EAST LANSING, Mich. – After back-to-back 11-win seasons – and four straight wins over Michigan – the Michigan State Spartans are still missing some big items on their recent resume.
Our big goal is to get to the Rose Bowl, the BCS games and the national championship, said Andrew Maxwell, who is set to take over at quarterback. We haven’t accomplished that yet. But for me, the only pressure is to do my job the best that I can. If I can do that, we can really be a special team.
Dantonio’s team has certainly come close. Two years ago, Michigan State finished in a three-way tie at the top of the Big Ten with Wisconsin and Ohio State, losing out to the Badgers in a tiebreaker despite a victory against them. Last season, the Spartans made it to the first Big Ten championship game but lost a 42-39 thriller to Wisconsin.
Now Michigan State has to move on without quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is in the NFL. The defense should make the Spartans a threat again, but they’ll have a lot to prove.
After that gut-wrenching loss to Wisconsin, Michigan State did take a crucial step forward by beating Georgia in triple overtime in the Outback Bowl. It was the program’s first bowl victory since 2001.
Le’Veon Bell returns after running for 948 yards last season, but the passing game is the big question mark. Not only is Maxwell moving up after throwing only 51 passes the last two years, but Michigan State also needs to replace receivers B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol.
Wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett was granted a waiver to play without sitting out a year after transferring from Tennessee to be closer to his ailing father. Arnett could help make the transition period a little easier for Maxwell.
I’m so confident about Maxwell. He’s a natural-born leader, Bell said. He has the quarterback swag. He’s outspoken. He’s a real smart guy and knows where to go with the ball before the play starts, and he’ll change a play if he knows it won’t work.
No matter what the offense does, the Spartans should be able to lean on a defense that returns eight starters. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy left early for the NFL draft, but Michigan State should be able to withstand that departure. Defensive end William Gholston looks ready to become a star, and linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Johnny Allen are also dependable.
Until I’m perfect, I’ve got a lot of room to grow, but we have even more speed this year, Gholston said. We’re all faster. We all know what to expect, and we know how to counteract it.
Michigan State opens the season today with a marquee nonconference game against Boise State, and the Spartans play host to Notre Dame on Sept. 15.