Preseason Top 25: #13 Michigan State Spartans

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The Preseason AP Top 25 poll won’t come out until later this month, but here at, we’re giving you a Top 25 from a betting perspective. Using power ratings to determine the top 25 teams in college football, readers will have the opportunity to look at what the preseason Top 25 might look like if designed by a bettor. Each article will feature a preview of that team with a write-up for each position and an explanation of why the position group was rated that way and some further insight into the methodology of creating power ratings.

The Methodology: Each team is rated up to 100 with eight different position groups considered. Quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lines, and coaching are graded on a scale of 4 to 15, while running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs are graded on a scale of 4 to 10 in half-point increments.

Groups are rated on returning production, potential, previous performance, and a handful of other variables. Information was gathered from all corners of the college football world, including preseason magazines, websites dedicated to specific teams, national college football websites, and more.

The #13 team on the Preseason Top 25 is the Michigan State Spartans.

Quarterbacks (13/15)

Connor Cook was a lot more than a game manager for the Spartans in his sophomore season at Michigan State. Cook’s completion percentage, 58.7 percent, wasn’t ideal, but the Spartans’ wide receivers corps wasn’t either. He wound up throwing for over 2,700 yards, 22 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He carved up both Ohio State and Stanford in postseason play and set back-to-back career highs for passing yards in a game. There’s not a lot of experience behind Cook, but he gave defenses more to think about than the running game and he should improve even more in his second year as a starter.

Running Backs (8.5/10)

Converted cornerback Jeremy Langford ran for over 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. As a team, the Spartans ran for 4.3 yards per carry, but Langford and backups Nick Hill and Delton Williams actually accumulated 5.04 yards per carry. The slightly pessimistic approach to this rating is because the Spartans lost three starters on the offensive line, so a drop-off could be in the cards. Also, there’s not a lot of help in the receiving game from this group.

Wide Receivers (8/10)

There’s no star in this group and the leading receiver in yardage, Bernie Fowler, graduated. There’s value with this group in how they run block, but there isn’t a big play threat and dropped passes have been a problem for Spartans receivers over the last two seasons. For Big Ten standards, however, it’s certainly a formidable group of players and that plays a role, as it does with all of the teams for creating power ratings. Depending on the production of Tennessee transfer De’Anthony Arnett, this group could be a lot better than people might expect.

Offensive Line (13.5/15)

The Spartans lost three starters from last year’s Rose Bowl winning group and that may play a role early on in the season. Another thing to consider is that the Spartans have only averaged 4.3, 3.9, 3.9, 4.5, and 4.2 yards per carry over the last five seasons. The sack numbers are always fairly low, but they don’t pass much either. This is a solid group, but it’s hardly a dominating one. Some excellent college running backs have come through here lately in Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell to add to the perception of this group. Just something to keep in mind.

Defensive Line (13.5/15)

The interior of this season’s defensive line will have two new starters, but the defensive ends remain the same from a group that was an integral part of the Spartans defense that gave up 2.8 yards per carry. Shilique Calhoun hit the quarterback 18 times from his defensive end position and had 7.5 sacks, while opposite defensive end Marcus Rush added five sacks. An inexperienced back seven could hurt the overall numbers, but Pat Narduzzi, arguably the top defensive coordinator in the country, will fashion another strong front four.

Linebackers (7/10)

Remember that this is a preseason rating before getting angry if you’re a Michigan State fan. The Spartans have to replace Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, two players that combined for 174 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and 20 quarterback hits. Both star players are gone and that’s a substantial loss for the defense. This rating may last one week or several weeks, depending on how the replacements do, but a Week 2 matchup at Oregon will show a lot about this group and it’s understandable to be concerned.

Defensive Backs (7.5/10)

Like the linebacker group, the secondary loses its star player, Darqueze Dennard. Dennard was a first-round pick in the NFL Draft and the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. The second-best player, Isaiah Lewis, is also gone. That’s a lot of production for the Spartans to replace. They will, but it may take some time to do. The Spartans held opponents to a 47.5 percent completion percentage, but the back seven losses are immense and the defense certainly looks weaker overall.

Coaching (15/15)

Time and time again over the last several seasons, Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have outcoached and outfoxed their way to upset wins or dominating defensive performances. Narduzzi could handpick any head coaching position that is available, but he stays by the side of Dantonio as one of the highest paid coordinators in the game. Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman was at Ohio State under Jim Tressel, so he is familiar with the Big Ten and the Spartans did improve offensively in some areas. Dantonio and Narduzzi are a special pair and that’s why they have three 11+ win seasons in the last four years.

Total: 86

Even though the outlook on the defense looked a bit pessimistic, understand that Michigan State is still the second-best team in the Big Ten and this reflects that. There are formulas in these power ratings to determine some of the differences between conferences, so one of the elements that goes into rating these position groups is their relative strength in the conference. Michigan State probably wouldn’t be a one or two-point dog to teams like Auburn and LSU, so keep that in mind, but this is a team whose coaching staff has earned the trust of bettors.

Not to mention, Michigan’s recent struggles and Dantonio’s ability to recruit southern Ohio with ties that he formed during his years at Cincinnati have helped recruiting out a lot and that has infused a lot of talent into the program. How’s this for staying competitive? Michigan State’s last eight losses have been by a combined total of 37 points, including a 17-point loss to Notre Dame in 2012. They play up to their competition and they suffocate lesser teams with defense.

There are some losses, but trust in Mark Dantonio, Pat Narduzzi, and an improving offense led by Connor Cook are enough to have Michigan State firmly in the top 15 at #13.

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Adam Burke

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Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.

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