2014 Recap: For a team expecting to be involved in the College Football Playoff at the end of the season, the 2014 campaign was a disappointment after falling short of its ultimate goal. But the Spartans, who finished 11-2, have nothing to be ashamed of from last season.
The only two losses the Spartans suffered came against Oregon and Ohio State, the two teams that competed for the national championship at the end of the season. Those are two pretty significant losses. Michigan State’s offense improved greatly from last season to this season, ranking in the top ten nationally in scoring while averaging 43 points per game. It had a plethora of offensive weapons with Connor Cook throwing for more than 3,000 yards, Tony Lippett leading the Big Ten in receiving yards and Jeremy Langford eclipsing 1,500 yards on the ground. Coupled with one of the Big Ten’s best defenses, the Spartans packed a great one-two punch.
Although Mark Dantonio and the Spartans didn’t compete in the Big Ten championship game, it was the fourth time in the past five seasons the team has reached double-digits in the win column, going 15-1 in conference games the past two seasons.
High Point: There were several important wins for the Spartans last season along with many high-scoring affairs, but none topped Michigan State’s performance in the final game of the season. Down 41-21 entering the fourth quarter against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, Connor Cook lead the Spartans’ offense to three touchdowns while the defense held Bryce Petty and the Bears scoreless to post a 42-41 comeback win. It was a satisfying victory against a quality opponent, something Dantonio and the Spartans failed to get in the regular season.
Jeremy Langford finished the game with 162 yards and three touchdowns while Cook threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns in the contest with both touchdown passes coming in the final quarter.
The offense was impressive in the come-from-behind win, but more important was the play of the defense, which held the nation’s most productive offense scoreless in the final quarter to give the Spartans an opportunity to win. Michigan State didn’t play for a national title last season, but the Cotton Bowl performance was as great a performance as we’ve seen from the Spartans under Dantonio.
Low Point: Although it wasn’t a bad loss for the Spartans, the defeat at the hands of Ohio State in front of a home crowd eliminated Michigan State from any shot at a Big Ten title and an opportunity to potentially play for a national championship.
It was an uncharacteristic performance for Michigan State, which got involved in an offensive shootout with the Buckeyes. The Spartans were able to force two turnovers in the game, but J.T. Barrett’s 300 passing yards along with Ezekiel Elliott’s 154 yards on the ground were too much for the Spartans to handle.
Michigan State had 11 penalties in the game and converted just 8 of its 15 third downs in the contest. The 49 points were the most Michigan State’s defense had allowed since a 2010 Capital One Bowl loss to Alabama in 2010.
Best Player: Realistically this title could’ve been given to several different players on the Michigan State roster with a legitimate argument. But the best player, and the one who made Cook’s job easiest, was senior wide receiver Tony Lippett. In 2014, he caught 65 passes (30 more than any other receiver for the Spartans) for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Against some of the better defenses, Lippett had trouble being quite as effective, but his presence on the field opened plenty of opportunities for other receivers.
Lippett put up some of his best numbers early in the Big Ten season, particularly in the month of October, totaling 468 yards and three touchdowns in wins over Nebraska, Purdue, Indiana and Michigan. In each of those four games, Lippett had more than 100 yards receiving.
2015 Outlook: The big question will be how Michigan State’s defense performs with outstanding defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi taking control of Pitt in 2015. Under his direction, Michigan State consistently harbored one of the nation’s top defenses, ranking in the top ten nationally in points allowed three times.
Offensively, the Spartans lose top receivers in Lippett and Keith Mumphrey as well as one of the conference’s top backs in Jeremy Langford. Heisman candidate quarterback Connor Cook will be back under center for Dantonio but without as much talent to help him out. It’ll be a question as to how good he can be in 2015.
Overall, 2015 may be a bit of a rebuilding year for Michigan State. It’ll still be atop the conference standings but will have trouble competing with Ohio State and Penn State with plenty of inexperience on both sides of the football.
With Dantonio at the helm you never know what to expect from the Spartans, but its hard to imagine this team having a legitimate shot at the Big Ten without some of its best playmakers.