Aug 16, 2012

2012 Big Ten Previews: Michigan State with The Only Colors

We’re previewing the upcoming seson with help from SBNation.com. Today we take a look at Michigan State with Chris Vannini from The Only Colors.

Michigan State has national title hopes in 2012, but has several roadblocks along the way. Key nonconference bouts with Boise State (Aug. 31) and Notre Dame (Sept. 15) will test the Spartans in the first three weeks of the season. October brings a gauntlet of Big Ten contenders when Sparty hosts Iowa for Homecoming then travels to Michigan and Wisconsin in back-to-back weekends before returning home againt Nebraska.

2011 Record: 11-3

2011 Bowl: Outback Bowl, Win vs. Georgia, 33-30 (3 OT)

2012 Bowl Projections:

Orlando Bowl History

01-01-00 Florida Citrus Bowl, Win vs. Florida, 37-34
12-28-07 Champs Sports Bowl, Loss vs. Boston College, 24-21
01-01-09 Capital One Bowl, Loss vs. Georgia, 24-12
01-01-11 Capital One Bowl, Loss vs. Alabama, 49-7

Q&A with Chris Vannini of The Only Colors

Describe the 2011 season in two words.

Humbling progress.

With a veteran offensive line, will LeVeon Bell be expected to carry a Javon Ringer-like rushing load until Andrew Maxwell gets his bearings?

While MSU will rely on the running game this season, there is depth in the backfield. Le’Veon Bell is the clear No. 1 guy, but senior Larry Caper and sophomore Nick Hill will get their share of carries. Caper led MSU in rushing as a freshman in 2009 and frequently been used as a third-down back in recent years. Hill was mostly on kick returns last season, but has a good burst and will earn playing time. There is a real possibility of using multiple running backs in formations because the Spartans have much more experience and talent in the backfield while the passing game gets going.

On paper, what looks like the toughest game this season?

The two toughest games of the season come in back-to-back weeks at Michigan and Wisconsin. While MSU has had more success in Ann Arbor than Madison recently, I’m going to go with the Wolverines being the toughest test. Coming off a Sugar Bowl-winning season, Michigan’s program is back on the rise as Big Ten favorites. The fact that the Oct. 20 meeting could be the deciding factor in the Legends division race means much more than bragging rights and the Paul Bunyan Trophy could be on the line.

In terms of horror movies, how frightened should opposing skill players be of the Spartan defense?

It’s not a horror movie, but opposing teams can expect the Jurassic Park raptors when they face the Spartans. The combination of speed and pack attitude mean if you’re alone in the open field, you won’t be for long. Max Bullough is the leader of the pack. Dr. Alan Grant did a good job describing in the movie what it’s like to be a quarterback: “You stare at him, and he just stares right back. And that’s when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side, from the other two raptors you didn’t even know were there.”

Best case/worst case scenario for the postseason.

The best case scenario for the Spartans would be quite obvious: a win in the Rose Bowl. It’s what every Big Ten team strives for. The Spartans were left out on a tiebreaker in 2010 and were a few minutes away in 2011. This year, the hope is an elite defense and young, but talented, offense help MSU take that next step and reach Pasadena for the first time since the 1987 season. In the worst case scenario, the offense struggles with the inexperience and a tough schedule leaves the Spartans barely on the right side of bowl eligibility.

One Question In The Other Direction

How much does a team’s desire to play in the Capital One Bowl affect selection? Your bowl is in a position where it can take teams that fell just short of the BCS and might not be happy to be there (MSU in 2010). Does the bowl prefer teams that had seasons without the late heartbreak? (Nebraska/South Carolina in 2011).

To the first question: A whole lot. Team and fan excitement plays heavy in the selection committee’s mind. We want teams who want to come to Orlando. That being said, disappointment and heartbreak isn’t an automatic negative. We’ve taken the SEC Championship Game runner up several times in the past and never shy away from that opportunity. I think the selections of Nebraska and South Carolina over their respective conference runners-up (State and Georgia) was a combination of several factors, including victories over those respective teams, a lack of recent history in Orlando and a LOT of fan and administrative passion for playing in the Capital One Bowl. That’s mostly speculation, as I don’t speak to individual selection committee members about why they voted a certain way.

At the end of the day, team performance on the field is the biggest deciding factor. When you are the best non-BCS bowl game, that means you are going to be selecting teams who falls just short of the BCS, often in the final week of the year. So crazy fan enthusiasm definitely helps, but being deflated after you just missed out on a conference championship doesn’t count against a team.

Thanks to Chris and The Only Colors for helping us out.

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