Welcome to The Ciskie Blog's 2008 College Football Preview. As usual, you can expect a rundown of every Division I-A (or "Football Bowl Subdivision", if you prefer) conference, as well as a brief look at the independents. Some of the information used to compile these previews came from various football preview publications that I took the time to review this summer. I give a full endorsement to Phil Steele's College Football Preview (the national edition, as well as his various regional magazines). I also have looked at Sporting News, Athlon Sports, and Blue Ribbon (via ESPN Insider). Information was also gathered from local newspapers and school websites. Please use the comments section or e-mail for feedback, questions, and any corrections you feel need to be noted.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Last year: 7-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten (T-7th)
Postseason: Lost to Boston College, 24-21, in Champs Sports Bowl
In good shape
Offensive backfield. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio had a heckuva first year at the helm, thanks in large part to the work of his offensive backfield. QB Brian Hoyer emerged as a very good player who ran his offense efficiently. However, four of his 11 picks were thrown in the Champs Sports Bowl loss. It's a performance Hoyer is more than capable of rebounding from, even without favorite target Devin Thomas. In the backfield, Jehuu Caulcrick has moved on, but Javon Ringer returns, fresh off a 1,447-yard performance. Caulcrick scored all the touchdowns (21), but Ringer is a very dangerous player if he's healthy (a problem in the past). As long as Dantonio can find a short-yardage back to take pressure off Ringer, the offense should continue to click. I'm not sure it can average 33 points per game again, but it also shouldn't have to score that much.
Pass defense. Yikes. Talk about Jekyll and Hyde. The Spartans held three opponents under 100 yards passing (Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and Iowa - though the Hawkeyes managed to win, anyway). However, Michigan State gave up large chunks of yardage just too often to be effective on defense. They allowed nearly 300 pass yards to Bowling Green. Wisconsin threw for nearly 250 against them, which is saying something because Wisconsin didn't throw all that well a year ago. Northwestern topped 500 yards and beat MSU in overtime. Purdue nearly hit 350 yards, and Boston College got to 250. The overall numbers (58 percent completions, 220 yard average, 40 sacks) aren't terrible, but consistency will be an issue again. This isn't all on the secondary, either. The Spartans didn't get enough pass rush in Big Ten play, posting just 16 sacks in eight league games. That has to improve, because while the Big Ten isn't exactly loaded with great quarterbacks, there's enough talent and experience to burn a team that doesn't get great coverage and doesn't generate enough pass rush.
I like Hoyer's leadership, and I think this offense is going to be generally very good. They run well, and Hoyer throws well. The key to this team will be the defense. Starting LBs Greg Jones and Eric Gordon return, as do CBs Kendell Davis-Clark and Chris Rucker. There are a lot of "ifs" on defense as they search for consistency, especially up front, where MSU has three new defensive line starters.
The schedule doesn't offer much bend, as Sparty opens at California. The Golden Bears figure to be vastly improved after a disastrous finish to their 2007 season. They also get to meet a dangerous Florida Atlantic team, and you know Notre Dame will be better this year. Dantonio did a great job to get MSU to a bowl game in his first season, but finding a way to sneak them into a second straight one might be a more impressive feat.