MSU finally has a real coach in former Buckeye defensive guru Mark Dantonio, and they have some talented players on both sides of the ball. But a brutal schedule and lack of star power will be their undoing in 2007. Mark Dantonio comes over from Cincinnati with a reputation for being a tough-minded, discipline-preaching coach. In other words, he’s the exact opposite of John L. Smith, and he’s exactly what the Spartans need to play competitive football in the Big Ten again.
MSU would often get off to fast starts in recent years only to crumble once the Big Ten season heated up and fall out of bowl contention most years.
Optimism is fairly high this season because of the Dantonio hire, and while MSU had the perception of being a talented but braindead team in the past few years, the graduation of QB Drew Stanton and WR Matt Trannon have left them without enough weapons to make a move to the top part of a competitive Big Ten conference, at least for 2007.
The offense returns starting RB Javon Ringer, who’s fast and elusive, albeit injury-prone, as well as goal-line bruiser Jehuu Caulcrick, forming a nice one-two punch in the backfield. MSU will probably try and establish the run game and be balanced on offense, but the offensive line is merely average so that will be rough going on quite a few Saturdays.
MSU will try and use a fullback more often to generate rushing yards but they don’t have anyone proven at that spot right now.
Brian Hoyer was Stanton’s backup the last two years and played pretty solidly overall, having completed a shade under 60 percent of his passes for 1,030 yards in 11 games in his career. He is pretty smooth in the pocket, deceptively athletic, and a good decision-maker, and he should be able to keep the offense out of trouble and moving nicely in 2007.
One of his problems is that he doesn’t have a great assortment of targets to throw to this year. TE Kellen Davis is a talented player who can’t seem to put it all together on the field. The WR corps is deep from John L. Smith’s days of 4 and 5-WR sets but lacks a go-to guy to open up the field for the rest of the offense. Terry Love is probably the best returning WR but he had a serious down year in 2006.
The defense is where Dantonio will most look to put his stamp, as he coordinated the 2002 Ohio State championship team’s stellar unit. MSU has some steady players here but as always is woefully short on depth.
Flint product Otis Wiley is becoming a complete player at FS for the defense and is probably the best player on the unit, but he needs more help in the secondary. The corners could be extremely vulnerable this season.
Ervin Baldwin will try and provide a pass rush and big-time freshman DT recruit Antonio Jeremiah should see some time this season to help out along the thin defensive line. Jeremiah was a huge catch out of Ohio and is the type of player the Spartans will need to continue to win recruiting battles for to move up in the league in the future. Ohio prospects typically help swing the balance of power among the middle to lower-tier Big Ten schools and that’s where Dantonio can really help out.
The linebackers are experienced but not overly talented.
Overall, it will be up to Dantonio to mask this unit’s weakness but that will be tough with only a couple playmakers for the entire defense.
Another key reason why MSU is ranked so low is their brutal schedule, which features trips to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue and home games against Pitt., Michigan, and Penn State.
Dantonio had a clock installed to countdown the exact time until the Michigan game, a move similar to what his former OSU boss did at a basketball game when he took over and predicted a win in Ann Arbor for the next season.
Hopefully for MSU fans, Dantonio can keep the troops focused and pull off an upset or two, which will in turn continue the positive recruiting momentum and hopefully propel MSU to bigger and better things.