Season Review: Spartans roll to Rose Bowl

No one needed to remind Mark Dantonio of the pain of 2012, when Michigan State finished 7-6 and lost five games by a combined 13 points coming off consecutive 11-win seasons. The Spartans embarked on a redemption tour of sorts in 2013, marching through an 8-0 Big Ten season that saw them win every game by double-figures.

The key: A devastatingly good defense that ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring (12.7 ppg); No. 1 overall (248.2 ypg); No. 1 vs. the run (80.8 ypg); No. 1 vs. the pass (167.4 ypg). Coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s unit was the star of a program that is going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season.

But give props to an offense that looked lost in September only to emerge into a steady force by November behind one of the nation’s most underrated lines to make this one of the greatest seasons in school history.

[ MORE: Final B1G standings | Michigan State's 2013 results | 2013 stats ]

Record: 12-1 overall; 8-0 Big Ten

Bowl: Rose Bowl Game vs. Stanford

High point: The 29-6 mugging of Michigan on Nov. 2 will forever have a place in MSU lore. It was the most lopsided victory in the rivalry for Michigan State since 1967, as the “Spartan Dawg” defense held Michigan to an all-time low minus-48 yards rushing. However, the 34-24 Big Ten championship game triumph over Ohio State deserves the prime spot on the MSU mantle. The Spartans punched their tickets to Pasadena with the win and trashed the Buckeyes’ 24-game winning streak and BCS title game hopes. Connor Cook was game MVP with 304 yards passing and three touchdowns. And the defense stepped up again at key moments to do its part, too. It was an epic night in Michigan State history.

[ MORE: See all of Dienhart's 2013 Big Ten season reviews ]

Low point: A 17-13 loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 21 was exasperating, as Michigan State was hurt by four pass interference penalties—several of which were dubious. Mark Dantonio said afterward he couldn’t recall ever seeing that many P.I.s in a game. “I’ve been coaching 30-plus years, no. Never,” he said. “I guess that’s where we should stop.” MSU also was hurt by a trick-play-gone-bad, as a pass by receiver R.J. Shelton was picked off. After the interception, the Irish drove for the winning points. This was the Spartans’ lone loss in an otherwise perfect season, as the MSU offense had just 254 yards.

Offensive MVP: A case can be made for sophomore QB Connor Cook, who emerged from a muddled quarterback situation to bring stability to the key position en route to throwing for 2,423 yards and 20 touchdowns. But let’s go with RB Jeremy Langford, who was every bit as big a surprise as Cook—and even more productive. The junior ran 269 times for 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns, answering a big question in the backfield after Le’Veon Bell turned pro early. Langford has rushed for more than 100 yards in a school-record eight games in a row.

Defensive MVP: So many great options, including end Shilique Calhoun (7.5 sacks; 14 TFLs) and linebacker Max Bullough (76 tackles; 9.5 TFLs). But CB Darqueze Dennard is the pick. The senior was voted the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and won the Jim Thorpe Award, breaking up 14 passes and generally playing suffocating coverage all season.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Doug on 12/24/2013 @ 9:16pm EDT Said:

nice recap Tom