Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Miami: South Beach

If you haven't heard by now Miami is in a lot of trouble for being a naughty program. Convicted Ponzi Schemer Nevin Shapiro has decided to come forward admitting to many millions of dollars of improper benefits he provided for players from 2002-2010. "Lil' Luke" as he was known in team circles was guilty of three things, 1.) Having a nickname that made him sound like the member of the Sopranos that gets kicked in the nuts all the time and then his scene "magically" gets cut from the show. 2.) Funding many acts that are both illegal in terms of NCAA Bylaw and that are ACTUALLY illegal. 3.) Being that guy, who goes on a "shooting rampage" and then "turns the gun on himself". If you're going to be a jerkass and mess up your favorite team, speaking as a fan, keep it to yourself instead of securing yourself a book deal and ruining everyone else's good time.

I've wondered for years why kids continue to take their talents to South Beach. Urban Dictionary defines "I'll be taking my talents to South Beach" as:

1. To inform someone that the current situation is no longer working.

2. F*** off.

3. You're not doing it for me anymore, or what you offer is lacking.

What the other schools were offering was indeed lacking and this helps explain why from 2006-2010 Miami was averaging a 14th place recruiting class while finishing with a crap record. A question in my mind though, is that there are schools that finished in front of them in recruiting with far more middling success on the field. What are those schools doing? But I digress.

This article sums up how I have felt about Football and Men's Basketball for a couple years now. It is brilliant. Do you believe in earning money for doing good work? Do you think it's fair that with my favorite Greg Jones jersey the only person in the entire world who cannot make money on that jersey is Greg Jones? Yeah me either. If any article can change your mind on a scholarship being adequate compensation for football players generating 100 million dollars in revenue for their school, it's this one.

The kids at Miami committed a series of very serious violations. Death penalty to Miami football serious violations. After reading what I have in this article and several others, after spending many hours debating that a scholarship is not adequate recompense while the school makes millions of dollars on the backs of these kids. The only thing I feel firmly planted in saying on the subject is that many of these violations are ridiculous and that most things in life, you can watch the show and enjoy or you can peel back the facade, see the dirty underside and learn to love it anyway. That's what I've done with college football.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Predictive Preseason Pecking Order

I'm taking a break from Assume the Position today, if I don't get some work done, I'll be assuming the position later on this week with my boss.

I've always thought that preseason rankings are crap. This appears to be a widely held belief among many people who believe in science, logic and all other things represented by sanity and not magic. I find this year's preseason ranking of our Spartans about as exciting as all of the mosquitoes that have returned to mid-Michigan in the past couple of weeks. On a side note, it's occasionally difficult not to cackle with glee when the light is making mosquito popcorn outside.

The Spartans are exiting the preseason ranked 17th according to the USA Today poll. In the last nine years the 17th ranked team in the USA Today Poll has finished 9-4, 9-4, 11-3, 12-1, 11-3, 9-3, 8-4, 10-3(Oh Minnesota, you had Glen Mason and he made magic out of manure for you) and 10-3. The Preseason 17th ranked team has finished ranked two of the nine years, once 6th and once 21st. If you take the W-L records of those teams that would average out to 10-3 for us this if we finished ranked 17th. The W-L records of those who were preseason 17 are as follows: 6-7, 12-1(ranked), 11-2(ranked), 6-7, 6-7 , 5-6, 5-6, 8-5, and 7-6. Applied to this year's schedule that averages out to: 8-5. So what does all this mean? Precisely Diddley.

Therein lies the problem. If we finished 17th that mentally correlates to being the best 9-4 team in college football(bowl win), an average 10-3 team(maybe a bowl win or good loss) or the worst 11-2 team(bowl game spanking) in college football. I personally don't like being the worst 11-2 team in College Football, I'd rather be the 10-3 or 9-4 team, it's more representative of who you are.* Yet, recent past history points to what we should expect this year is a team that goes 8-5 with a lot of boom or bust potential for 6-7 or 11-2.

- Note: That line of thinking is waived if we make or win the Rose Bowl or the National Title game.I'm good with being the worst undefeated team in College Football going into the National Title game.

This ultimately is my reason for not appreciating the magic behind preseason rankings. They're not reliable and in the case of the 17th rank in the USA today poll since 2002, they're more predictive that your team will not finish ranked than that they will. I'd be thrilled with a 10-3 season as the final 17th ranking would predict for these Spartans. I'd be pretty unimpressed with an 8-5 finish particularly if that did not include a bowl win. Yet, that's what the ranking over the last nine years truly predicts for a 13 game season.

So Spartan fans, expect 8-5 and love you some 10-3 or better when it comes. Tell your Michigan rooting neighbor that being ranked 17th for us or anyone else is crap and if they press the point ask them how being ranked helped them lose to us 34-17 last year when they "outranked" us. And should things come unglued and some moron on Big Ten Network is discussing how our season exploded if we're 5-5 playing Indiana on November 19th, know that our average is still within reach OR if we drop the last two and finish 5-7 we're not the first, or the last to suffer the Preseason Ranking affliction. Finally, if we P4RB the way we know how we have good company in our friends from TCU and BYU who have taken their 17th Preseason Ranking and achieved anyway!Think Lebowski In short or long, the preseason rankings, mean nothing and are nothing. If you're going to enjoy any magic, enjoy the magic of a college football game.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Assume the Position: Wide Receivers

This is part 4a of an ambitiously stated seven part series. This series will focus on introducing MSU fans to their position group players. It is not intended to replace the quality analysis that media types can provide, but we give it our best shot. We'll work backwards from the most stable position groups to the more dynamic ones so we can write about the most volatile groups last.

The Spartans return all but one starter last year from the Wide Receiver position. Mark Dell is now catching passes from Tim Tebow in Denver. The core group of BJ Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol returns for 2011 and is looking to mess some folks up. This group at first glance should be as talented as any in the big 10. As always we proceed alphabetically.

Juwan Caesar

Juwan Caesar is a Floridian transplant who is going to learn what cold is this winter. He committed to Michigan State in January over offers from West Virginia, Illinois and Minnesota. Despite his "meh" offer sheet, the staff and media seemed particularly excited for his commitment. He sports elite size at 6'4 and 210 and seems to run pretty fluidly.

2011 Prediction

Caesar seems far from a shoe-in to play this season. With a deep WR group in front of him there's no moral imperative to burn his redshirt. He would be a logical backup to Cunningham, Fowler and Nichol so if the injury gods strike maybe he sees the field. Otherwise it's probably a redshirt this year.

B.J. Cunningham

B.J. Cunningham is a redshirt senior who will be one of our starters this upcoming year. Last year BJ really emerged as a redzone threat for us scoring 9 TDs in 2010, tied with Titus Young and A.J. Green for 27th nationally. Cunningham is a big-bodied wide receiver at 6'2" and 215. The most amazing thing about Cunningham in 2010 though was how he became a clutch receiver for us. Need a 3rd and 6, BJ Cunningham will catch that slant for you.

2011 Prediction

Cunningham will be the man this season. I look for a Devin Thomas type dominance from him when the ball goes his way towards the end of the season. I do not expect his numbers to be as gaudy on account of the plethora of targets that Cousins has to throw to. Cunningham will catch touchdowns, he will get us out of 3rd and long and he will run block. Expect big things from him this year.

Bennie Fowler

Bennie Fowler is another man among children in terms of physical stature. As another 6'2" 215 lbs kind of guy, he'll be another of those big bodied wide receivers that Dantonio loves. He saw limited action in 2010 as a redshirt freshman in a VERY deep playing group. He amassed 14 catches for 175 and a TD.

He also was the recipient of the other trick play in 2010.

I felt like Dantonio was a bit overly smug about the success of this play. It was a well-thrown ball by Bates coupled with a good catch by Fowler with impending collision that made the play. I'm pretty sure everyone knew the fake was coming.

2011 Prediction

Fowler will see increased playing time in 2011 although I don't know if he'll be a full-time starter. He showed some promise as a kick returner towards the end of the season in 2010. If Cunningham, Martin and Nichol are injury-free this season, you might see a smaller dose of Bennie Fowler this year. If they get dinged up even an average amount you'll see plenty.

This year as a redshirt sophmore I expect him to get plenty of touches as a WR, KR and even a few at RB, his high school position. Think WR sweeps to the Nichol/Cunningham side of the field. Bennie Fowler will be a star on this team in 2012, the question is will he be one in 2011? Magic 8-ball says.... Yes.

Takudzwa Kubvoruno

Kubvoruno is a walk-on to MSU starting in 2011. He had interest in MSU, CMU and Army but no scholarship offers from those three. He has probably the raddest YouTube highlight reel of any walk-on in MSU history.

I've seriously seen actual non-pornographic movies with worse production than this.

2011 Prediction

I do not expect Kubvoruno to contribute in 2011. While he or any other walk-on WR could be the next Blair White, for him to see the field this year would really need to involve major catastrophe. Even worse than the 2008 Michigan Offense.

Keshawn Martin

It's simple. Keshawn Martin is the most fun I have had watching a Spartan football player since Drew Stanton. You just do not know what he's going to do next. Each play could be the play where he pulls up and gets his Denard on, or he might just have Nichol block out for him while he slips around for 10-20 yards. Statistically, Martin has never been a huge producer for MSU, but you cannot leave him unattended or you will pay.

2011 Prediction

Martin will continue his defense-frustrating ways in 2011. Offenses will need to account for all of the various ways he can get you. He is our jack of all trades and honestly just a boatload of fun to watch. In short, expect his trend of 500 yards and 5 or so TDs to continue, but expect to watch him continue to abuse defenses that he catches napping. I expect a grand sendoff for this young man on Senior Day.

Keith Mumphery

Keith Mumphery was a member of the class of 2010. He selected MSU over Arkansas, the other MSU and Nebraska. He's another 6'0, 200 lbs guy but what makes him an interesting future WR is that he's very fluid and speedy in and out of his cuts. Mumphery comes into this season as a Redshirt Freshman and may push for playing time.

As with all freshman that have yet to hit the field....

2011 Prediction

Keith Mumphery will definitely see playing time against some of the preseason tomato cans and perhaps more if injuries or he REALLY excels in the position. Like Caesar though, he will spend most of 2011 being developed to really be someone in 2012 and beyond.

Keith Nichol

Nichol like Kirk Cousins has one of the most interesting stories on the team this year. Originally committed to Michigan State, he switched his commitment to Oklahoma, played against Sam Bradford to win the starting job. Lost to the eventual first pick in the NFL draft, and ended up transferring back to Michigan State to compete against Kirk Cousins in the QB position. There he battled valiantly to win the spot in 2009 and ended up at WR after rathergate. He started at WR in the bowl game against Texas Tech and did a nice job playing a position there was no design on him playing later in the season.

Last year, he had 22 receptions for 264 yards and a TD. These numbers are not particularly impressive. What is impressive though is that Keith Nichol is a supremely good run-blocker.

Keith Nichol in run blocking is like all three Hanson brothers. Also, Glenn Winston on the off chance if you're reading this, fighting is better done on the field.

2011 Prediction

Keith Nichol will be our third receiver this year and figures to spend a lot of time playing against teams where we run a lot. I suspect he'll go around 4-5 hundred yards and 4-5 TDs. I'd suspect he'll remain our third-string QB as well.

Kyle Nichol

Kyle is a walk-on and Keith's younger brother. At 5'9" and 180 he's not really got the physical stature to compete for playing time. I have every confidence he's every bit the warrior his brother is, but I suspect we'll never really find out.

2011 Prediction

I suspect you'll see Kyle on the field for a "brothers" play on Senior Day.

Chris D. Rucker

The "other" Chris Rucker was a member of the class of 2007. He was brought in at receiver although he too has dabbled at Corner throughout his career at MSU. Brought in as a speedster his role was going to be to stretch the field. He didn't play in 2010 and played in only two games in 2009. He had one catch against Montana State, the third MSU, for 21 yards and one catch against Wisconsin for 8 yards and all I remember is probably 3-4 drops with one or two in the end zone.

2011 Prediction

If you haven't seen the field in four years at MSU, you're probably not going to see it in the fifth. Rucker is one of the guys a team depends on behind the scenes, but his play this year should be limited to special teams and senior day.

Andre Sims Jr.

Sims is kind of a carbon-copy of Chris D. Rucker although the early word out of camp is that he is turning some heads already. At 5'8", 180# he's a guy who will need to find the hole in the zone and get there before everyone else. His highlight film would indicate he has the ability.

2011 Prediction

It sounds like Sims might be making enough noise that he may not be redshirted. That would REALLY be saying something given the playing group in front of him. If he's not redshirted, expect him to spend some time returning kicks and playing special teams with the occasional appearance in a 4 or 5 wide set. Sims could be playing the role of Keshawn Martin in 2012 and I'd be a-ok with that.

Brad Sonntag

Sonntag is another walk-on for MSU. A program guy who has played all 5 years at the WR position. He's primarily been a special teams guy in 2009 and 2010. I believe he played WR in the Rather Bowl in 2009, but he did not catch a pass. Sonntag is an effort guy and effort guys always make the team a bit better.

2011 Prediction

Expect Sonntag's contribution on Special Teams to continue this upcoming year. I don't expect him to see the field at WR except perhaps on Senior day.

AJ Troup

Troup is a true freshman walk-on for Michigan State this year. At 6'2 and 202 he has the body frame to play the position. I was going to drop his Senior Year highlight reel here, but he put his home phone number in it. A two-star recruit with offers from Northern Iowa and North Dakota, he decided to eschew all that and play for the Spartans.

So this will have to do...

2011 Prediction and Beyond

AJ Troup is the kind of kid that has Blair White written all over him, he'll redshirt this year, play some special teams next year and maybe in a couple of years crack the two deeps at the WR position. This is the kind of kid that makes teams great. The kid who works 3-4 years to get the chance to play and when he does, look out. This year, just a redshirt, in 3 years though, maybe a pleasant surprise starter.

Best Case Scenario: We have between four and six Wide Receivers who would start for most Big Ten teams. With that in mind, the coaching staff is able to distribute catches such that no one is getting the ball too much. This with a dominant ground game makes our offense impossible to stop as Dantonio has pointed out, every defense has a weakness. The deep and varied array of talent makes it too difficult for teams to stop our WR group.

Worst Case Scenario: Cunningham and Nichol are injured early on in the season, which leaves no one to participate in run-blocking for our running backs. Martin and Fowler while extremely talented are asked to do too much. Also, Kirk Cousins DOOM.

Overall Assessment:

The Spartans have probably the deepest group of Wide Receivers in the Big Ten this year. They can kill you in possession, they can kill you with speed, they can kill you in run support. Barring significant injury, you can expect this group to be among the nation's most dangerous WR groups. They will contribute significantly towards Michigan State's final record this year. They are flatly excellent.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Assume the Position: Running Backs

This is part 3b of an ambitiously stated seven part series. This series will focus on introducing MSU fans to their position group players. It is not intended to replace the quality analysis that media types can provide, but we give it our best shot. We'll work backwards from the most stable position groups to the more dynamic ones so we can write about the most volatile groups last.

Our running back situation is probably the best it's been since I started following MSU football during the days of Sedrick Irvin. We're deep at running back and we have varying skill sets at running back. This is a position of strength for MSU in 2011 and probably even moreso in 2012. This group has the ability to make right a bad day at the office.

A video is worth a 1000 words.

Edwin Baker

Baker came to Michigan State after being offered by nearly every school in the country. In 2009 he was still recovering from an ACL tear, and his carries were artificially lowered by that injury. In 2010, Baker emerged as our workhorse back sharing carries primarily with Larry Caper. His 1201 yards were good enough to make him 26th overall in yardage. Not bad for a guy splitting carries three ways. He showed himself as the most complete back of our three, expect that trend to continue this upcoming year.

2011 Prediction

Baker was the lead back in our three man rotation last year after getting picked third in the 2010 Spring game. I think that really served as a wake up call to him and it showed on the field last year. I expect Baker's improvement to continue in this upcoming year. He is an outside Heisman candidate at this point and I'd expect to see him continue playing at that level. Should he assemble a 1500 yard 15+ TDs type season I think you would see him leave for the big leagues. So I say with enthusiasm, Edwin Baker, I hope this is your last season at Michigan State. I think it will be.

Le'Veon Bell

Bell was an early enrollee in the class of 2010. He had offers from MSU and a couple of MAC Schools. His commitment led to a lot of hand-wringing by the Spartan faithful so how did he do in 2010? Well he was on the Freshman All-Big Ten Team. In fact, from here on out under-recruited overly hand-wrought types will be referred to as having the Bell effect. Bell played amazingly the first half of the year, routinely getting 6 or 7 yards on 3rd and 2, towards the end of the season he had a more difficult time picking up the same down and distance.

2011 Prediction

Bell was the surprise of MSU's football team last year, he might have been the surprise of the whole Big 10 last year. This year, I'd expect him to show a more steady effort statistically throughout the year. I'd not be surprised to see the trend be that he actually loses some of the highs as he learns to run smarter protecting himself from injury a bit better but that will make him a lot more effective later in the season. Last year he went for 605 yards and 8 TDs. This year I expect to see 800 yards and 10 TDs.

Larry Caper

Larry Caper was our workhorse back in 2009 as a true freshman. He really carried the load for our team in the first half of the season. As Baker's injury healed up mid-way through 2009 the workload got distributed more evenly. In 2010, the script was flipped, Baker was healthy the whole season while Caper was injured early on and ended up as the third of our three back rotation. In 2010, Caper emerged more as a third down back and receiving threat which is the one thing he definitely did as well as Bell and Baker in 2010.

2011 Prediction

The murmurs out of fall practice are that Caper is back and is ready to play some football and as good as any of our other RBs. I have a hard time seeing us playing a three back rotation where all three backs get 33 percent of the carries and I have this weird feeling that Caper will be the one left out. His prowess as a receiving threat might make him the go-to back on 3rd and more than 3. He also could see a lot of fourth quarter carries as a fresh set of legs this upcoming year. I'm rooting for this kid a lot actually, between him and Bell I think there's a real pair of fan favorites.

Nick Hill

Nick Hill came to Michigan State as a member of the class of 2010. He had a single redeemable offer good at any MAC school, Stanford and MSU. He was redshirted last year and that was pretty much it for him.

2011 Prediction

This year he figures to be a factor on kick returns and maybe see sometime as a change-of-pace back. I think his carries will be limited this year on account of the logjam in front of him. I like Hill a lot, but if Baker doesn't leave after this year, I think Hill is a likely candidate to transfer. He's too talented to be the fourth string guy, but not talented enough to be a huge figure in the three headed tailback monster.

Jeremy Langford

Jeremy Langford came to Michigan State as a member of the class of 2010. He had a single redeemable offer good at any MAC school, Colorado and MSU. He attended the same school as Keshawn Martin and is faster in a straight line according to his AD. Not as good in and out of cuts.

2011 Prediction

This year he figures to be a factor on kick returns. He's really an athlete as much as anything though, so maybe next year he's a DB, this year he's a running back, maybe he's a WR in a couple years following. I think any 2011 contribution will be limited to purely special teams.

Worst Case Scenario: Our depth at running back is superior not just in the Big Ten but nationally. I think you'd need to have three season ending injuries before Nick Hill or whoever the survivor is would be being asked to do too much. Worst Case Scenario - Two of our starters go down early in the season and the offense doesn't recover.

Best Case Scenario: Baker moves from being an outside Heisman candidate to actually a Heisman candidate without the qualifier. Bell continues as our Caulcrick battering ram. Caper emerges as a true third down threat on every play. Nick Hill sees time in the fourth salting leads away and as our home run threat. The running backs group combines for 2500 yards and 30+ TDs. This is not as unlikely as I think we'd all think. Last year they all combined for 2300 yards and 23 TDs and we STILL had trouble on 3rd and short as the season wore on.

Overall Assessment:The running back position is at an unprecedented level of depth since I started following MSU football. This position group will make our offense successful this year as opposed to being successful because of our offense. I honestly expect the "Best Case Scenario" this year. I think this group is that good. Baker will do well enough to play on Sundays in 2012 and Caper, Bell and Hill will shine with their moments in the sun this year. This is going to be fun. In the words of TO "Getcha Popcorn Ready!"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Assume the Position: Fullbacks

This is part 3a of an ambitiously stated seven part series. This series will focus on introducing MSU fans to their position group players. It is not intended to replace the quality analysis that media types can provide, but we give it our best shot. We'll work backwards from the most stable position groups to the more dynamic ones so we can write about the most volatile groups last.

The fullback can be a very important position in the pro-style offense we run. Faster than an offensive lineman but still can deliver a punishing hit to break a running back free. If a defense is napping and loses sight of the fullback, they can kill you in play action. The first play of the Mark Dantonio era offensively was a 16ish yard pass play to the fullback in play action.

MSU currently has five fullbacks on the roster: Todd Anderson, Jeff Bobek, Niko Palazeti, Trevon Pendleton and Adam Setterbo. Of the five, only Niko Palazeti was recruited out of high school and offered a scholarship at the fullback position, Todd Anderson and Adam Setterbo I believe are scholarship players this year as well. Like years prior, I expect Dantonio to use the fullbacks on a rotational basis to try and keep defenses guessing.

Todd Anderson

Todd Anderson played DE last year and made some noise earlier in the season. At 6'2" and 260 he's got ideal size to play fullback and a nasty streak forged on the MSU defensive line. Anderson emerged as the top fullback candidate during Spring Practice and figures to be the likely starter in this position.

2011 Prediction

Anderson should be the starter and go-to guy at Fullback this season. It's rumored his pass-catching and blocking are coming along smashingly. After last year, where the fullback position seemed to be down a bit I think he can bring back some of the nastiness that'll get you a 3rd and 1 conversion when you really need it. Which is always. You always really need a 3rd and 1 conversion.

Jeff Bobek

As a member of the class of 2009 Jeff Bobek was recruited as an inside linebacker. He decided to walk-on at Michigan State. His brother Brian was a four-star recruit for the Buckeyes and will be a true freshman this year.

2011 Prediction

Bobek is not expected to contribute significant minutes at this time.

Niko Palazeti

Palazeti was recruited and accepted an offer to play fullback for Michigan State. To my knowledge he is the first Dantonio recruit to receive a scholarship offer at the fullback position. While other fullbacks have been on scholarship, he is the first I know of to be recruited as such. Palazeti was a late commit in the recruiting class of 2010. This year he will be eligible as a redshirt freshman. At 6'1 and 250, he's got the solid build you're looking for in a blocking and receiving FB.

2011 Prediction

Palazeti will see minutes on the field this year. I don't believe he is the present of the fullback position, but I think he is the future. With four years left to play he's gonna be blowing holes open for running backs not yet committed in 2014. I'd expect him to be part of the fullback rotation and see significant minutes in run-heavy games and/or blowouts.

Trevon Pendleton

Pendleton was the third ranked fullback and a three star recruit according to rivals in the class of 2011. He had scholarship offers from Air Force and Ball State. Sadly, no school starting with the letter C or below elected to offer him. He has come to Michigan State as a preferred walk-on. He and Palazeti are without question the future of the fullback position probably starting in 2012. At 5'11 and 230 he's really going to be in a good position to bowling ball his way through a LB or two.

2011 Prediction

I suspect Pendleton will redshirt this year.

Adam Setterbo

Setterbo is entering his fifth year as a Spartan. He was also a preferred walk-on coming out of high school. He has been a valuable member of the scout team in the past few years and that should translate to some game time this year.

2011 Prediction

Setterbo will see the field rotationally this year although I suspect it'll only be a handful of times. Still, despite limited game time, guys like Setterbo are what teams are built around. Hardworking dudes who keep coming back even if they don't have all of the physical talent in the world.

Worst Case Scenario: As always depth is a bit of an issue although not as severe as at other positions. If we lost Anderson and Palazeti odds are we'd just go to more single-back sets and rotate in Setterbo more often as well as use some of our TEs in an H-back type set up. The offense could survive some losses at this position.

Best Case Scenario: Really fullbacks are about what they ADD for a team. A good fullback can pop your running back free for an extra 2 yards between the tackles. A good fullback can sneak away when no one is looking and grab a pass for a first down. Anderson has shown a knack for making plays when he's on the field in the past, if that continues at the FB position this could be an immediate strength for us. If Palazeti shows promise immediately and quickly we could begin converting 3rd and shorts easier against the Iowas and Wiskys of the world.

Overall Assessment:The fullback position is under a period of quiet transition. Palazeti and Pendleton represent a young future at the position which will help us convert 3rd and 1s with even more consistency in the upcoming 2-3 years. 2011 will serve as a valuable transition year to start breaking in these young guys who will be making our opponents D black and blue for years to come. Anderson seems to be in a position to play the position well right now, but I think will aid in developing our young guys.

College Football Zealots Michigan State Season Preview

We at A Beautiful Day For Football were nicely invited by Kevin at College Football Zealots to contribute to their daily season preview series. Working up through their own Top 20, they’re posting one preview a day. Clocking it at #15 is Michigan State, so today CFBZ posted our mutual Michigan State season preview. Ty did his best to answer Kevin’s questions completely, accurately, and without bias—but that’s not really how he rolls, so he just tried to keep the raging homerism to a dull roar.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Here's Your Shield: Kodi Kieler

The "Here's Your Shield" series will be monitoring MSU football and basketball commitments. We'll try to do a detailed breakdown of who the kids are and how they'll be helping the teams they've committed to.

On Monday night, when my car broke down and I was sitting in the parking lot of VG's where I held my first job as a teenager waiting for someone to come pick me up, I saw the Spartans had picked up a commitment from Kodi Kieler a 6'6" 305 athlete from Gibraltar Carlson. Kieler was offered at Offensive Tackle and accepted.

Kieler has a pretty so-so offer sheet consisting of Minnesota, Purdue and the MAC. You might think I mean all of the schools offered, but I don't. I mean the MAC sent a single offer redeemable at all 12 schools. With this commitment, I believe MSU has closed out their OL recruiting for the 2012 cycle. Scout lists Kieler as a three-star prospect, Rivals as of yet has no rating.

This has led to a pretty goodly amount of hand-wringing from the MSU faithful as some fans believe that we could have vetted some "better" prospects before offering a kid who did not come to MSU summer camp. The last recruit I remember this much hand-wringing about was LeVeon Bell, and he sure sucked.* While hand-wringing about the quality of recruit does not inversely correlate to the recruits success, I remember similar whining about Trenton Robinson, Darqueze Dennard, Trae Waynes(haven't seen him play yet)and Derek Hoebing. Congrats Kodi Kieler, if Spartan questioning of ability is any indication of future success you have a 75 percent chance of starting by your senior year. **

* - Sarcasm.
** - True Fact.

In the Big Ten, the Iowas, MSUs and Wisconsin's of the world love to pick up 6'6 240 lbs type TEs because they can grow into TEs, OTs, DEs, DTs and even sometimes OGs. With Kieler, I think they saw another Dan France type where France was projected as a DT but might be more successful as an OT. Kieler is listed with Rivals as a Strongside Defensive End, but it's clear the intent is for him to play OT.

If YouTube video existed it would go here. Since there is not, there is video behind the Rivals paywall here

The BDF BFD Take: Kieler is a kid with a so-so offer sheet who from what I can tell did not attend any camps this summer. This smacks on a much smaller level of the Keshawn Martin situation where he did not attend any camps and thus was not noticed. If the staff was willing to offer despite the lack of a camp appearance and no pressing need to fill the spot(it is only August after all) you can bet Dantonio and crew want him. That's good enough for me.

Kieler appears to have good feet and a nice quick burst, he's got the right kind of frame to put on a few more pounds, but doesn't need to put on a lot of weight to be effective at the next level. I'd expect him to redshirt his freshman year as most of his best highlights appear to be on the DE side of the ball. Additionally, if you're starting a true freshman OT you're usually in trouble. By all accounts Kieler looks to be a solid pickup with some boom potential if the transition from DE to OT goes smoothly.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Assume the Position: Quarterbacks

This is part two of an ambitiously stated seven part series. This series will focus on introducing MSU fans to their position group players. It is not intended to replace the quality analysis that media types can provide, but we give it our best shot. We'll work backwards from the most stable position groups to the more dynamic ones so we can write about the most volatile groups last.

This entry should have about as much drama as a sleep laboratory. Kirk Cousins is our quarterback, a fifth-year senior and third year starter. Andrew Maxwell is not pushing to oust him from the position. Kirk Cousins will be your Youngstown State starter as well as take the final snap in our final game this year barring injury.

Kirk Cousins

The most interesting story about how Kirk Cousins came to be the player he is today is how much competition he's had to play through to get the job. The quick recap is that Keith Nichol accepted an offer to play football at MSU in 2005, then decommitted with the firing of John L Smith in November of 2006. Kirk Cousins committed to MSU in January of 2007 after the hiring of Mark Dantonio. Mark Dantonio then received a commitment from Nick Foles who decommitted from ASU after Dennis Erickson was fired. In fall of 2007, Dantonio had to redshirt one of the two QBs and selected Cousins. Foles would be the third string QB and Cousins the scout team QB.

Then... in 2008, Nick Foles left the program after it was Cousins shaping up to be Hoyer's backup and not Foles. A few months after this happened Keith Nichol decided it was time for him to come home and try to win back the MSU starting QB job. Over 2008 and well into game 5 or 6 of 2009 Cousins and Nichol battled to be the starting QB for the Spartans. Finally, he won the job outright mid-season in 2009 and hasn't looked back. The guy has proven himself over and over and over and over and will happily do it again from what I can tell.

Kirk Cousins is a leader and as much the leader of this team as anyone, he's a third year starter and a third year captain. His leadership qualities appear to be second to none, and he will probably be a Senator in the United States Congress someday.

He says it better than I do.

Captain Kirk's stats showed improvement from 2009 to 2010. His completion percentage went up from 60.4 to 66.9 percent, ypa went from 8.17 to 8.36, TDs from 19 to 20 and Int's went from 9 to 10. He took 8 more sacks in 2010, but I think this was part of knowing when to hold 'em and knowing when to fold 'em.

2011 Prediction: I suspect that with the departure of only Mark Dell and Charlie Gantt but the emergence of Bennie Fowler and Dion Sims that Cousins' throwing options will remain equally as competent for 2011. It seems reasonable to expect a slightly higher completion percentage provided he has time to throw behind his new OL (more on this later). Statistically, I'd expect him to be the best pocket QB in the Big Ten this year behind only maybe Dan Persa. **

The thing that makes Kirk Cousins special however, is not his completion percentage, nor his TD to INT ratio. He's not a swashbuckler, he's not a Brett Favre, you just get the sense when he's out there that everything will be ok. He might make a poor decision from time to time, he might take an unnecessary sack. I've never gotten the feeling that he's lost or can't convey that sense of calm to the remainder of the offense. He's the leader of these Spartans and the quality of his leadership will go a long way to determining our on-field success this year. I think he has it in him to take this team far.

** - Comparing Denard Robinson to Kirk Cousins in this regard is comparing apples to oranges, the zone read and pro style are just not the same offense, not even kind of. Denard would struggle in the MSU offense and Kirk would struggle in the Zone Read. Hence the qualifier "pocket QB". Both Robinson and Cousins are excellent football players, but they are such different QBs they cannot be adequately compared in my opinion

Andrew Maxwell

Backing up Captain Kirk is Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell has seen limited relief in his two seasons at MSU. In fact he only even took a snap last year for the first time. His stats for 2010 were 11 of 25 for 123 yards, no touchdowns, no picks and 4 sacks. In fairness, 16 of those 25 passes were against Iowa and Alabama in games we were getting our butts whupped in.

He was the starter for the Dow Chemics his sophomore, junior and senior year. Maxwell came to MSU after graduating the Elite 11 camp having earned the "Most Accurate Passer" award. After committing to MSU in March of 2008 he continued to work the national camp circuits to improve his technique, etc.

2011 Prediction

If Andrew Maxwell sees any significant time this year, you can assume that Cousins' has received an injury. Cousins' saw limited action in 2008 in situations where the outcome of the game was not yet decided, but the timing of his entry into the game likely would not have an outcome. Think early second quarter against a lesser opponent(CMU, Minnesota, etc). Expect this trend to continue for Maxwell this year against lesser opponents as well as traditional mop-up type duties.

I'd expect should Maxwell see more than just limited playing time to see our offense struggle at least initially. Accommodations would probably be made to shift the focus of our offense back to run-first and pass second as opposed to a mix of the two which is what we did under Treadwell. As far as projected stats, there is just not a valid foundation to make any sort of prediction. I do suspect in 2013 we'll be really happy with our redshirt senior Andrew Maxwell, but I just do not know how he'd do if thrown to the wolves this year. He has the tools to succeed, that's all I'll say.

Connor Cook

Connor Cook is a true freshman from Ohio. He had offers from a couple big ten schools and most of the MAC. His junior year his high school team ran a pro-style MANBALL offense, but switched to a more spread-like offense his senior year to highlight and take advantage of Connor Cook's arm. "completed 116-of-199 throws (.583) for 1,700 yards, 15 TDs and seven interceptions as a senior . . . rushed 79 times for 443 yards (5.6 avg.) and five scores in 2010 ". He honestly sounds a bit more like a Northwestern Quarterback than an MSU pocket back.

2011 Prediction

I would expect to see Connor Cook redshirt this year. I think if Cousins and Maxwell went down you'd sooner see Keith Nichol play QB to finish out a game than Connor Cook. If you're looking at multiple week injuries for both you MIGHT maybe see Connor Cook. With no offense meant to Mr. Cook, I hope we don't see him this fall.

Keith Nichol

Keith Nichol is a transfer from Oklahoma whose story was detailed a bit above. Currently he is going to be a starter at WR and is probably one of the best run-blocking WR I have seen in college football. He gets an honorable mention at QB because in an emergency situation he'd be our go-to guy. I suspect if injuries meant a more than single game loss of Maxwell and Cousins, you'd see Cook get the nod over Nichol.

That said, he scored our only touchdown against Alabama in our battle against Goliath. He also won us the Michigan game in 2009 when the game was on the line. I'd never count this guy out when the chips are really down.

2011 Prediction

Keith Nichol's time at quarterback should be limited to gimmick and wildcat type plays. That said, he and Keshawn Martin could give coaches fits if we do run any sort of wildcat type package with any regularity.

Peter Badovinac

Peter is a transfer from Drake University after being named Chicago Catholic League Offensive Player of the Year in 2007. He is a preferred walk-on at MSU and I suspect if you see him in the game beyond a senior day type scenario it's so he can kneel out the clock.

2011 Prediction

Badovinac is not expected to contribute significant minutes in 2011.

Tommy Vento

Vento was the QB at Farmington Hills Harrison last fall. He went 156-of-276 passes (.565) for 2,803 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior. He is a preferred walk-on at MSU this year.

2011 Prediction

Vento is not expected to contribute significant minutes in 2011.

Overall Assessment:The Quarterback position remains in the good hands of Captain Kirk this year. Backing him up is the talented but unproven Andrew Maxwell. Behind Maxwell, is the also talented and hopefully redshirted Connor Cook. Our overall depth at QB is kind of thin right now, ideally you'd like to have three available scholarship QBs and we really only have two right now. Nichol and Cook both are on scholarship, but you'd prefer to keep both off the field at QB this year. As goes Cousins, so will go the offense.

Worst Case Scenario: Cousins is injured at some point before our murderer's row of an away schedule. Maxwell is not yet ready to take over the reins and struggles behind an OL that is seeing 3 of it's 5 starters replaced. We're forced to run more often than we were in 2010 or 2007, power defenses can key on the run and we won't be enough of a threat through the air to force them to stop. Our offense goes from being one of the big ten best to middle of the pack.

Best Case Scenario: Cousins remains healthy throughout the season and builds off of his 2010 success. He remains an effective game manager but shows improvements in throwing the ball away and continues to improve the TD to INT ratio. He gets the school record for touchdowns in a season(only 22). His good decision-making allows MSU to create long, sustained drives of more than 5 minutes that lead to touchdowns.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Assume the Position: Special Teams

This is part one of an ambitiously stated seven part series. This series will focus on introducing MSU fans to their position group players. It is not intended to replace the quality analysis that media types can provide, but we give it our best shot. We'll work backwards from the most stable position groups to the more dynamic ones so we can write about the most volatile groups last.

Welcome, for lack of a better place to begin our introductory piece on the 2011 Spartans we shall begin at the beginning Special Teams group. No other group has the potential to flip the momentum of a game on a dime like Special Teams. Yet if they are not among the most consistent units on the field it'll cost you games and in a hurry. This year's Special Teams unit features stability in the kick returns arena and a newcomer at Punter. Without further adieu....


In 2010, the best quarterback on our team was none other than the pride of New Concord, Ohio, Aaron Bates. He wasn't too shabby a punter either. With a punting average of 45.0 yards Bates finished 14th nationally at the position. Mr. Bates will be replaced by Redshirt Freshman Mike Sadler from Grand Rapids or as my 2 year old calls it, Grand Rabbits. Mr. Sadler had offers from the likes of Alabama, LSU, USC, Northwestern, Purdue and Air Force. Despite Air Force's strong recruiting push, Mike selected MSU over LSU. He was a top 10 punter in 2010 by all three recruiting services(Scout, Rivals and MaxPrep). Mr. Sadler averaged 39.9 yards on 32 kicks in his senior year and converted a 58 yard field goal against Belding(pretty town, I thought anyway). He graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA.

2011 Prediction: I have no reason to think that Sadler will not be a great punter by the time he leaves MSU. MSU has put more than their fair share of kickers into the league. That said, we will miss Aaron Bates this year from a leadership perspective. Sadler looks to develop into a heady punter like bates over the years, but he's green and will need time. Back-up punter Kyle Selden is not expected to be a factor at this time.


Coming into 2010 this was a two-way race between Dan Conroy and Kevin Muma. Conroy as a preferred walk-on won the job from Kevin Muma and went 14 of 15 on the year including this miraculous game-tying kick against Notre Dame in our night game last year.

Oh, uh Conroy didn't make the kick? Well, maybe next time.

Conroy's kicking percentage was good for 5th overall. He was 4 of 4 from more than 40 yards with his single miss coming at Northwestern.

2011 Prediction: My big concern with Mr. Conroy would be avoiding the sophomore slump, literally. To finish 5th overall in the NCAA kicking percentage as a freshman sets the bar at damn high for the remainder of his MSU career. To extrapolate that year forward means he would finish 56 of 60 for his career at MSU, that doesn't sound difficult to me, that sounds nearly impossible. Kevin Muma will continue to handle kick-off duties for the forseeable future.

Expect placekicking to remain a strong point for the Spartans, but don't expect 14 of 15 again.

Punt and Kick Return Duties:

Luckily for us, those duties fall to one very talented Keshawn Martin. Martin has scored five different ways in a Spartan uniform(caught, throw and ran a touchdown pass. Returned both a punt and a kick for a touchdown), he's a dropkick and a field goal short of scoring every way a person can on offense. In 2010 he continued to perform at a high-level in this position.

2011 Prediction: Martin will continue to perform at a high-level this year although I suspect if the coaching staff can find an 90 percent as good option at either position they'll take it over Martin. Martin is too important to the offense as the x-factor to take an unnecessary risk in injury. There are a host of young talents who have lots of speed but have had trouble finding the field in other areas to back up Mr. Martin.

Nick Hill has lots of speed but is stuck behind the Baker/Caper/Bell logjam. Jeremy Langford is another speedster without a country, he can't crack the positions at RB or WR right now, IIRC he's not quite quick enough for CB. Tony Lippett has shown outstanding athleticism but looks to be slated for the Chris Gamble role of yore. There are lots of quick, shifty, bursty guys who could play either kick return position in lieu of Martin. But Martin is simply put the most exciting Spartan on the field with apologies to LeVeon Bell. You just do not know what's coming next with him.

As an aside, Martin still had moments last year where he'd do something that made you facepalm, it'd be rad if he could knock that off this year.

Overall Assessment: In 2010, Special Teams was an area of strength for the Spartans. In an old version of NCAAF, if you were an A++ your team's bar broke the end on the team strengths page. I think the Special Teams were that good for MSU last year. This year, an improvement would basically be more of the same, holding steady would be a slight decrease in quality and a huge step backwards would be Special Teams costing us a game or two. I think this particular group is in a position to "hold steady" meaning we lose some specialties in the punting game for this year and hold steady at placekicking and kick returns. The development of Sadler is the expected storyline for this group this year.

Worst Case Scenario: Sadler struggles to replace Bates in terms of kick quality and distance. Conroy struggles mightily with the sophomore slump and Muma can kick a country mile but can't hit the broadside of a barn. Keshawn cedes the kick return duties to a Nick Hill or Jeremy Langford due to injury or we're not receiving many kicks because our D isn't stopping anyone. I don't know, I just don't see a healthy Keshawn ever being "bad" at this.

Best Case Scenario: Sadler is an immediate replacement for Bates in terms of kick quality and being the best QB on the MSU Spartan team. Conroy finds a way to go 15 for 15 or maybe even the elusive 16 for 15. Keshawn cedes the kick return duties to a Nick Hill or Jeremy Langford type and they are as good or better.