By Bart Doan
On Twitter @TheCoachBart
Like the kid that goes home for the summer in middle school and comes back 6 inches taller in the fall (back when kids actually used to go back to school in the fall and not basically right after Independence Day), Michigan State grew up a lot last year. The team that “almost was going to get it done” did and did so in a large way, knifing Ohio State’s title bid and then winning the Rose Bowl over powerful Stanford.
While the Spartans won’t be picked probably by a great many, they’re the pick here. If they need anything, it’s more consistency at the wide receiver spot. The defense will be fine as long as Mark Dantonio trolls the sidelines and will be elite as long as Pat Narduzzi is doing it with him.
1. Michigan State
3. Ohio State
4. Penn State
Conference Championship: Michigan State over Wisconsin
Why the Spartans: What is the magic formula for winning in college football? Quarterback, coach, and schedule. Sparty is significantly better than most of their challengers in all of those areas. Connor Cook went from “guy who sort of was in the job because someone had to take snaps” to “game manager” to “guy who can make every throw and do it when it was needed.” The Michigan State defense needs no heavy analysis at this point, and neither does Mark Dantonio. But moreover, the schedule is favorable with biggest rivals Michigan and Ohio State coming to East Lansing back to back with a bye week sandwiched in betwixt. It’s the perfect set up. MSU will learn a lot about itself in week two in Eugene. This is a potential playoff team.
Surprise of the conference: Indiana. The Hoosiers have incrementally improved under Kevin Wilson and this is the year a bowl game should be expected. The schedule is a little more “rest stop toilet paper” than “Charmin double ply” like last season, but stability at QB and a defense that almost has to be better by default will push IU into bowling season.
Disappointment: The newcomers. Maryland and Rutgers don’t bring much recent success with them to a new conference where they’ll be traveling more than anyone, and teams that transfer conferences typically fare poorly in year one. And those are the ones going in on solid ground. Avert thy eyes.
Player of the Year: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska: Aw, shucks, this is easy. Hard to go against a guy who put up the fourth best rushing season in Nebraska history and still came back for more. Nebraska will lean even more on its ground game, methinks.
Breakout player: Derrick Green, RB, Michigan: The former 5-star recruit didn’t meet other people’s expectations for him last year, but Doug Nussmeier and Michigan figure to have more continuity at the offensive line, and Nussmeier teams historically have run the ball well. Time for Green to step up.
If you have more in-depth questions on why I see it how I see it … feel free to use the Twitter machine.