Saturday, May 13, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: MICHIGAN STATE
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden tr ansfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Stanton and his band of Merry Men take another shot at the big time - or hell, just the postseason
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 29-31 (16-24 Big Ten) - 2005: 5-6 (2-6 Big Ten)
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 12 (6 Offense, 6 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: Both lines will be forced to replace three starters, a bigger deal for the defense, which couldn't generate any pressure (105th in sacks, 115th in tackles for loss) with its experienced, senior-laden group last year. That could explain the general downsizing there, from 296 pounds per man down to 271. The long returning starter, 300-pound Clifton Ryan, led the team in sacks with just three, but was a big end last year and will be moved down to become an appropriately-sized tackle while 237-pound Brandon Long and 252-pound Justin Kershaw move into the (presumably) more pass rush-oriented end spots.
WHAT'S THE SAME: Drew Stanton is back for Year Three as a starter and early on may be considered the best overall quarterback in the country: He throws! He runs! He struggles with consistency! Like his virtual twin, Jay Cutler, Stanton has a big, NFL body and arm, good mobility and - though he's surrounded by several times the talent Cutler was - virtually the entire team's fate in his hands (his career TD-INT ratio in wins is 22-7; in losses, 8-11). Yet, like Cutler, Stanton's career record as a starter remains in the red, at 8-10. Projected accolades aside, five-win seasons at MSU do not a legacy make.
UH, A LITTLE HELP?: It would be nice for Stanton, of course, if his defense could keep people under 400 yards a game, and even nicer still if the Spartans' special teams could function, period. Last year's kickers, John Goss and Matt Haughey, combined to make a whopping 5 of 16 field goals, and only 2 of 10 beyond 30 yards (the long was 32). Worst of all, the pair had an amazing four kicks blocked, the worst of which, of course, followed the rush job at the end of the first half against Ohio State, a disastrous ten-point swing that wound up setting flame not only to a comfortable Spartan lead in that critical game but that also triggered MSU's persistent schizophrenia for the rest of a henceforth dismal season in which the most noticeable positive was the entertainment of John L. Smith's straining forehead veins. Goss and Haughey, for the record, were still listed 1-2 on the Spring depth chart. (PDF)
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The Spartans succumb to the indifferent, pitiless scream of unmerciful nature as they contemplate the eternal nothingness of their placekicking
SHARING WORKED THE LAST TIME: Stanton will command the full attention of defenses but is in great shape, weapon-wise, with top rushers and all-Name Team captains Javon Ringer and Jehuu Caulcrick back along with receivers Jerramy Scott, Kerry Reed, Terry Love and Matt Trannon - still breakin' out - keeping people honest. The only barrier, in fact, to topping the 500-yard per game average MSU came so close (497) to cracking last year appears to be the graduation of three offensive linemen, whose alliterative replacements - Masters, Martin and Miller - will make up the right side of the line, charged with keeping Ringer and Caulcrick going, which in turn will keep Stanton going.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: Any improvement in the win column will require a rejuvenated defense - every winning opponent topped 30 points, usually easily - and the buzz is that a new JUCO star Nehemiah "Nemo" Warrick, cousin of Peter, is serving as defibrilator:
Warrick, who played receiver in high school and his first year at a Kansas community college, represents quite a stylistic change from linebacker-esque Eric Smith at strong safety - though SMQ would like to see Nemo hawk down Mike Hart from 10 yards back in the open field before proclaiming him the unit's savior.
Also: According to reports, Stanton made good on his promise to go interception-free during the entire Spring. That's pretty impressive, especially if it includes 7-on-7 drills and the like and not just scrimmages - though meaningless, unless someone is actually suggesting he may be the first modern quarterback to go an entire season without giving up a pick, an idea SMQ declares crazy on its face.
REASON FOR HOPE: The offensive fireworks certainly ought to be popping again with Stanton and Co.; Peter Warrick's cousin!
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: Much depends on the new offensive linemen, and the kickers are the same guys who were so bad it will be considered a relief just to get the ball past the line, much less through the uprights.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Late-nineties neo-funk/soul popsters The New Radicals: talented, moderately successful, full of potential and promises of great things, but ultimately way too unstable to sustain whatever momentum it was able to generate.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING... In the Big Ten, six wins seems to be the limit even for a team with this much talent until it overcomes its schizo tendency to collapse when things look like they may be starting to go south.
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona ...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...Apr il 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo...May 2: Ohio State...May 3: Mississippi State...May 5: Southern Miss...UL-Lafayette...May 11: Akron
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