Michigan State enjoyed a dream season in 2013, finishing 13-1 with a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.
Now, over two months removed from that season, the Spartans have began reaping the benefits. They wrapped up one of the best recruiting classes in the conference after National Signing Day.
Now as fans look to the 2014 season, there are a lot of reasons to be excited. Here is a breakdown on why the Spartans will once again reign as Big Ten Champs in 2014.
* * *
Michigan State will return a handful of key pieces from last year’s team, a large amount coming from the offensive end.
Quarterback Connor Cook showed great strides at the end of last season, winning MVP in both the Big Ten Championship Game and in the Rose Bowl. A potential quarterback competition with redshirt freshman Damion Terry in the offseason would only speed up his development.
Jeremy Langford returns after a breakout sophomore season, where he rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The receiving core looks to continue their improvement with Tony Lippett, Macgarrett Kings Jr, Aaron Burbridge, Keith Mumphery and tight end Josiah Price all returning. They all combined for over 1,800 yards receiving last season.
On the defensive side, there will be more holes to fill. But there are some key players from last year looking to lead the group to similar success.
* * *
Pat Narduzzi Stays as Defensive Coordinator
After producing yet another top-ranked defense in 2013, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi received a lot of attention from schools looking to fill head coaching vacancies.
After spurning Connecticut and Louisville, Narduzzi returns to coach what has become one of the best defensive programs in the country.
Although the Spartans are losing some premier talent from last year’s squad, Narduzzi has always been able to fill holes with more than capable players.
Take 2012 starting corner Johnny Adams for example.
Adams was a three-year starter and a three-time All-Big Ten selection. He was considered a top-ten Michigan State corner of all time, and replacing him was a big worry.
Fast-forward a year, and everybody seems to have entirely forgotten about Adams. That is because Darqueze Dennard stepped into Adams’ role and thrived. He won the Jim Thorpe Award which is annually given to the nation’s top corner.
The point is that Narduzzi fits players into his mold of defense.
* * *
With Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten in 2014, the divisions within the conference have gone under a bit of realigning.
Michigan State is no longer part of the Legends Division, but the East Division. Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers join the Spartans in the East.
Michigan State will now have to play both Penn State and Ohio State in their conference schedules, seemingly making things harder.
However, the Spartans get Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska all at home this season, and Michigan State has defended home-field advantage well under Mark Dantonio.
The week two game at Oregon will be a tough matchup between great offense and great defense, but as that has no bearing on a Big Ten title, Michigan State still looks like the favorite to win the crown again.
Dan Tyler is the host of Spartan Red Zone for Impact Sports.
Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports