Monday, December 31, 2012

Outback Bowl Prediction

I don’t see the Outback Bowl turning out well for Michigan.
I don’t see this game being terribly lopsided, but I think the Michigan offense will have problems moving the ball against a strong and speedy defense like South Carolina.
Defensively, I think Michigan can keep South Carolina in check, but the Gamecocks will still find a way to score enough points to win.
South Carolina doesn’t quite have the same defensive talent that Alabama has, but it’s not far off. Devin Gardner will have to have a tremendous performance for Michigan to win, and I just don’t think he’s ready to carve up this defense quite yet.
Denard Robinson has struggled running against tough defenses like this, and I don’t think he is going to have that much of an impact when the Wolverines call his number.
If Michigan is to win, it will probably take a defensive or special teams touchdown, and you can’t really expect those to happen.
In the end, I see Connor Shaw making enough big throws to set up a few touchdowns and a few field goals, while Michigan will be clawing for everything it can get on offense.
Prediction: South Carolina 20, Michigan 10

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Keys to victory for Michigan against South Carolina

Michigan returns to the football field coming up on Tuesday afternoon. Here are my keys to victory for the Wolverines against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
Mix it up with Denard – In the loss to Ohio State, Michigan became far too predictable on offense when Denard Robinson was on the field. The Wolverines didn’t have Robinson throw a single pass, which allowed the Buckeyes to stack the box when he was on the field. If Robinson is going to take any snaps at quarterback, he has to make a few throws throughout the game to keep the South Carolina defense honest. Michigan is much more likely to break a big play if the Gamecocks have to respect that Robinson could run or throw each time he touches the ball.
Keep Devin/Denard clean – The Michigan offensive line will be tested by an impressive front line for the South Carolina defense. If Michigan is going to be able to move the ball, the offensive line has to win the line of scrimmage and keep Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson from being sacked. The Gamecocks have an impressive 40 sacks this season, led by stud sophomore defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney, who has 13. If South Carolina is able to consistently get into the backfield, it is going to be a long day for the Michigan quarterbacks and the Wolverine fans.
Create turnovers – This South Carolina defense is good. The Gamecocks are only giving up 17.4 points and 312 yards per game, and that is with a SEC schedule. Michigan probably isn’t going to find a lot of consistent success on offense. The Wolverines can’t expect to drive the field 80 yards each time it needs a score. That means the Michigan defense will need to find a way to create turnovers. South Carolina has been pretty good at not turning the ball over, as it has just 19 for the season. Michigan also hasn’t been great at creating turnovers, as the Wolverines have only 17 for the year. But Michigan has to find a way to make South Carolina cough the ball up, especially when the Gamecocks are in their territory. One key turnover could decide this game.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Thoughts on MSU's 17-16 win over TCU

It was almost like two different games were played on Saturday night.
In the first half, Michigan State looked like it didn’t have any business being in a bowl game to begin with. The offense was as bad as it has been all season and the defense was giving up a number of big plays, which allowed TCU to score 13 points.
But, in true Spartan fashion this season, MSU found a way to make the game interesting.
Connor Cook led the Spartans on a 90-yard TD drive that saw a creative pass play from Le’Veon Bell on third down. Then, a big gift on a muffed punt by the Horned Frogs led to an easy touchdown run for Bell from four yards out. Those scoring drives gave the Spartans an improbable lead.
But, again in 2012 MSU fashion, TCU managed to respond with a mildly-successful drive that led to a 53-yard field from Jaden Oberkrom that just avoided hitting the left upright, putting TCU ahead, 16-14, late in the game.
Mark Dantonio again turned to redshirt freshman Connor Cook to lead the offense in response, and he did, hitting a pair of key passes to open the drive before Le’Veon Bell did the rest of the work to setup Dan Conroy for a 47-yard field goal that turned out to be the game-winner.
As ugly as MSU played, a win is a win. Bowl wins are important for the program and Saturday night’s victory puts a positive end to a disappointing season. It still doesn’t make this season a success for the Spartans, but the team and coaches showed some heart by finding a way to win that game.
Clearly many of the issues during the season, especially on offense, still were an issue in this game. Throwing short of the sticks on third down was the most noticeable one. Some blame goes to Andrew Maxwell, some goes to the receivers.
Regardless of who was to blame, it is clear that Michigan State knew Cook needed an opportunity to play in a big game, and he played as well as you could expect him to given his experience and the circumstances.
You would have to think Cook may have the edge on Maxwell heading into spring ball. Maxwell was as bad as he has been all season, going just 6 for 16 for 28 yards. We will see how he responds to this game in the offseason, but even he has to realize that his title as starting quarterback is in jeopardy.
If Saturday was Bell’s last game as a Spartan, he left it all on the field. He again shouldered the physical load, carrying 32 times for 145 yards. There weren’t many holes for him throughout the game, but he did what he could to move the offense forward.
If Saturday’s game did anything, it made the offseason for the Spartans very interesting, and it all starts with who is going to be on the roster come the fall.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Prediction

Michigan State returns to the football field Saturday night to face TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
This game is actually quite meaningful for both teams, as each has had a disappointing year, and a bowl victory would put a little positive spin to it heading into spring football for the 2013 season.
I expect the game to be low scoring, like most Michigan State games. Both teams are stronger on defense than they are on offense and I suspect neither offense will come out with a completely different look that the opposing team wasn’t ready for.
With MSU’s defense banged up a little bit in the secondary, as Johnny Adams may not play due to turf toe, that opens the door for TCU to be aggressive in the passing game. The Spartans will need to get pressure on TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and not allow the Horned Frogs to develop deep passing plays.
I don’t expect Le’Veon Bell to be able to take over the game. He should be about as fresh as he can be, but the Spartans still have issues on the offensive line. The game will ride on Andrew Maxwell’s arm, and I thought he was regressing as the season went on. I don’t know that a month of preparation will do enough to make Maxwell into an improved quarterback. He will get his chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, as he has had in most games all season, but I see him coming up short again.
Prediction: TCU 16, Michigan State 13

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Keys to victory for MSU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

This Saturday night, Michigan State finally gets back on the football field for the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU.
Here are a few keys to the game for the Spartans:
- Get off the field on third down – TCU led the Big 12 in time of possession advantage this season, but was not that successful on third downs, converting just 34.1 percent. The Horned Frogs like to be aggressive on first and second down, but they are facing the toughest defense they have seen all season. Michigan State will get TCU into third-down situations and the Spartans will need to make stops on those third downs to get the ball back in the hands of the offense. If TCU is able to sustain drives, it will give the Spartan offense limited opportunities to succeed. Given MSU’s offense hasn’t had that high of a success rate, limited possessions don’t bode well for it.
- Don’t play into TCU’s hands – The Horned Frogs have one of the top rushing defenses in the nation, allowing just 103.9 yards per game on the ground. I know Le’Veon Bell is MSU’s workhorse, but if the running game isn’t establishing itself early, the Spartans need to air things out. TCU has 21 interceptions on the season, but they have given up 228 yards per game through the air. Michigan State should be able to find some holes in the secondary if Andrew Maxwell can make good throws and the receivers can catch the ball. With a month of preparation for this game, you would hope Dan Roushar has installed some creative passing plays to beat the Horned Frogs.
- Make the kicks – In a game like this, with two solid defenses meeting up, any chance for both teams to put points on the board will be key. Neither team has had a reliable kicking game, as TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom is 19 of 27 on field goal attempts this season. Oberkrom has missed four field goals from the 30-39 range and one from the 20-29 range. MSU kicker Dan Conroy went 22 for 31 on his field goal attempts this season, missed four form 30-39 yards and five from 40-49 yards. Conroy missed at least one field goal in nine of MSU’s 12 games this season. He needs to be on his game on Saturday night with points at a premium. Four of MSU’s six losses came by three points or less, and Conroy missed a field goal in three of those four losses.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Christmas wish

It’s Christmas time and I want to start by wishing everyone a happy holiday. I hope you are getting a chance to enjoy some good food with your families, and maybe even getting that Christmas wish of yours.
I have already had a great holiday, but to be festive, I thought I would share my wish for the holidays, and it relates to the MSU-Michigan rivalry.
My wish is that the rivalry hits a new level in 2013.
In the ideal world, I would like to see both football teams and both basketball teams playing at their highest levels, with both contending for national recognition and Big Ten titles.
Whether you are on the side of the Spartans, or the side of the Wolverines, the games between these two teams are so much better when they mean something.
Some of the greatest games in the history of this rivalry are when both teams are ranked and battling it out on the football field or basketball court.
In football, Michigan State had a nice run over the past few seasons, but Michigan was in a funk.
This season, the Wolverines were still solid, but a little disappointing. Michigan State was a complete disaster. This year’s game between the two had no real meaning when it came to competing for a Big Ten title.
It would be nice in upcoming years to have this game mean a lot, with both teams possibly being unbeaten. It makes the game that more passionate and emotional. It brings out the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) of both fan bases.
In basketball, we might be there already. Michigan looks like a legit national title contender and MSU is strong, but a little inconsistent. By the end of the season, both could be primed for a run in the NCAA Tournament. Their meetings on the court this season should also be very competitive and feature great environments, and they could also determine who wins the Big Ten title.
I mean, how great would it be to see the Spartans and Wolverines tipoff in the championship of the Big Ten Tournament with a possible 1 or 2 seed on the line in the Big Dance?
I know Michigan fans say Ohio State is their biggest rival, and that is fine. I won’t argue that. But, as a neutral party to both, it is a lot better when both teams are flourishing and worrying about each other.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Parker's decision not too surprsing

Jabari Parker seemed to be most Michigan State fans’ favorite player before he had even committed to be a Spartan.
MSU was really hoping and counting on Parker to suit up in the green and white next season, but he instead opted for the “Yankees” of college basketball, Duke.
Parker made his commitment to the Blue Devils on national television on Thursday, changing the landscape of what Michigan State will look like next season.
In hindsight, the decision is not all that surprising.
Michigan State hasn’t been known to be a real hot spot for potential one-and-done recruits, which Parker is.
Tom Izzo has spoken out in the past about his dislike for the one-and-done rule and his only notable one-and-done player was Zach Randolph, who didn’t exactly flourish in his single season with the Spartans, averaging 10.8 points and 6.7 rebounds.
Izzo also isn’t known for being real lenient on his freshmen. He rides them, he challenges them and he also isn’t afraid to bench them for lengthy periods of time.
That isn’t to say Mike Krzyzewski doesn’t do much of the same, but he has had a better track record with one-and-done players as of late, including Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers.
Izzo seems to embrace the challenge of developing players over a number of years. He has produced a number of talented stars that have translated to the NBA, but many have stayed at least three years in the program.
You also can’t forget that Duke is Duke. No matter what Michigan State has accomplished under Izzo, the Blue Devils still are largely considered the top program in the nation and have been for more than two decades.
It will be interesting to see how Michigan State bounces back from this recruiting loss. The Spartans weren’t able to make certain moves or get commitments from other players as they awaited Parker’s decision. It was a risk vs. reward situation, and the Spartans came out on the wrong end.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Who will win the Big Ten in basketball?

The start of Big Ten play isn’t far off in college basketball and this basketball season is shaping up to be everything the football season wasn’t.
The conference has six ranked teams, five of which are in the top 13. Both of those numbers are most of any conference in the country.
Illinois and Michigan are still unbeaten with Minnesota, Indiana and Ohio State all with one loss and Michigan State joining Iowa with two losses.
The Wolverines have the highest ranking (2), but the Hoosiers were the top team in the country until suffering an overtime loss to Butler last weekend. It still seems that Indiana is the best team in the Big Ten, but things should really be up for grabs this conference season.
There really seems to be about seven or eight teams that could all contend for the conference title, but the big guns seem to be Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan State.
Which one is most likely to come out on top?
I said before that I don’t think the Spartans have the talent and consistency to win the Big Ten this year. They just seem to play to the level of their competition, and that is a dangerous game when three losses in conference could take you out of the race.
I think Michigan has the talent, but they are still young and still have to have some concerns about defending in the paint. Glenn Robinson III is actually leading the team in rebounding at 6.5 per game. Jordan Morgan will need more of a presence inside. He is averaging just 4.8 boards per game right now.
So, who do you see winning the Big Ten this season? I am sticking with the preseason favorite, Indiana, because Tom Crean has slowly built the program into a solid team with strong depth. The Hoosiers can attack inside and out and have a competent coach leading the way.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Early thoughts on Michigan State's basketball season

Michigan State is off to an 8-2 start through 10 games.
Given some of the tough opponents early on, I think that is a pretty reasonable mark for the Spartans at this point in the season.
MSU handed Kansas its only loss of the season, and the two losses for the Spartans have come against 1-loss Miami and 2-loss Connecticut.
Still, Michigan State has had some shaky performances, with the narrow wins over Boise State and Lafayette coming to mind.
As a team, it is still quite hard to say what Michigan State is. At times they have looked brilliant. Other times they have looked awful.
It won’t surprise me if MSU ends up being a team that plays to the level of its competition throughout Big Ten play.
I don’t think the Spartans will get blown out, but I don’t see them having the all-around talent to light up many teams in the conference either.
Gary Harris has been as good as Michigan State could hope for from a true freshman. He is second on the team in scoring (13 ppg) and shooting 53.3% from the field. MSU was a noticeably different team when he was not playing due to a shoulder injury.
Keith Appling has been the team leader, which was expected. He is averaging 14.6 points per game and also leading the team in assists, with 45. Appling has still had his rough moments on the floor, though, and I am not completely sold that he is a players capable of leading MSU to a championship.
I do give credit to the development of Adreian Payne. He has been more impactful than I expected and he is also shooting 89.5 percent from the charity stripe, which is a great stat for a man of his size.
The Spartans have the potential to be great, but they face an uphill climb in the Big Ten. The majority of games in conference play will be a battle and the Spartans are relying on some young talent to be durable throughout the season.
The key to the season will be in leadership, and whether or not Appling can handle to the role of the go-to player. We all know he can score, but being a leader is about more than that.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Early thoughts on Michigan's basketball season

Michigan has gotten off to an 8-0 start this basketball season and the Wolverines have looked pretty good in the process.
The Wolverines haven’t faced the toughest competition, but they also haven’t played a cake schedule. In recent years, wins over Pittsburgh and Kansas State would carry more weight than they do this year. N.C. State was ranked 18th at the time, so that still is a good win, relatively speaking.
Everyone knew what Michigan had in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Those two have lived up to expectations thus far, with Burke average 17 points and 7.1 assists per game and Hardaway chipping in with 15.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
Many also knew of Michigan’s talented freshmen that were coming in, led by Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary.
What has been somewhat surprising is the play of another freshman, Nik Stasukas.
Stauskas is currently third on the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game and he is shooting an amazing 63.6% from 3-point land (21 of 33).
With McGary being a little slow out of the gates, Stauskas has picked up the slack and made Michigan into more of a dangerous team that first projected.
We have to assume that Stauskas will cool off at some point, but we can also expect McGary to improve. The key, either way, is that Michigan has a lot of scoring options this year.
With Robinson III’s 13.9 points per game, Michigan has four players averaging double figures in scoring. Outside of those four players, the Wolverines still have contributors like Jordan Morgan and McGary.
Right now the Wolverines are third in the nation in shooting at 52.1 percent. It would be hard to see them continuing to shoot that well. But, unlike past seasons, it appears Michigan won’t have to rely on shooting well from the outside to win games, which is why it is fair to call Michigan one of the best teams in the country right now.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thoughts on Michigan's & MSU's bowl game

The bowl schedule was announced on Sunday night and Michigan and Michigan State both found out their bowl matchup.
Here is my thought on both contests.

Outback Bowl
Michigan vs. South Carolina
If Michigan had to be matched up against a top SEC team, South Carolina is the best option.
There is no doubt that the Gamecocks have an amazing defense. They allowed just 17.4 points per game this year, which ranks 13th in the county. But South Carolina’s offense is not that strong and the Gamecocks will be without running back Marcus Lattimore, who is their best player.
Even with Lattimore, the Gamecocks were held to just 11 points by Florida and 21 by LSU. The Michigan defense should be able to keep the Wolverines in this game, especially with Greg Mattison getting a month to prepare for the game.
The real question will be how much can the Michigan offense score against South Carolina? This will be a great physical test for the offensive line and the Gamecocks should be able to match Michigan’s offensive speed with their back seven.
The Wolverines will also face a great challenge in stopping sophomore defensive end, Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney has 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss this year and has the ability to take over a game. It will be interesting to see how often he lines up across Michigan tackle, Taylor Lewan, and who wins those battles.
Ultimately, it wouldn’t surprise me if this game rivals last year’s Sugar Bowl or this year’s MSU vs. Michigan game. I don’t expect a ton of scoring, but both teams should have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
Michigan State vs. TCU
I also don’t think TCU is a terrible matchup for the Spartans to get for a bowl game.
The Horned Frogs have a similar build, with a defense that is better than the offense. TCU doesn’t have as good of a defense as Michigan State, but it does have a better offense.
The Frogs are scoring just under 30 points per game this season while allowing 23.1 points per contest on defense. What TCU does well is defend the run. It is currently 10th in the nation in fewest rushing yards allowed, just two spots behind the Spartans.
What this means is that this game will ultimately come down to whether or not Andrew Maxwell can make the big throws.
MSU can’t expect Le’Veon Bell to take over the game, so Maxwell will have to convert third-down throws and be accurate with his deep balls. He will also have to avoid turnovers. The Horned Frogs have an impressive 21 interceptions this season.
With a little under a month to get ready for this game and no other game to look ahead to, I would hope the Spartans get creative in their preparation and open up the playbook for this game.
We have seen the development of the receivers throughout the season and it is clear there are some playmakers there. The offensive line will be as healthy as it can be given who is available, so if MSU is going to finally break through with its passing game, this would be the time.
It will likely be a close game once again for MSU, but this game is certainly one the Spartans can win.