EAST LANSING - There are no tacky slogans, no predictions, no wild provocative comments coming out of East Lansing. Instead a quiet confidence being exuded by the Spartans leaders - their head coach and seniors - say far more than a bunch of empty predictions.
Preseason annuals have the Spartans finishing anywhere from 5th-8th in the Big Ten, but forget about all that. This is the year that the Spartans put it all together and finish high, extremely high in the Big Ten.
1. Ohio State (10-2)
2. Michigan State (10-2)
3. Iowa (9-3)
4. Michigan (9-3)
5. Wisconsin (8-4)
6. Penn State (8-4)
7. Minnesota (6-6)
8. Purdue (6-6)
9. Illinois (4-8)
10. Northwestern (4-8)
11. Indiana (4-8)
While it may seem beyond the realm of possibility that the Spartans could finish second in the Big Ten consider the "follow the senior quarterback theory"
Team with experienced leadership tend to fare well in conference play that's why Ohio State (Troy Smith), Michigan State (Drew Stanton), Iowa (Drew Tate), Michigan (Chad Henne) and Wisconsin (John Stocco) are all natural picks to finish in the top half of the conference.
As you sort the team out, consider that Ohio State lost nine defensive players from a national championship contender, but have stockpiled back-to-back solid recruiting classes to replinish a solid defense. The Spartans have filled several holes on a pourous defense adding junior college transfers Nehemiah Warrick (strong safety) and Ervin Baldwin (defensive end) to fix trouble spots in the secondary and on the defensive line.
In addition to Baldwin, sophomores Justin Kershaw and Brandon Long have shown an ability to get after the passer and figure to improve upon the puny sixteen sacks MSU amassed last season.
MSU returns an experienced set of linebackers in senior David Herron, Jr., Kaleb Thornhill and bandit SirDarean Adams. Adding to the addition of Warrick in the secondary are sophomore Otis Wiley at the free safety position while the corners are manned by two seniors, Greg Cooper and Demond Williams.
Despite the unfortunate injury to sophomore Ross Weaver, MSU has sophomore Kendell Davis, junior Michael Bell(injured) and freshmen Ashton Henderson and Roderick Jenrette ready to step in and fill the void.
Offensively, MSU's talent is the match of any team in the country. The Spartans have a special running back in sophomore Javon Ringer. Look for Ringer to emerge as the Spartans go-to back once the season begins. Although John L. Smith wants to have a running back by committee, Ringer is too good to keep off the field. MSU also fields two talented backs in Jehuu Caulcrick and A.J. Jimmerson.
The receiving corps is big, fast, talented and deep led by Jerramy Scott who is threatening to break MSU's all-time receiving mark held by Andre Rison. Fifth-year senior Matt Trannon is a huge target, while sophomore Devin Thomas, junior Terry Love and even freshman T.J. Williams all are breakaway threats.
But the stick that stirs the drink is senior quarterback Drew Stanton. Stanton is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate who threw for over 3,000 yards a season ago and who is determined to lead the Spartans into a New Year's Day bowl game before leaving East Lansing.
Stanton is highly coveted by NFL franchises for his ability to both throw the football accurately in the MSU spread offense, picking out holes in zone defenses and reading blitzes effectively. Stanton has the extra dimension of escapbility, rushing for over 300 yards as a junior.
MSU has also eliminated something that arguably cost them their most important game of 2005, the lack of a reliable field goal kicker.
The Spartans, ranked #11 at the time, lost a triple overtime contest to Michigan due to two missed field goals by the departed John Goss. Freshman Brett Swenson, one of the nation's top rated prep kickers has not missed a field goal in any scrimmage this fall and has solidified his hold on the kicking position.
While John L. Smith may be on the hot seat now, he's in for a special season.
If MSU can avoid major injuries, they could be in the hunt for the unthinkable, a Rose Bowl appearance on New Year's Day, something unseen since the days of George Perles. Far from being hyperbole, MSU has the weapons, the desire and lack only the confidence of hainvg been there before.
Our pick: Michigan State will finish 10-2. The Spartans schedule is favorable as they avoid Big Ten contenders Iowa and Wisconsin and get both Notre Dame and Ohio State at home sandwiched between a trip to Ann Arbor. Look for State to win one of the three and set the program up for solid seasons in the future.
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