSU entered a season with a senior quarterback (2008 and 2011), the Spartans won at least nine games.