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Michigan State Spartans vs. Ohio State Buckeyes: Preview, predictions and prognostications

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When: Sat., Nov. 21; 3:30p.m. ET
Where: Columbus, OH; Ohio Stadium (104,944)
TV: ABC
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 29-14
Last Meeting: Ohio State Win 49-37 (2014)
Line: Ohio State -13

Here we go.

This game has been circled, gold-starred, highlighted and colored in with crayon since before the season started. It was thought to be the game of the year with what both teams has coming back, and with where each fell in the preseason rankings. And while a little luster may have worn off because of the loss a couple of weeks ago in Lincoln by Michigan State, the stakes are still sky-high.

Ohio State remains undefeated and in prime position for the shot at really big things, but what’s not talked about much is the Spartans’ opportunity for much of the same. Because this game is on the schedule, they also control their own destiny in the division, league and perhaps much more if they can upset OSU and things break right. It should be a good one, so get the DVR ready and put the women and children to bed.

1 Burning Question: How Healthy and Effective Will  Connor Cook Be?

It has to be the question leading into this game. Cook went out of the game last week against Maryland with a shoulder injury, but all indications point to him being more than ready to go. How healthy he will be will dictate how effective he will be, and it’ll go miles and miles towards what kind of chance the Spartans have to swashbuckle into Columbus and knock off the Buckeyes. Without him at close to 100 percent, MSU won’t stand much of a chance. With him on point and full of confidence, it could be a whale of a game. The senior QB always seems to show up for the big-time games, and that’s just what’s being served up on a silver plattter Saturday.

2 Key Stats:

— 171.6. That’s how many passing yards the Ohio State defense is giving up per game this year — good for No. 8 in the country. Michigan State has been unable to get off and running with the ground game this year, so it’s often had to ask Cook to go out and make plays with his arm. The Spartans won’t abandon the running game Saturday, but as long as Cook is healthy, he’s the best chance they have at ruining Ohio State’s day. Fortunately for Ohio State, pass defense has been might stingy this year, so it’ll be interesting to see who wins the tug-of-war through the air.

— 86. The Ranking of the Michigan State secondary in yards allowed per game. It’s been a sore spot on the Spartan defense all year. There have been players lost to graduation, injuries, and a lack of consistency all season long, and it’s resulted in a less than stellar defensive effort this year for a program built on creating havoc on that side of the ball. Ohio State would love to get Ezekiel Elliott off and running, but it can’t forget about opportunities that could present themselves through the air.

3 Key Players:

Connor Cook, Iowa QB: Yup. We’ve already gone there, but Cook is going to be the most important player to watch Saturday. It doesn’t appear he’s going to be his usual self, but it also doesn’t appear that he’s going to sit this one out. It’s not clear how bad the injury was last week, but it won’t take long to figure that out when the game gets going. This is sure to be a hard-hitting affair, and Cook will have to absorb some shots from Ohio State and still be able to make plays down the field.

Joey Bosa, Ohio State DE: The Lombardi Award finalist is starting to play with more and more aggression over the last few weeks. The Buckeye defensive coaches will look to line him up in different sets all along the line, and it’ll be up to the Spartan offense to locate where he’s coming from and chip him with two and three guys every play. He’s a dominant force that deserves that much attention, and if he finds his way in the backfield too often, it could spell doom for the MSU offense.

Taylor Decker, Ohio State OT: Ohio State returned four starters from last-year’s offensive line, so it was a foregone conclusion that the unit would be the same dominating force through 2015. Eleven weeks into the season, that has yet to play out. Whether a byproduct of the unsettled quarterback position or better scouting, the line has yet to hit its stride and has struggled in pass protection far too often. Enemy No. 1 this week for bull-rushing quarterback J.T. Barrett will be the freakishly talented MSU defensive-end Shalique Calhoun. Decker gets the main assignment of keeping him out of Barrett’s face so that the Buckeyes can look to rack up the air-miles. Good luck.

4 Bold Prognostications:

J.T. Barrett will have over 300 multi-purpose yards: All eyes will be on Ezekiel Elliott, but the star of the show will be Barrett. His coming out party last year was in East Lansing against this same team, and he’s primed and ready to break out again with a week under his belt to get back in form. He’ll combine for big plays with his legs and his upper limbs to rack up chunks of real-estate with the entire world watching.

Braxton Miller the QB? It’s been coming for weeks, and I keep calling for it, but it has yet to happen because it hasn’t been needed. Maybe Meyer will wait until the Michigan game to unleash Miller time, but I think it happens this week. Braxton will line up in the Wildcat like he’s done many times this year and instead of running, will throw for a touchdown against an unsuspecting Spartan secondary.

Connor Cook will throw for over 300 yards: The OSU secondary has been a stubborn crew this year, but it hasn’t faced a quarterback the caliber of Cook. He’s angry at last year’s outcome, he’s playing against the home state school that shunned him, and he’s a competitor that’ll be turned loose to make plays despite being a bit banged up. He’ll show up in a big way and make this thing a game.

Mark Dantonio will dial-up a fake attempt: Usually somewhat reserved with his play-calling, Dantonio does have a flare for the dramatic at times — especially in the biggest of big games. He always installs a fake in the kicking game and waits for the perfect time or two to surprise one of the big dogs. There’s a good chance it happens Saturday. Look out when the Spartans need a big momentum swing and are in a decent spot on the field to give it the old college try.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Ohio State 31-24 (78-20 overall; 46-51 ATS)
Dave: Ohio State 34-24 (81-17 overall; 51-45 ATS)
Greg: Ohio State 38-35 (74-26 overall; 54-42 ATS)
Matt: Ohio State 38-21 (79-19 overall; 56-40 ATS)
Phil: Ohio State 34-20 (33-12 overall; 15-27 ATS) *joined in Week 5

 

 

Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to talking10.com. He is also a the founder of Big10news.com and featured contributor to collegefootballews.com and occasionally campusinsiders.com. You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at pharrison28@gmail.com If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.

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Report: Danton Cole hired as Michigan State hockey coach

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It took a bit longer than expected, but the Michigan State Spartans have their new men’s hockey head coach. That name should be a familiar one to fans of the program, as former MSU player Danton Cole has been hired. 

The news was broken by SpartanNation.com ($).

Cole comes to the Spartans after heading up the United State National Developmental Team this past season. He is also a former Stanley Cup winner in the NHL, hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup with the New Jersey Red Devils in 1995.

The Detroit Free Press reached out to Cole, but he did not respond to calls or texts regarding the report from Spartan Nation.

Early on in the process of replacing Tom Anastos as the head coach, Cole had emerged as a real possibility. His name was thrown around behind the scenes, but it took until after the just completed Frozen Four in Chicago this weekend to make this hire.

Michigan State has not officially announced the hire, but our sources have also been able to confirm that Cole has long been the front-runner for the job and has accepted an offer.

Not only is Cole a former Michigan State skater, he was part of the 1986 national championship squad and has extensive ties to the junior hockey game. Previous to his stint at the helm of the U.S. NTDP U-18 squad, he was also the coach for Grand Rapids in the IHL and Muskegon in the USHL.

Those ties to the younger side of the game and the professional ranks added in with his ties to the Spartans program made him a prime candidate for this job.

Former MSU assistant and long-time Denver head coach George Gwozdecky had also been considered a front-runner and it may be interesting to see if he will get involved in this staff in some capacity.

Since his ouster at Denver, Gwozdecky has been the coach of a prep team in Colorado. However, will he want to get back in the college game as an assistant at this point in his career?

Look for the Spartans to make the hire of Cole official sooner rather than later.

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What to expect from 2017 Michigan State Spartans spring football game

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Believe it or not, the Big Ten’s first spring football game is about to commence on Saturday afternoon. It will be the annual Green-White game for the Michigan State Spartans. 

However, this isn’t going to be an ordinary spring game. That is impossible thanks to a lingering sexual assault investigation that has led on an unprecedented media blackout. To say things in East Lansing are tense right now may be an understatement.

What that means heading in to Saturday’s spring game is that those of us in the media literally know next to nothing about this team on the field. Luckily we do know that even with an ongoing sexual assault investigation the show will go on.

Head coach Mark Dantonio made it clear that there was thought of canceling the spring game, but there were other factors like not penalizing those who aren’t under investigation and giving the kids that were scheduled to come in as part of a youth clinic a chance to be a part of this.

So, there won’t be a lot we really know heading in to the scrimmage on Saturday. That doesn’t mean we can’t and won’t have expectations though. Here are three things we’ll expect to see and hear coming out of Saturday’s game.

Speculation Will Run Wild

There is no way to avoid it, speculation is going to run wild about which three players not on the field are the ones involved in the sexual assault allegations. Players aren’t going to be avoiding wearing their numbers and Dantonio has made it clear that there will be a group sitting this game out besides the three being investigated.

News reporters are not NOT going to report on those players who aren’t in uniform. That would be journalistic suicide and a clear dereliction of duty. However, only if the investigation brings up charges will the actual three names be confirmed.

Those of us in the media have the names, but it simply isn’t right or smart to release them until/if they are actually charged with a crime. It stinks that other players sitting out for suspension or other reasons are going to be lumped in to speculation, but it is inevitable when you pair curiosity with a public event like the spring game.

After 14 practices of hiding behind closed doors and not even a single internal production crew allowed around the team, this will be the first time seeing this team. Even if speculation over the three players isn’t the biggest headline, there’s a month or more of built up curiosity regarding the team on the field to deal with.

What fans and the media sees on Saturday afternoon will be the only judgement they can make for an entire offseason. It will certainly all boil down to speculation from here until August at the very least.

Quarterback Battle Takes Center Stage

No single position was as big of a mess in 2016 as that of the quarterback. It is a large part, although certainly not all, of the reason Michigan State limped to its worst record on the field since 2006 when the Spartans went 4-8.

This position may have been better had former walk-on sophomore Brian Lewerke not spent most of the season in a boot after breaking his leg. He seemed to steady the ship, finishing the year completing 54.4 percent of his passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns in four games of play.

Stats can be misleading, and given the multiple-quarterback situation for MSU last season, Lewerke’s stats are exactly that. Dantonio had enough confidence to name him the frontrunner for the starting job in 2017.

That doesn’t mean it will just be handed to him though. Senior Damion Terry seemed to slip down the depth chart quickly last season and this is his last shot. Meanwhile, highly touted redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver showed some big time promise in spring and fall camp last season.

Given Terry is injury-prone and deWeaver is still learning the offense inside-out, Lewerke seems like the logical choice. But, we haven’t seen 14 practices of work and perhaps Terry has shown the consistency of the Penn State game to wow the coaching staff. Then again, maybe deWeaver has commanded the offense well enough to put himself in the mix given his natural arm abilities?

You can bet that quarterback is going to be talked about one way or the other. Either a starter will emerge or the picture will be blurry and the problems of 2016 could plague this team again.

Is the Defense Back?

The old adage is that a defense is always ahead of an offense at this stage in a season. It’s true to some extent, but given the disaster that was a 3-9 season last year, this offseason isn’t going to be about installing offensive schemes or defensive wrinkles. It should have been (and likely was) all about competition across the board.

Michigan State’s annual spring game also provides for some of the best on-field competition we see every year. The captains picking players and the competitive nature of the game lends itself to being intriguing.

That also means we’re likely to get a good idea of just how competitive this defense looks after it got beat up time and again last season. Plenty of new faces will be in new places thanks to graduations, early NFL draft entry or transfers. Can this defense show it is on the road to becoming the dominant group we’ve been used to seeing under Dantonio?

Perhaps the biggest thing is to know that there is a clear-cut leader or three emerging from the spring to bring this unit together. If the spring game doesn’t show that, maybe it is time to worry about the Spartans ability to bounce back immediately this season.

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Dantonio won’t put Michigan State football ahead of seriousness of sexual assault allegations against players

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Michigan State Spartans football will come out of the dark and play football in front of other people for the first time on Saturday in the annual Green-White spring game. 

On Tuesday, head coach Mark Dantonio spoke to the media for the first time in a long time. There were no questions about what has been happening on the field, and given an ongoing sexual assault investigation, that shouldn’t be surprising.

It was also just how Dantonio would have it, as he made it abundantly clear just how serious he and the entire athletic administration is taking this case.

At one point Dantonio noted that talking about “who would be the starting quarterback” just didn’t seem right considering the seriousness of what is happening off the field.

Unlike the Baylor debacle, Dantonio and Co. have struck the right tone here. It is clear they are serious about the situation at hand and won’t put football in the spotlight until all of this gets resolved.

It was also clear that Dantonio and Co. fully expected this investigation to have been completed by now. Otherwise, why wait nearly a month after releasing a press statement to come and talk about an investigation that is still ongoing.

That is something that could’ve been done weeks ago had there been any clue this investigation would be dragging on to this point. It also could’ve meant that this press conference could’ve been about what to expect from his team on Saturday.

As for that resolution, no one seems to know when it will actually come. It is all in the hands of the local district attorney’s office. Once the decision, whether to charge or not, is made, Michigan State football will get back to talking about football again.

Until then, perhaps Saturday will help the players showcase the chemistry that Dantonio talked about emerging thanks to this awful situation.

Just don’t expect Saturday to prove who is or isn’t under the cloud of investigation, as Dantonio hinted that other players besides the three suspended amidst this sexual assault investigation won’t be participating on Saturday as well.

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It is March, which must mean Michigan State is awake

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Michigan State is known for its exploits in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. That is no different this year as this young team has suddenly grown up.

Michigan State was on the bubble, but not really on the bubble entering the Big Ten Tournament.

Tom Izzo had his team play an extremely difficult schedule and pick up several nice wins. But the Spartans lost their fair share and were not in their familiar position. Their 19 wins were the fewest for the Spartans since the 2004 season. And, despite finishing fifth in the conference, Michigan State’s 10 conference wins are the fewest since 2011.

The Spartans entered the Big Ten Tournament in and likely in even with a loss in the second round Thursday. But still a bit uneasy. Michigan State’s success in March is well documented and this is, quite simply not that team.

Tom Izzo has led a young team with a lot of freshman who had to learn the ropes in the Big Ten.

There were growing pains and uncertainty.

This is March. This where Spartans mature. This is where Tom Izzo makes noise. And even this young Michigan State team is not going to do that legacy wrong.

Penn State upset Michigan State earlier in the season. The Nittany Lions never got the opportunity to do so again. Tom Izzo worked his magic for the tournament and had Michigan State playing up to tits fullest potential. The Spartans, facing a Golden Gophers team the Spartans have beaten twice already this year in the quarterfinals Friday, suddenly look like they could make some serious noise.

The damage to Penn State in Thursday’s second round matchup at Verizon Center was devastating.

Michigan State won comfortably 78-51, holding Penn State to 29.1 percent. The Nittany Lions fell behind by 18 at halftime and never made a serious run in the second half. The Spartans toyed with their opponent all game long.

Freshmen Nick Ward and Miles Bridges each had 15 points and nine rebounds. Michigan State had 19 assists on 28 field goal makes, hitting on 49.1 percent of the team’s shots. The Spartans made 10 of 22 3-pointers. Tum Tum Nairn recorded nine assists.

Michigan State dominated the game thoroughly. The Spartans dominated in the way they envisioned winnig games earlier in the year. Michigan State had seemingly grown up.

This is what Tom Izzo teams do. They peak in March. They thrive in these tournament settings. It is hard not to have that familiar feeling when it comes to the team wearing green in March during the Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan State does this seemingly every year. It really should not be a surprise.

It is a testament to Izzo’s coaching every year. His failures in March — like last year’s surprising first-round exit — are few. And Michigan State tends to thrive as the underdog.

There were plenty doubting whether Michigan State could grow up in time to performe this March. Penn State is not the strongest opponent. But it was hard not to be impressed.

And when it comes to the NCAA Tournament next week, Michigan State is a team no one wants to see.

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