Can Michigan State Repeat As Big Ten Champs?
Michigan State enters the 2014 season with a bullseye on its back.
The Spartans are the reigning, defending conference champions, and took that momentum into the Rose Bowl to capture the prestigious bowl honors for the first time since 1988.
College football introduces its first playoff system this season, and the Spartans will have an eye on being one of those four teams, but they'll first have to make it through one of the toughest divisions in all of college football — the Big Ten East.
The new division alignments will make it difficult to repeat as conference champions.
Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are all in the newly-minted East Division. Also, the Spartans have to battle the Nebraska Cornhuskers of the West. They will have to run the guantlet just to get back to the conference title game.
The question becomes can they stun the conference again and repeat as champions?
Yes, but only if Connor Cook has a stellar season.
Head coach Mark Dantonio is a defensive-minded coach, and it really showed in the 2013 season. His defense led the team. It was what allowed the Spartans to get to Pasadena. The loss of Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis will hurt the secondary.
The 2013 defense allowed Cook to develop as a quarterback. They bailed him out, and assisted in giving him short fields with which to work. In 2014, Cook has to step up and lead. If he can, the Spartans will have a chance to return to Indianapolis in the conference title game.
2014 is all about upping the offensive production for the Spartans. They were 82nd in passing yards, 58th in rushing yards and 65th in points scored. MSU will not turn in to an up-tempo, no-huddle squad, but they must improve production to deal with the loss of defensive stars in a conference with improved quarterback play.
The trek toward Indianapolis starts Oct. 4 against Nebraska as Michigan State open conference play with a very important game.
It will be an uphill battle for Michigan State to repeat as conference champions in 2014, but the talent is on the roster to do just that. Cook will have to shoulder the expectations and lead in the upcoming season. It is on him.