Once again, we have an opponent Q&A with the rival SB Nation blogger. this time Chris Vannini of The Only Colors stops by to talk about the Spartans and our October 19th game.
T-Mill: Welcome back on the schedule! Michigan State is Purdue's one divisional crossover other than Indiana starting next year, so are we supposed to hate you know like Jim Delaney told us to hate Iowa?
Chris: Well, I'm sure the Branden Dawson/Gary Harris feelings can carry over to the gridiron. Just wait until the additions of Maryland and Rutgers that we've been dying for. We'll see each other even less. But hey, you know, stoo-dent-ath-uh-letes. Purdue's always been one of my favorite non-MSU Big Ten football programs. The Joe Tiller teams were really fun to watch. Also unrelated, I miss your previous set of uniforms. They were really, really solid, and I liked the gold alternate. Not enough white in the current set, and I don't like the italic numbers.
T-Mill: You guys have a new offensive coordinator, lost LeVeon Bell, and had an up and down passing game last year. Is there cause for concern?
Chris: There is, but there's also the belief it really can't be any worse. The offense line was decimated, the quarterback wouldn't throw downfield, the receivers couldn't get open or catch and the playcalls were questionable. The offensive line is very experiences, but MSU fans are expecting a player or two to suffer season-ending injuries, as happens every year. If healthy, it should be the best line of the Dantonio era.
The entire receiving corps returns, so they should, theoretically, be better. That should help the quarterback. Dave Warner moves over to co-offensive coordinator / running backs coach / playcaller, and has promised to open things up. The first half of the spring game gave us some new formations and plays, so hopefully it was a sign that they're actively trying to fix things.
T-Mill: On the other hand, the defense was great last year. Is a repeat performance in order?
Chris: It should be. They only lose about three real starters. Guys like Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis are all seniors, and this really could be MSU's best defense yet under Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi. Trae Waynes replaces Johnny Adams at corner. He drew rave reviews by coaches and did well in the bowl game. At linebacker, Taiwan Jones had already unseated Chris Norman by the end of the year and is very good. On the line, Shilique Calhoun replaces Will Gholston and should be an improvement in the pass rush, actually. He's been getting hyped up by the coaches for two years. Inside, former five-star recruit Lawrence Thomas is one of several guys who will probably rotate at tackle. No one sticks out, but there is solid depth there.
The schedule is also more favorable than a year ago, so the stats this MSU defense can put up could be incredible.
T-Mill: What is expected out of Andrew Maxwell at quarterback and who replaces Bell in the backfield to help him?
Chris: The biggest complaint about Maxwell was the reluctancy to throw downfield. Part of that was the receivers not going, part of it was perhaps being a bit skittish in the pocket and part was timing with the receivers. He would wait for someone to be open before throwing, rather than throwing them open. He's got the physical tools to be very good, but if the pieces around him falter, he falters. Some are clamoring for backup Connor Cook. He doesn't have great numbers, but he's better at making something out of nothing, and there was a lot of nothing last year.
T-Mill: Can Michigan State get back to the Big Ten title game after a one-year absence?
Certainly. MSU, Michigan, Northwestern and Nebraska don't face each other until November, so the Legends race should come right down to the end. If MSU can have an average offense and get some breaks, there's no reason to think they can't get back to double-digit wins and make it back to Indianapolis. Given the schedule, anything less than eight wins would have to be considered a major disappointment.
T-Mill: Finally, what are your thoughts on getting paired with the new guys in the new divisional alignment?
Chris: MSU fans wanted to be in the West for a few reasons, but they knew they'd likely be in the East and have accepted it. Being in the West would, for one, seemingly create an easier division schedule, and two, keep the budding rivalry with Wisconsin going. Instead, MSU is in the East with teams that don't really care about it. Michigan and Ohio State will probably win most of the division titles, but MSU will have some years where they'll be right in the running. Had they gone to the West, they would have likely played Michigan every year anyway. The biggest hurdle is finishing above both U-M and OSU. Given the teams in the rest of the division, MSU will have to beat those two if it wants a division title. Can't really count on anyone else to help out. I don't know of there was a perfect fit for MSU anywhere, but to be the best, MSU will have to beat the best.