- Rod Gilmore, College Football analyst
From May 27-July 3, Insider's college football experts will preview the season for the 25 teams with the best chance to make the inaugural College Football Playoff, based on Brian Fremeau's post-spring projections. This is the entry for the Michigan State Spartans.
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Projected finish: 9-3 (6-2)
Chance to make playoff: 14 percent
Chance to win Big Ten: 26 percent
Toughest games: Sept. 13 at Oregon (24 percent chance of winning), Nov. 8 vs. Ohio State (55 percent), Nov. 29 at Penn State (68 percent)
Why they will make the playoff
1. Best defense in college football
You could make a pretty strong argument that Michigan State has had the best overall defense in college football over the past three seasons.
Statistically, the Spartans have been ridiculously good, racking up three straight top-six finishes in total defense, three straight top-10 finishes in scoring defense and three straight top-10 finishes in rush defense.
However, as impressive as those stats might be, the Spartans are even more impressive on film. This is a physical, fast defense that plays with an attitude. They're not complicated from a schematic standpoint -- mostly because they're so good they don't need to be -- but that doesn't diminish their effectiveness. After turning down a couple of head coaching offers, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is still around to operate an aggressive scheme that features eight or nine men near the line of scrimmage and dares opponents to beat his defensive backs in single coverage (and the occasional quarters zone).
The Spartans have lost a lot of talent on defense (they welcome back just five starters) including first-round pick CB Darqueze "No Fly Zone" Dennard and two key linebackers. But there is plenty of depth, speed and attitude left on this defense. Defensive linemen Marcus Rush and Shilique Calhoun represent perhaps the best pass rush tandem in the Big Ten, and Demetrius Cooper could be a breakout player of the year as a third down sack specialist.
The bottom line: Don't expect anything less from this defense than it has given the past three years.
The Michigan Spartans may have the country's best defense, but Connor Cook must continue his improvement at quarterback. Can Sparty make the inaugural College Football Playoff?