Here I will outline the case for why MSU fans should temper expectations for 2012. I'll admit before I start that I'm taking a very pessimistic stance, (or is that optimistic as a Michigan fan?)
Below are 3 reasons MSU fans should be leery of 2012.
#1: Luck Always Runs Out
The Spartans have enjoyed tremendous success under Mark Dantonio the past two seasons. After a losing record in 2009, MSU won a share of the B1G title while winning 11 games in 2010.
The magical 2010 season included the "Little Giants" victory over Notre Dame, a miraculous (2 TD's in the final 2 minutes) victory over Northwestern and another amazing comeback (aided by a blocked punt) to beat a bad Purdue team after trailing by 11 in the 4th quarter. Momentum came to a screeching halt when the Spartans got their teeth knocked in by Alabama in the bowl game. Still, 2010 was a banner year with a share of the Big Ten title and an 11-2 record but the Spartans won every close game in which they competed while being blown off the field in both losses.
Along came 2011 and the MSU good fortune continued. Right up until the B1G championship game, MSU once again never fell in a close game. They were beaten soundly by Notre Dame and smothered by Nebraska while winning on Hail Mary against Wisconsin and beating Ohio State 10-7 in what was the most abysmal display of offense ever seen. MSU built on their great season with an overtime victory over Georgia, this time getting revenge on the SEC.
It's easy to look at all this and realize MSU has maximized their win totals the previous two seasons. They have played good football, but 11-2, 11-3? Those records were only possible with very good fortune. And the thing about luck...it always runs out.
#2: Paper Tiger Defense
Michigan State finished the season as the 5th ranked defense in the country (yards per game) and the 9th ranked defense (points per game). These gaudy statistics, combined with returning talent (which we have been outlining for you in our defensive position group previews) has Spartans believing their defense is going to shut down errbody. But not so fast my friend, before crowing MSU's D as one of the best in the country, let's take a look at that 2011 schedule more closely.
Below is the Spartans schedule followed by their opponents offensive rank (ypg) for 2011.
Youngstown State - Mediocre 6-5 FCS team. Stats unavailable for FCS.
Florida Atlantic - 120th
Notre Dame - 35th
Central Michigan - 57th
Ohio State - 107th
Michigan - 42nd
Wisconsin - 14th
Nebraska - 66th
Minnesota - 110th
Iowa - 76th
Indiana - 83rd
Northwestern - 34th
Wisconsin - 14th
Georgia - 39th
MSU faced a top 25 offense (Wisconsin) only twice all season. They faced a top 50 offense in only 6 out of 14 contests on the season. On the other side of the coin, they played against 3 teams that finished in the bottom 20 for offense including the worst offensive team in the entire country, along with an FCS foe that isn't listed but certainly had a listless offense.
This isn't to mention the tornado like winds during games with Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska diminishing each teams offense in those games, or the fact that when MSU played Ohio State they were still starting and playing Joe Bauserman at quarterback.
The case above is pretty clear: MSU's defensive statistics and the so-called dominance of their defense were both greatly exaggerated by playing extremely poor offensive teams.
#3: Kirk Cousins
What do the 2009 and 2012 Spartan teams have in common?
A first year starting QB.
MSU entered 2009 with Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins battling for the starting position. That season ended with a 6-7 record. This season things are more clear as Andrew Maxwell is the clear cut leader of the Spartans offense. Still, Cousins leadership, dependability, play making and starting experience all have contributed mightily to MSU's success the last two seasons. He's gone. It will be a new guy leading that offense in the huddle, changing plays at the line of scrimmage and facing Big Ten road crowds. Would MSU have won with a first year starting QB at Ohio State last year? Would they have won on Hail Mary against Wisconsin? Could they have defeated Georgia? The loss of Cousins is going to diminish the effectiveness of the offenses and make things as simple as play calling more difficult. Maxwell has talent but he's barely seen the field. Expect his inexperience to cost MSU in at least a game or two this season. Maxwell may someday be a star, but it will be difficult for him to keep quarterback play on the same level it has been the last two seasons in East Lansing and college football, after all, is all about the QB.
Do the Math
(I probably just lost any Spartans readers at that header...)
A team with an overrated defense and an inexperienced quarterback which has been pumped up by luck in numerous close games sees it all come crashing back to earth this season.