Michigan State’s football outlook for the 2016 season. The Spartans were able to get to this lofty point, but do they have what it takes to stay there?
And then it did the program has arrived thing, and then it did the best team to not get into the BCS-level game thing, and then it won the Rose Bowl, and that was a whole other thing.
And now it has to do the staying power thing.
The Spartans have had to hear about Michigan and Jim Harbaugh ad nauseam for the last few years, but they continue to own the “big brother” team down the road – doing it even better in soul-crushing fashion last season.
They’ve also had to deal with all the attention given to Ohio State, and while Urban Meyer might have the national title, MSU has two Big Ten championships in the last three years.
But Michigan and Ohio State are seen a little more as the programs with the long-term staying power, mainly because they’ve had the power teams on a consistent basis throughout the history of the Big Ten, while Michigan State has had pockets of greatness here and there.
And now it’s up to Mark Dantonio – Mike Dantonio to some, adding another play for the “no one respects us” card – and his staff and his team to prove that this wasn’t just some amazing run. The senior class might have finished as the most successful in school history, but with 11 wins or more in five of the last six seasons, there’s nothing fluky about what’s happening. This is now a real, live superpower and not just some nice story.
But Ohio State is recruiting better than just about everyone, not just Michigan State. There’s always the fail-safe for the Buckeyes that if everything doesn’t go quite right, they’re still probably better on just pure skill.
Michigan is recruiting at a higher level now as the cool program in the Big Ten, thanks to Captain Wacky Khaki. Penn State is also bringing in the talent at a high level, and while Michigan State is doing okay, and it’s recruiting its type of players, at some point, there might be losses just because the other teams in the division are better.
But Dantonio has dealt with it all before, and he’s still been able to put up historic win totals while making this his program now. But one bad season, one down year, and everything that’s been building to this point might be seen as slowly falling away.
It was different when MSU went 7-6 in 2012 – Michigan was just average. The Spartans can rebuild, but this time around, they might have to go yet another big step to catch up with Ohio State also loading back up and the Wolverines about a year away from really and truly being national title good.
And that means MSU can just lie there waiting in the weeds again, without all the pressure and expectations the other powerhouse teams will face.
This year, though, there’s no real reason to expect a big step back, even after losing QB Connor Cook, OT Jack Conklin, WR Aaron Burbridge, DE Shilique Calhoun, and other key parts.
The Spartans have recruited a few superstar prospects as weapons to add to the attack. The running back rotation should be as good as any in the conference, and the quarterback situation will be fine with Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry each solid enough to fill in for Cook.
The defense has its standards set at the highest of levels, and now, even with some big losses in the secondary, the pass defense might be even better after an okay year. The linebacking corps is deep and talented, and the line should be fine working behind future NFL first round draft pick Malik McDowell inside.
With the biggest games in East Lansing – including Michigan and Ohio State – along with the good pieces in place, no one will be expecting anything less than another great season.
And if it all really does work as well as possible, Michigan State might be able to do the three-Big-Ten-championships-in-four-seasons thing.
And then everyone will pick Ohio State and Michigan to finish higher than the Spartans in 2017.