East Lansing is the site of our next “Big Ten Tour”. We know what our rivals have been up to, but we don’t really know what is going on from an inside perspective. The purpose of BTT is to interview writers who are closely connected with their respective programs from around the conference. It’s always good to know your opponent and what people who cover them have to say.
Scout.com’s (Spartan Digest) Mike Wilson took some time to chat with me about the upcoming Spartan season.
JH: With Andrew Maxwell back as the starting quarterback after a four-man competition, can MSU be more successful offensively with him this season? Will others play?
Wilson: To be blunt, Andrew Maxwell can only be better than last season. That is centered in part on what is around him. The wide receivers that struggled last year are much improved as is the offensive line. The experience he gained in starting 13 games last year has been a focal point of why he earned the start , too. That said, he has to show he can move the ball and make some big throws early this season to hold the job. Sophomore Connor Cook is going to play, while redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor and freshman Damion Terry have been told to be ready. I think there will be a short-ish leash on Maxwell early and others will have the chance to overtake him if he isn’t the answer. I do think he has the tools to be successful, which he showed in brief flashes last year.
JH: MSU has to replace quite a bit of talent, someone in particular that comes to mind is LeVeon Bell. Is there a competition there at running back as well?
Wilson: That competition is a little less because the coaches established early it would be a by committee backfield. Ideally, someone will emerge as the go-to and clear No. 1, but for now it’s going to be two or three guys getting carries. Junior Jeremy Langford will start after a great fall camp. It looks like he will share the backfield with Riley Bullough early and it is possible that either freshman (either Delton Williams or Gerald Holmes) is in the mix. Nick Hill brings the most experience back (not much) and he could factor in, too.
JH: It’s not exactly a secret that the Michigan State receivers had problems catching the football last season. What is being done to remedy this issue?
Wilson: The talk around the wide receivers is now there is a knowledge of the offense that was lacking last year. The lack of knowledge last year translated to not running good routes, not being in the right places, bad timing and just not making plays. It sounds like those inexperienced guys from last year now have an understanding and feel ready to make plays. In the first scrimmage, they had just one drop, so that is a good sign.
JH: Are there any players in particular on the offensive and defensive side of the football that have stuck out to you? How about the freshman, have there been anyone you would consider as a contributor day one?
Wilson: Redshirt freshman Jack Conklin has been the buzz of fall camp. He didn’t have a scholarship at this time last year, but now is projected to start at left tackle. That’s huge for MSU. Also a redshirt freshman, Demetrious Cox should do big things this year. He was a top recruit two years ago and almost played last year. The two freshman drawing the most hype in camp were cornerback Darian Hicks and defensive end Demetrius Cooper. Both are at positions of depth, so it isn’t likely they see the field and Cooper has to bulk up, but they will be big in the future. Kicker Michael Geiger and linebackers Jon Reschke and Shane Jones looked to be the likely ones to play, but Hicks is at the top of that list now as he is at the No. 2 field corner spot. Pat Narduzzi said Hicks is the No. 4 corner right now.
JH: What are some key question marks you have with this Spartan team that you want to see answered?
Wilson: Well, like everyone else, quarterbacks. Maxwell is known, but figures to improve, but there is a lot of talent behind him. To me, I point back to running backs. Losing Le’Veon Bell is a big deal that we won’t know the impact of until the season opens. It doesn’t appear MSU will be able to replace or come close to his production with one player, so it will fall on the shoulders of a few. I do want to see who steps up and tries to become “the guy” early, though.
JH: Talk about your expectations you have for this Spartan team this season.
Wilson: An improvement on last season is an obvious expectation. To struggle to make a bowl game would be a tremendous disappointment in back-to-back years after two 11-win seasons. I think this team has the potential to win around 10 games, though. The defense is solid and reportedly faster and potentially better than last year, which is …. Wow. If the offense can prove consistent and find a way to score 27-30 points per game, 10 wins is not out of the realm of possibilities. The schedule aids that, too. There are eight games on the schedule that should be automatic wins, but MSU lost some of those games last year. I see four tough/toss-up games and how MSU does in those will determine their success.