Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, December 4, 2013
There?s a lot to like about Michigan State and its chances to beat Ohio State in the league title tilt and win the Big Ten championship. The biggest hope is a killer defense. Here are 10 reasons why the Spartans can win the conference and go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season.
1. The Spartans can pound the rock. But when the season began, no one was sure who was gonna be the primary ball carrier with Le?Veon Bell gone early to the NFL. There was a time in the spring when Mark Dantonio felt Riley Bullough, a converted linebacker, was gonna be the guy. Remember that? Jeremy Langford has emerged as a workhorse, running for over 100 yards in the last seven games. The 6-0, 206-pound junior has rushed 245 times for 1,210 yards and 16 carries. If MSU can feed Langford, that will shorten the game and keep the ball away from Ohio State?s potent attack.
2. Defense. Michigan State?s is the best in America. Look at the numbers: No. 1 in the Big Ten in total defense (237.7 ypg); No. 1 in scoring defense (11.8 ppg); No. 1 in rushing defense (64.8 ypg); No. 1 in pass-efficiency defense (91.8). Get the picture? The line is strong enough and talented enough to get off blocks and tackle Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. That will be key. Keep an eye on end Shilique Calhoun.
3. Chip on the shoulder. The moment this Big Ten title game matchup was hatched, the Spartans have heard America yammer on and on about what has to happen for Ohio State to reach the BCS title game. But what about Michigan State? This fixation on the Buckeyes surely will fuel MSU. Count on the coaches using the timeless but always effective ?lack of respect? card.
Listen to the Michigan State's Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard and Connor Cook:
4. Hunger. Mark Dantonio has been a man on a mission since taking over this program in 2007. His mission: Taking the Spartans to the Rose Bowl. Twenty-six seasons have passed since that magical 1987 season led by George Perles. Not counting Big Ten newbie Nebraska, the only league schools with longer Rose Bowl droughts are Minnesota and Indiana. Amazing, isn?t it? The Spartans want to end this dry spell-now.
5. Connor Cook. I never thought I?d type this back in August. But Cook has emerged as the unquestioned signal-caller. Early in the season, this position was a mess. Andrew Maxwell? Tyler O?Connor? Damion Terry? Every possible option was used or heavily considered. Cook finally took hold, and is slowly transitioning from game manager to playmaker. He has 17 touchdown tosses and just four picks, earning some postseason all-league honors.
6. Special teams. The Spartans have one of the Big Ten?s top kicker-punter tandems in Michael Geiger and Mike Sadler. Sadler averages 42.4 yards per boot and is adept at placement with 29 punts inside the 20-yard line. Geiger arrived as the nation?s most touted kicking prospect by some recruiting services and has delivered, nailing 12-of-13 field-goal attempts. Kid has a big leg, drilling all six of his attempts from between 40-49 yards with a long of 49. If this game comes down to a battle for field position or nailing a big kick, Michigan State is in good shape.
7. Playing loose. What does Michigan State have to lose? Exactly nothing. Ohio State is the team that?s favored. Ohio State is the team with pressure on it. Ohio State is the team that sits on the precipice of the BCS title game. The Spartans? They are just along for the ride, right? Right.
8. Back seven. There is no better collection of linebackers and defensive backs in the nation. Three players in the secondary earned All-Big Ten, led by cornerback Darqueze Dennard, who was named the league?s defensive back of the year. Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond are a formidable safety duo. Max Bullough and Denicos Allen were all-league honorees.
Listen to Coach Urban Meyer and Coach Mark Dantonio:
9. O-line. The unit never really came together in 2012, thanks largely to injury. But the group has been an unabashed strength this season. In fact, it has been the most consistent and strongest area of the offense, led by the likes of guard Jack Allen, tackle Jack Conklin and guard Blake Treadwell.
10. Momentum. Since the excruciating 17-13 loss at Notre Dame, the Spartans have ripped off eight victories in a row. This is a team on a roll as it arrives in Indianapolis, sporting its own sense of invincibility. How good has MSU been? It has won each Big Ten game by double-digits.
|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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