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14 Teams in 14 Days: Michigan State Spartans

Nov 2, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (18) celebrates a touchdown during the 2nd half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. MSU won 29-6. Photo: Image by Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

14 Teams in 14 Days: Michigan State Spartans

By Justin Garcia. CREATED Aug 22, 2014

2013 was the year the Spartans had finally turned the corner.  Defeating in-state rival Michigan had become less and less of a chore in recent years as Mark Dantonio's group had won five of the past six meetings between the two schools.

More than that, Michigan State had established itself as one of the top teams in the B1G Ten for well over a decade before the breakthrough 2013 campaign.  

When the smoke cleared, Michigan State had made it to their first Rose Bowl in 26 years - knocking off Stanford - and found themselves checking in at #3 in the final AP Poll for the 2013 season.

While Sparty figured to factor into the B1G Ten Eastern Division race, an injury to Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller now arguably makes them the favorite to win the division and defend their B1G Ten crown in the conference championship game.

OFFENSE

Junior quarterback Connor Cook returns to lead the offense, fresh off back-to-back 300 yard passing games against Ohio State and Stanford.  While Michigan State has never been known as "Quarterback University" Cook now joins a growing list of Spartan signal callers who have advanced to the NFL in recent years (Drew Stanton, Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins).

At Running back, Jeremy Langford became the first Spartan back since Lorenzo White to notch six-straight 100-yard games.  He lead the team with 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2013.  Already the fastest player on the team, Langford added five pounds of muscle to help him out between the tackles in 2014.  Joining Langford in the backfield is sophomore Delton Williams (6-1, 232 lbs) and senior Nick Hill (5-8, 197 lbs).  Expect incoming freshman Madre London to get some work as well.

The 2014 Spartans feature the deepest group of receivers since Dantonio has been in East Lansing.  Tony Lippett emerged as Cook's favorite target in 2013 and he returns for his senior season.  He's joined by Aaron Burbridge who suffered through an injury plagued 2013 season.  The real breakout possibilities come with sophomore R.J. Shelton and junior DeAnthony Arnett.  Both drew rave reviews in spring drills.

Up front, left tackle sophomore left tackle Jack Conklin failed to allow a sack in 2013, earning freshman All-American honors.  He's joined by center Jack Allen and left guard Travis Jackson.  The right side of the line isn't a weakness but its not as strong as the left.  Former left tackle Donovan Clark makes the move to right tackle, while right guard is up for grabs between senior Connor Kruse and sophomore Kodi Kieler.

DEFENSE

The strength of the defense comes up front.  The front seven is as good as they come in the B1G Ten, lead by reigning defensive lineman of the year Shilique Calhoun.  Calhoun lead the B1G Ten in sacks in 2013 and is the early favorite to win the conference's defensive player of the year honors.  Joining Calhoun up front at defensive end is four year starter Marcus Rush.  Demetrius Cooper, Malik McDowell and Lawrence Thomas all figure to factor in on the line as well.

The front-four leads the way in this front seven as linebacker is the biggest question mark this team faces in 2014.  Senior Taiwan Jones moves from the outside to the inside, meaning the starting three will have an entirely different look in 2014.  Joining Jones are juniors Darien Harris and Ed Davis Jr, while Riley Bullough, Shane Jones and Jon Reschke are all waiting in the wings.

Cornerback Trae Waynes and safety Kurtis Drummond return to the defensive secondary, but the big task for Michigan State is replacing All-American Darqueze Dennard and All-Conference safety Isaiah Lewis.  

SCHEDULE

8/29 vs JACKSONVILLE STATE
9/6 @ Oregon
9/20 vs EASTERN MICHIGAN
9/27 vs WYOMING
10/4 vs NEBRASKA
10/11 @ Purdue
10/18 @ Indiana
10/25 vs MICHIGAN
11/8 vs OHIO STATE
11/15 @ Maryland
11/22 vs RUTGERS
11/29 @ Penn State

They avoid Wisconsin and Iowa out of the West, but Sparty has Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State on their slate with the November 8th matchup with the Buckeyes figuring to decide who represents the East in the B1G Ten championship game.  However when you talk about Michigan State's schedule in 2014 you have to mention the week 2 matchup in Eugene with the Oregon Ducks - a potential bowl preview.

FORECAST

They've conquered their in-state rival Michigan five out of the last six times and have an easy non-conference schedule, with one glaring exception.  The Braxton Miller injury though is huge as Sparty figures to be the biggest benefactor from that loss.  Look for the Spartans to make yet another trip to Indianapolis come the first week of December.