Why MSU can repeat in the Big Ten

Ample offense, stout D and favorable slate make Spartans league contenders

Updated: April 21, 2014, 1:54 PM ET
By KC Joyner | ESPN Insider

Connor Cook, Mark DantonioGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan State QB Connor Cook and the Spartans are poised to make a run for another Big Ten crown.
The past few seasons have arguably been the golden age of Michigan State Spartans football. The club is coming off a campaign where it became only the third team in Big Ten history to post 13 wins (Minnesota, 1904; Ohio State, 2002) and the first program to win all eight conference games by double-digit points since the league went to an eight-game schedule in 1971. The Green and White have posted 42 victories since 2010, a mark that is the most in the Big Ten during that period.

One sure way to clinch the golden-age mantle would be to post consecutive Big Ten titles for only the second time in school history. So what are the odds the Spartans can do that despite losing 10 starters, including two dominant linebackers (Denicos Allen and Max Bullough) and the Jim Thorpe Award winner for best defensive back in college football (Darqueze Dennard)?

After reviewing the game tape, metrics and recruiting gains, it looks like Michigan State's chances are extremely good to again take the conference title.

Offense

The Spartans are still going to be a defense-centric team, but the collection of talent on offense is more than strong enough to carry its share of the load in 2014.

It starts with quarterback Connor Cook. He progressed quite well last year, as from November through the end of the season, Cook posted a 73.3 Adjusted Total QBR mark that ranked second in the Big Ten in that time frame. Adjusted Total QBR factors in strength of schedule and thus indicates Cook was highly effective even when accounting for the quality of opponent. Coach Mark Dantonio indicated that part of Cook's success is because "He doesn't overthink things. He can let the negative go."