State News reporters revisit preseason predictions
State News football reporters Stephen Brooks and Dillon Davis take a look back at their MSU game predictions from the 2013 preseason. The No. 10-ranked Spartans overachieved compared to Stephen’s predicted finish of 10-2 and Dillon’s choice of 9-3. Considering the picks were made before the season, perspectives obviously were quite different.
Overall, both writers overestimated MSU’s offensive production, and underestimated the Spartans on the road. Compare the reality of an 11-1 season with the early projections.
Result: MSU 26, WMU 13
Stephen: MSU 45, WMU 3
This was the beginning of a common theme throughout my predictions by assuming MSU’s offense was magically fixed through the offseason. The Spartan defense made an early statement with two touchdowns, but it was an uncomfortably close game against a team that finished 1-11 — with its starting quarterback knocked out in the first half. Reality set in that MSU still had some kinks to work out offensively, which became a trend in non-conference play.
Dillon: MSU 35, WMU 7
At the time, I wrote that there were few teams MSU would rather open the season against than Western Michigan. And based on the flow of this game, the Spartans were awful lucky to start the season this way. Senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell started the game for the Spartans, but yielded the position to sophomore Connor Cook after a few lackluster drives — a move that ultimately proved to head coach Mark Dantonio what Cook brings to the table under center. The game was highlighted by two spectacular defensive touchdowns by Kurtis Drummond and Shilique Calhoun, respectively, setting the tone for what has been an outstanding season on the defensive side of the ball.
Result: MSU 21, South Florida 6
Stephen: MSU 31, South Florida 10
The offense plodded along again as MSU needed two more defensive touchdowns from sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun to beat the Bulls, one week after they lost to FCS McNeese State. The muddled quarterback controversy wore on as Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and Tyler O’Connor rotated under center to produce a single touchdown. South Florida was worse and MSU played worse than I expected.
Dillon: MSU 24, South Florida 14
Three quarterbacks played, while not a single one emerged as the clear cut choice to be the starter. However, Calhoun proved he’s even better than advertised, scoring twice on a fumble return and an interception return, pacing the way in another weak offensive showing. I thought MSU might overlook South Florida but, as it turned out at this point of the year, MSU didn’t know enough about itself to overthink an opponent. So, as the Spartans have done for much of 2013, the defense shouldered the load en route to a victory.
Result: MSU 55, Youngstown State 17
Stephen: MSU 49, Youngstown State 0
The Penguins scored more points than I anticipated, but it’s notable for being Cook’s breakout game that put him in position to seize the starting quarterback job the remainder of the season. He threw for four touchdown passes and MSU matched its highest point total under head coach Mark Dantonio. The low-profile matchup with Youngstown State wound up being the first of many positive strides for the offense.
Dillon: MSU 42, Youngstown State 7
As I predicted, the Spartans pummeled Youngstown State like a schoolyard bully. But more importantly, it was the first sign of life from MSU’s offense, which had been largely stagnant during the season. It was interesting seeing Cook grow up before our eyes against the Penguins and he’s only gotten better since this game. And while the Penguins are not in the Spartans’ weight class, per se, it was a much-needed thrashing to give the team a boost it badly needed.
Result: Notre Dame 17, MSU 13
Stephen: Notre Dame 17, MSU 13
I was amazed to look back and realize I pegged this one perfectly. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that before. But there’s no way I could have predicted how this one would go down in South Bend, Ind. The Fighting Irish used four pass interference penalties and a defensive holding call as its main function of offense, and squeaked out a win at home. Looking back, it was a missed opportunity as MSU’s only loss.
Dillon: MSU 17, Notre Dame 14
First off, a tip of the cap to Stephen for getting the score correct for this game. I’d imagine the odds of doing that have to be pretty slim. As for the game, it’s difficult to look back and see where the Spartans were compared to where they are right now — it seems like a different team. A week after thrashing Youngstown State, MSU was back to basics on offense, struggling to make the explosive plays it takes to beat a team like Notre Dame. Ultimately, it took four defensive pass interference calls — several of which were very questionable — for the Fighting Irish to give the Spartans their only loss of the season.
Result: MSU 26, Iowa 14
Stephen: MSU 28, Iowa 13
This was Cook’s second great leap forward, and the passing game showed a legitimate pulse for the first time all season. I wasn’t perfect in consecutive weeks, but I wasn’t far off. Cook and the Spartans responded from the Notre Dame loss with a big road win to kick off the conference schedule with confidence.
Dillon: Iowa 24, MSU 17
I predicted MSU would struggle at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium. After all, it’s a difficult venue to play in and it was Hawkeyes’ homecoming weekend on campus, which usually brings the largest and most enthusiastic crowd of the season. However, Cook and the passing game emerged in Iowa City, taking a step forward after a difficult loss in South Bend, Ind. Each time the Hawkeyes built any momentum, MSU was quick to grab it back and walked out of the stadium with a big time victory.
Result: MSU 42, Indiana 28
Stephen: MSU 38, Indiana 31
I gave MSU’s defense a ton of credit and respect before the season, but I slipped up assuming Indiana’s high-octane offense would find a few more creases. The Hoosiers’ Tevin Coleman broke a 64-yard run to begin the game, but the Spartans made their tweaks and locked it down the rest of the day. That’s another trend that seemed to start with this game: MSU’s outstanding defense appears to be most vulnerable on the first drive or two, but given time, the Spartans will make the necessary adjustments.
Dillon: MSU 28, Indiana 17
For the first time all season, MSU’s defense struggled to open the game, signaling a cause for concern against an up tempo Hoosier offensive attack. But MSU’s offense, led by a four-touchdown day by junior running back Jeremy Langford, proved it can be every bit as lethal as any team in the Big Ten. Langford is the first MSU player to score four in a game since Edwin Baker in 2010 against Minnesota, leading the Spartans to a win and a 5-1 record.
Result: MSU 14, Purdue 0
Stephen: MSU 35, Purdue 6
The blunder against the Boilermakers remains the biggest head-scratching moment of the 2013 season. It’s hard to understand how a team that’s competing for a BCS bid looked as bad as it did against the lowly Boilermakers. MSU didn’t even score an offensive touchdown to make it a two-possession game until the fourth quarter. The Spartans’ body of work, though, proved it to be an aberration, albeit a confusing one.
Dillon: MSU 31, Purdue 10
Looking back, this game was incredibly odd. The MSU offense that took a tremendous step forward against Indiana the previous week and seemingly disappeared against the Boilermakers. And considering Purdue was one of the Big Ten’s weaker teams of 2013, it led many to question how good the Spartans actually could be. Heading into the fourth quarter ahead by only seven, it was never out of the question for Purdue to claw their way back in — it only takes one play. But senior linebacker Denicos Allen scored on a 45-yard touchdown return to ensure a win in an otherwise strange day at the office.
Result: MSU 42, Illinois 3
Stephen: MSU 34, Illinois 0
Once again, an explosive offense found success with an early scoring drive. And once again, that offense was stifled the rest of the way by the Spartans. It was another transformational game for Cook, who finished 15-for-16 passing, setting a school record for passing efficiency.
Dillon: MSU 35, Illinois 3
Few knew what to make of Connor Cook — or MSU’s offense in general — to this point of the year. But as Stephen points out, Cook finished the day 15-for-16 passing for 208 yards and three touchdowns, showing there indeed was a light at the end of the tunnel for the Spartans.
Result: MSU 29, Michigan 6
Stephen: MSU 24, Michigan 17
Before the season, the Wolverines appeared a lot tougher than they truly were by this point in the season. MSU took advantage of the youthful interior offensive line of U-M with a series of blitzes, sacking quarterback Devin Gardner seven times. The Spartans physically overwhelmed U-M to regain the Paul Bunyan Trophy and remain undefeated in conference play.
Dillon: Michigan 24, MSU 21
Hear me out. I was expecting so much more of the Wolverines this season. Blame the media, blame the hype, blame whatever. A year after clipping the Spartans in Ann Arbor and finally with a competent quarterback under center, it seemed like U-M was primed to beat MSU once more. I was wrong. MSU’s defense dominated quarterback Devin Gardner, bringing the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing and continuing the tailspin that was the Wolverines’ season.
Result: MSU 41, Nebraska 28
Stephen: Nebraska 34, MSU 24
Again, the preseason expectations didn’t match the product that Nebraska brought to the field. The Cornhuskers were a good team, but not a great one, especially without quarterback Taylor Martinez. I thought playing on the road swung the game in favor of Nebraska, but it proved to be another statement win for the Spartans.
Dillon: Nebraska 35, MSU 31
As was the case against Iowa, I didn’t anticipate MSU having the success on the road like it had this season. And considering the Spartans had never beaten Nebraska, it seemed unlikely it would happen this year. Without Taylor Martinez, the Huskers were much weaker than anyone could have known, opening the door for a five turnover day for MSU’s defense. Also, it was another strong day for Langford, who finished the day with 151 yards and two touchdowns.
Result: MSU 30, Northwestern 6
Stephen: MSU 27, Northwestern 24
The Wildcats were praised as a sleeper team entering the season in the top 25, but injuries and a string of close losses sent their season spiraling downward. MSU went to Evanston, Ill., and put on another defensive clinic to earn the Legends Division title. At this point in the season, an MSU victory was easy to predict.
Dillon: MSU 34, Northwestern 24
What the hell happened to Northwestern’s season? This team was supposed to run the table on its schedule and be a dark horse to play in the Big Ten Championship Game. Instead, the Wildcats finished the year with a single Big Ten victory, nearly mirroring the unlucky ineptitude of the Spartans from 2012. The win allowed MSU to clinch the Legends Division title with one week of the regular season left to play.
Result: MSU 14, Minnesota 3
Stephen: MSU 35, Minnesota 7
Similar to the Purdue game, the Spartans shuffled through a senior day bout with Minnesota that was much closer than expected. The Golden Gophers also were much, much better than expected as the Big Ten’s surprise story this season. I’ll give them a pass, though, considering the date with Ohio State for the conference title was already booked.
Dillon: MSU 42, Minnesota 14
The Big Ten is weird sometimes. Northwestern, who was predicted to be one of the conference’s best teams, turned out to be probably its worst. And Minnesota, who’s a perennial doormat for most Big Ten teams, finished as strong as the Golden Gophers have in years. This game was a little too close for comfort but the Spartans muddled through senior day before booking a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game.