How do you top winning a game in the inaugural College Football Playoff bowl set up? That was the question for the Michigan State Spartans entering the 2015 season. The answer simply came with wins over both Ohio State and Iowa to claim a Big Ten championship.
With it came a berth in the second edition of the College Football Playoff itself. However, there were still more questions to be answered following the season.
Let’s take a look at back at what went right, what went wrong and everything in between before we head in to our discussion of the 2016 version of the Michigan State Spartans.
Michigan State taking down Ohio State wasn’t a new thing, but doing so after the Buckeyes had just won a national championship and doing without you best offensive player? Well, that was new and it was just a sign of things to come for the Spartans.
While the 17-10 scoreline suggests and ugly game (and it was), sometimes it is those games that tell you the most about a team. That proved to be true in the Big Ten championship game as well, as MSU fought and clawed its way to a last-possession victory over Iowa to win the B1G title game for the second time and with it came a berth in the College Football Playoff.
Proving it could win a game without Connor Cook and a run game that was still trying to find itself was a huge step forward. Doing so in the Horseshoe against the defending national champions was certainly the topping on a season to remember for oh so many reasons.
If there is one thing the Michigan State Spartans of the Dantonio era have been known for, its has been a powerful run game. That certainly didn’t take shape in 2015, as MSU ranked just ninth in the Big Ten in rushing offense (151.3ypg).
A usually stellar offensive line was actually the weak spot on the Spartans offense in 2015, and its problems started with an inability to be consistent in run blocking. It also didn’t help that the team struggled to find a go-to back for the better part of the season.
While freshman LJ Scott eventually emerged as the guy the Spartans could count on, his total of 699 yards and a 4.8 yards per carry average were mediocre by Dantonio-era standards. However, the hope came in the form of 11 rushing touchdowns from the youngster.
There is no doubt that making it to the College Football Playoff was a big milestone. However, there is also know doubt that what happened to the Spartans was an absolute mugging. As much as stopping both Ohio State and Iowa were statements for MSU, Alabama’s 38-0 drubbing of the Spartans was at least as large.
Many wondered if the Spartans could hang with the elite of the elite in their first real test on the national stage since winning a national title in 1966. The answer was a complete boat race following halftime, with Connor Cook spending most of the half worried for his life and the run game completely ineffective.
MSU finished the game with just 29 yards rushing and gave up four sacks along with two interceptions on offense. It was a recipe for disaster to say the least.
What It All Means for 2016
Michigan State’s young players have had the taste of success and the maddening feeling after a complete butt kicking at the hands of Alabama. The question now is, with a team that has to find new leaders with the likes of Connor Cook and Shilique Calhoun off to the NFL.
Does a loss like the one suffered by the Spartans in the College Football Playoff carry over too much with the younger players now stepping in to bigger roles? Or will this group put it all behind them and continue the upward trend Dantonio has had them on since the beginning of his tenure.
Next step winning in the College Football Playoff…but will that happen with this group in 2016? Stay tuned tomorrow as we do in-depth with the Spartans of 2016.