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Michigan State Spartans Football Preview: Predicting the 2015 season

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The Michigan State Spartans are no doubt back on the national stage after decades of barely registering on the national level of college football, let alone the Big Ten. After winning a Big Ten and Rose Bowl title in 2013, the Spartans followed that up with a 10-win season and a “New Years Six” victory over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl last season.

However, they reside in a division with reigning national champion Ohio State, and that means a life that won’t be so easy in 2015. There’s also change all around the Spartans, both on their staff and schools around them, making the Big Ten East a lot different from what it was just one season ago.

Will Michigan State continue to contend in a much different looking Big Ten East? Let’s see how our crack staff at talking10 see it all playing out.

2015 Michigan State Spartans Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time/TV Tickets
Friday
Sept. 4
Broncos at Western Michigan Broncos
Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo, MI
7:00 p.m. ET
ESPNU
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 12
Ducks Oregon Ducks
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
8:00 p.m. ET
ABC
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 19
Falcons Air Force Falcons
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
12:00 p.m. ET
ABC/ESPN/2
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 26
Chippewas Central Michigan Chippewas
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 3
Boilermakers Purdue Boilermakers (HC)
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
12:00 p.m. ET
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 10
Scarlet Knights at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
8:00 p.m. ET
BTN/BTN2Go
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 17
Wolverines at Michigan Wolverines
Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 24
Hoosiers Indiana Hoosiers
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 31
Open Date
Saturday
Nov. 7
Cornhuskers at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE
7 or 8 p.m. ET
ABC/ESPN/2
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 14
Terrapins Maryland Terrapins
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 21
Buckeyes at Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 28
Nittany Lions Penn State Nittany Lions
Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI
TBA Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Dec. 5
Big Ten Big Ten Championship Game
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
8:00 p.m. ET
FOX
Buy
Tickets

*courtesy FBSchedules.com

at Western Michigan
Andy — Win
Dave — Win

In-state matchups against the directional schools are usually easy W’s for the Spartans, but since hiring P.J. Fleck as head coach Western Michigan has become less and less of a pushover. While there is a gap between these two schools and MSU should be a heavy favorite, don’t be surprised to see the Broncos put up a heck of a fight for three-quarters of this game.

vs. Oregon
Andy — Win
Dave — Loss

Last season it was easy to see Oregon winning this contest — it had the better quarterback, the faster team and a lot less unknowns than Michigan State. Oh, and the Ducks were playing host. All of that is reversed this season and I’m personally sticking with history on this one. That means picking the home team in a Big Ten/Pac-12 matchup, and that means Sparty wins this one.

vs. Air Force
Andy — Win
Dave — Win

The Falcons have done good things in turning back to a winning program, but Michigan State has a defense more than capable of taking on the triple-option heavy Air Force offense. Air Force finished last season 10-3, including wins over both Boise State and Navy. While the Falcons won’t be a cake walk, expect this to be a win for a team used to physical football.

vs. Central Michigan
Andy — Win
Dave — Win

Don’t look at this game to be a typical let down after facing a triple-option team. Michigan State is too good for that and Central Michigan has a lot of work to do to be a championship caliber team in the MAC, let alone on the national stage. Michigan State’s offensive line will dominate and that means a Spartans butt kicking of the Chippewas.

vs. Purdue
Andy — Win
Dave — Win

Last season this game was way too close for Michigan State’s tastes. However, that was in West Lafayette and a lot of strange things happen to visiting teams there. With this game in East Lansing, the Spartans start off Big Ten play in a big way — beating Purdue much easier than it did last season.

at Rutgers
Andy — Win
Dave — Win

This will be Michigan State’s first trip to Piscataway, which can do some strange things to a team if only because sports people tend to be creatures of habit. Michigan State may not know a lot about playing in New Jersey, but it is a program that knows how to win on the road and that’s exactly what will happen here. Look for the defensive line to be the key to winning here, as it shuts down the Rutgers run game and makes whichever QB Rutgers chooses run for his life.

at Michigan
Andy — Win
Dave — Win

This rivalry gets a new twist with Jim Harbaugh around, and no doubt a lot of questions will come about the personalities in this rivalry now. However, all of that won’t matter much on the field and that means advantage Michigan State. I’m not convinced that Michigan has what it takes to be a really good program in year one of the Harbaugh era, so look for the Spartans to run this rivalry for at least one more season.

vs. Indiana
Andy — Win
Dave — Win

Indiana got smoked by the Spartans last season, but that was without Nate Sudfeld at quarterback. For Indiana’s sake they better hope he is around, but it won’t mean a victory. Instead it will mean a much closer game, especially with an improving defense. MSU keeps its Big Ten title hopes alive in a shootout much more reminiscent of 2013.

at Nebraska
Andy — Win
Dave — Win

Everyone wants to circle the date of Michigan State’s visit to Columbus as the No. 1 game of its season. However, MSU can’t overlook a trip to Nebraska on its way there. The Huskers aren’t going down without a fight and it wouldn’t be surprising to see this game go either way with Mike Riley turning the Huskers into a more disciplined program. That said, MSU has far fewer questions and a whole lot on the line. Dantonio has a magic touch when it comes to these games and he’ll find a way to get his team to pull this game out.

vs. Maryland
Andy — Win
Dave —  Win

Looking for a trap game on the schedule? Try the Terrapins, who will likely have their quarterback situation figured out and still have one of the best secondaries in the conference. Yet many aren’t believing this team, which lost 37-15 last season, can hang with the Spartans. With this game sandwiched between Nebraska and Ohio State it could be ripe for an upset pick. However, I see MSU has being able to do some serious damage against a defensive front seven that isn’t all that powerful all around.

at Ohio State
Andy — Loss
Dave — Loss

This is the game of the season in the Big Ten, at least as we all look at the season through the preseason glass. It’s hard not to see it happening since the two teams have won the last two Big Ten titles and are the only ones to rank in the top 10 last year. This game could simply come down to home field advantage and which team comes in healthier. For me that means Ohio State, and especially when you look at the depth of each roster. No matter the health of OSU’s starters there are options galore, while the MSU lineup is not nearly as deep. That will matter when you come towards the end of the season, and it could mean an ugly beat down at the hands of OSU if that happens.

vs. Penn State
Andy — Win
Dave — Win

A Big Ten title berth may be on the line in this match, or it may be gone for one or both of these teams. I expect both to be out of the mix, making this game almost meaningless outside of potential bowl matchups. For Michigan State, that could mean another run at a “New Year’s Six” bowl game. A win over Penn State would likely help that scenario, and its hard to see Dantonio not having his team ready for this trophy game and a chance to be involved in the national title picture still.

Michigan State’s 2015 Final Record/Big Ten Finish:

Andy: 11-1 (7-1)/2nd in Big Ten East
Dave: 10-2 (7-1)/2nd in Big Ten East

Our Predicted 2015 Big Ten Standings: 

West:
1.
2. Minnesota Gophers (Andy)/Nebraska Cornhuskers (Dave)
3. Iowa Hawkeyes (Dave)/Nebraska Cornhuskers (Andy)
4. Iowa Hawkeyes (Andy)/ Minnesota Gophers (Dave)
5. Illinois Fighting Illini (Dave)/Northwestern (Andy)
6. Northwestern Wildcats (Dave)/Illinois (Andy)
7. Purdue Boilermakers (Andy/Dave)

East:
1.
2. Michigan State Spartans (Andy/Dave)
3. Penn State Nittany Lions (Andy/Dave)
4. Michigan Wolverines (Andy/Dave)
5. Indiana Hoosiers (Andy/Dave)
6.
7. Rutgers (Andy/Dave)

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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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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