The 2015 Spartans are going to be a very interesting team for a variety of reasons, many of which I detail in the article but some of which I'd like to break down for you right here.
1. They're going to test the value of the skill player.There are absolutely transcendent running backs and wide receivers out there, but super productive skill players are often more the product of circumstances than extraordinary individual talent. RB Jeremy Langford and WR Tony Lippett were great players to be sure, but might it be relatively straightforward for the Spartans to plug in new athletes without skipping a beat? We'll find out.
2. They are a pro-style offense that knows how to attack defenses.People often think of pro-style systems as being simple and brutish with the offense basically just trying to knock people out of the way. I've probably contributed to that perception by using terms like "manball" and noting that the foundational principle of the spread is to use spacing rather than big bodies in the middle of the field. I stand by that, but none of that means that pro-style teams can't be clever and scheme advantages for their players.
What's more, when a defense faces a cleverly designed pro-style offense they are often at a double disadvantage in that they aren't used to facing either the size/physicality or the specific tactics. The key is that the team be able to be balanced and throw the ball from run-blocking sets and finding the ancillaries needed to make that work is difficult enough that many teams just don't even bother.
Well the Spartans have the tight ends to make this system work.
3. They're going to bring their aggressive "MEG" Cover 4 defense back for another go round with some top spread offenses.Ohio State and Oregon both managed superiority over the the Spartans' supposed "no-fly zone" in 2014 with their passing games and they'll do it again if Dantonio hasn't found a way to adjust. I've written about some things they'll try to do to shore up their defense, it'll be very interesting to see how effective they are.
Most important is the play of their corners, who are likely to be Arjen Colquhoun, a 6'1" 192 pound field corner, and rising star Demetrious Cox a versatile 6'1" 200 pound DB they're going to plug in at boundary cornerback. I happen to think their safeties RJ Williamson and Montae Nicholson are going to cause big problems for opposing teams if they are free to aggressively attack them. The spread teams will go after those two but if Cox and Colquhoun can approach what Waynes and Dennard did two years ago then the Spartans will be pretty tough to outscore.
I'm not sure if the Spartans will ever play the kind of lockdown defense they played in 2013 due to the proliferation of the spread to the north, but if they continue to play "very good defense" and continue to produce balanced offensive attacks like they've had recently than they're going to be very, very good overall.
If it weren't for the presence of Ohio State in the Big 10 I'd probably have Michigan State as one of my favorites for the 2015 playoffs. Even as it is I think they have a chance to get there, it starts with taking vengeance on the Mariota-less Ducks in Lansing on September 12th.