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May 01, 2012

MSU winning it all? Why not?

Spring football left us with some questions answered and some unanswered, as usual. It also left me with a bit of a revelation -- based more on how people reacted to Denicos Allen than on what he said. A lot of players on a lot of teams talk about winning national titles, and most of them fall somewhere in the overly optimistic>>>delusional range. MSU's players have earned the right to say it out loud and at least receive a look (one eye raised, one side of upper lip raised) that says: "Hmmm, hadn't really thought of that, but it's not totally crazy." Baby steps.

    So just to be clear, I don't really consider the 2012 Michigan State football team a national title contender. But just for the heck of it, let's go through the schedule.

    Boise State. Could lose, hard to say what Boise will be with so many personnel losses. Hard to say what parts of MSU's team will be. I'll go with the Spartans, at night at home.

    at Central Michigan. Road game, dangerous? Nah, not really.

    Notre Dame. The second of two night games for MSU in 2012. Pivotal game, definitely a game the Spartans could lose. The offense must have some things figured out by now. But I'll go with that defense, at home, at night.

    Eastern Michigan. Make it 4-0.

    Ohio State. Huge Big Ten opener. Urban Meyer in town, Braxton Miller seeking some revenge for last season's unsightly performance against MSU's defense. Ohio State should be pretty good this year. But maybe not yet great. Going with home field.

    at Indiana. Wipe off the spittoon, it's staying.

    Iowa. The Hawkeyes would love to get MSU back for last season. Like MSU, Iowa just saw six players drafted. I'll stick with MSU at home -- the Spartans haven't lost there since 2009, you know.

    at Michigan. Great chance this decides the Legends Division. I'm calling it a toss-up in Ann Arbor. Denard Robinson is improving and would love to finally play well against MSU. Some of his struggles in this game can be credited to great defense. Some of them can be credited to mind-boggling decisions that weren't forced. U-M is missing some key linemen on both sides from last season. MSU has a new starting QB but probably a better overall team. Since this is an argument about MSU having a chance to win it all, give it to MSU in a close one.

    at Wisconsin. Toughest game on the schedule. I'd call it a loss right now. But that's far, far from a given, considering what the Badgers lost. Here's the point -- if the toughest game on a team's schedule is in the toss-up range, it's not crazy to think that team could win every game.

    Nebraska. Will the Spartans bring their offense this time? Eh, call it a win at home.

    Northwestern. The Wildcats often give the Spartans big trouble in East Lansing ... but no.

    at Minnesota. Not a stretch to think the Spartans could survive Minny on Thanksgiving weekend. Not a stretch to see MSU going 11-1 next season (that's not an official prediction, by the way.) Not a huuuuge stretch to see it going 12-0.

    Also, if some things go the wrong way, if MSU can't get it done consistently on third and 6, if injuries hit, if the DT and FS replacements aren't up to par, if the leadership isn't there, not a stretch to see this team end up 7-5.

    And what if the Spartans do go 12-0 and get into the BCS title game? Can they compete with whatever is on the other side of that field? Let's not forget that the last Big Ten team to win it was the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes -- which used exactly the formula this team would need to navigate its schedule.

    The point is, when the floor rises, so does the ceiling. Talk of an undefeated season is no longer ridiculous. And then you look at the 2013 team and the 2013 schedule (Western Michigan, South Florida, Youngstown State, at Notre Dame, at Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, at Illinois, Michigan, at Nebraska, at Northwestern, Minnesota -- no Ohio State, Wisconsin or Penn State) and have even more trouble finding a sure-thing loss. Andrew Maxwell and Le'Veon Bell will be seniors. Same with Dion Sims. The receivers should be better. The offensive line loses McDonald and Fonoti on the right side but will have everyone else back. The defense loses Adams, A.R. White and Norman (Tyler Hoover should be able to get a sixth year) but will have everyone else back. That is, if Will Gholston stays, and I don't think he's a slam-dunk early departure at this point. Factor in the veterans on that team and the young players who are pushing -- it looks potent.

    The playoffs are coming (and here's how they should look). No matter the specifics, this will chip away a little bit more at the Rose Bowl tradition. This four-team model will probably expand at some point, but it'll probably stay at four for quite a while. And that's where everyone will want to be. And MSU should be in position to chase it in 2014 and beyond. That's the way it looks, anyway. First, there are two "old school" (or maybe it's "middle school" and the old bowls/polls is "old school") BCS titles to be won. Someone has to do it.



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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter

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