With the out of conference foes behind us, Know Your Enemy can now start to focus on the more familiar, meat and potatoes part of the Buckeye's schedule -- Big Ten play. Ohio State starts their Big Ten slate with the Michigan State Spartans.
Q: I know Michigan State isn't exactly an unknown quantity around here, but since you've been doing this for the other four guys, why don't you go ahead and tell me a little bit about the actual school?
A: Sure. While Columbus may be the true Land-Grant Holy Land, Michigan State was actually America's first Land Grant University, and served as a model for the Morrill Act of 1862, which paved the way for similar institutions across the country (including, you know, ours). Sparty started their varsity football program all the way back in 1896, but didn't actually join the Big Ten until 1953. MSU was one of the nation's most dominant programs in the 1950s, winning 4 national titles, but found themselves behind Michigan and Ohio State (and later Penn State) in the Big Ten pecking order in the ensuing decades.
Q: Who are some famous Michigan State Spartans?
A: Glad you asked! Michigan State has staked an early claim for "most notorious alumni". Disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was a MSU grad, along with crooked union leader Jimmy Hoffa. The school also awarded an honorary degree to African dictator Robert Mugabe in 1990 (in fairness, they revoked it in 2008, but I have no obligation to be fair, so let's just forget about that and claim that MSU is soft on dictators). Noted Comic Sans enthusiast Dan Gilbert is also a Michigan State Spartan.
State is more famous for producing Hoopsters (Magic Johnson, Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson, etc), but there are a few famous football players as well. Carl Banks, Bubba Smith and Tony Mandarich were Spartans, along with Plaxico Burris (really shot myself on the foot on that one /zing).Q: Refresh my memory, how did these guys do last year?
A: Last year was a great season for Michigan State. They won the
"Where is Wisconsin?" Legends division, but lost to "Why is Wisconsin Here?" Leaders division champion Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten Title game. Michigan State also beat Georgia in the Outback bowl to finish with an 11-3 record and #11 final ranking. Sparty was able to snap a 5 game bowl losing steak (with four of those bowl losses coming by double digits). The Spartans beat Ohio State, Michigan, *and* Wisconsin during the regular season.
Q: That's pretty impressive. Does that make them the favorites in the Big Ten for this year?
A: I wouldn't go that far. Michigan State lost a LOT of talent on offense. Kirk Cousins has completed his decade of service and finally graduated, along with B.J Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, who combined for over 2,000 yards receiving last year. Michigan State returns solid experience on their line, and has a capable lead running back with Le'Veon Bell...which they'll need, since they have a huge question mark at Quarterback, and lost their top 3 wideouts and their top 2 tight ends.
Q: Oh....so maybe they'll be kinda bad then?
A: I wouldn't say that either. Michigan State had an elite defense last year...11th in scoring defense, 9th in rushing defense and 11th in passing defense. They lost All American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, and they'll miss free safety Trenton Robinson (80 tackles, 4 picks), but they return almost everybody else. MSU may have the most terrifying end combo, with Freshman All-American Marcus Rush and All-Big Ten William Gholston. The Spartans return another 3 All-Big Ten starters on defense, and that alone could be enough to keep them in games when their offense sputters.
Q: So...they'll be...somewhere in between?
A: I think Michigan State is going to be really good, but they have a tough schedule. Sparty opens their season by hosting Boise State, takes a trip to Central Michigan, and plays Notre Dame in week 4. With some much uncertainty on offense, I'm skeptical that Michigan State makes it into Big Ten play unscathed. Michigan State also has to play Michigan and Wisconsin on the road. I think 8 wins sounds about right.
Q: Is Ohio State going to beat them?
A: This is the first game of the season that could really go either way, and making a prediction in July feels a little silly. Both teams have significant holes on offense, both should have stout defenses and quality running games. If MSU QB Andrew Maxwell comes out of the season struggling, this is a game the Buckeyes should win. If the Spartans are able to continue their offensive balance that served them so well before, then OSU is going to have to be *awesome* to pull it out on the road. We'll have a better idea once we get closer to the season, but this certainly looks like a strong candidate for the first stumble in Ohio State's season.