I meant to get to this yesterday, but 'tis the season for other activities besides blogging about sports.
The Spartans played significantly better in the second half of yesterday's game, as I expected they would, and beat Texas, 67-56. Derrick Nix had a career day.
Heading into the Big Ten season, Michigan and Indiana are clearly playing better than anyone in the conference, but who knows what will happen once these twelve teams start beating up on each other.
The Spartans are playing tough, Tom Izzo defense, which may make up for the team's eyesore of an offense. The key to their success offensively may be how well Nix and Payne play in the paint, as well as Branden Dawson. Perimeter shooting looks like it will be inconsistent, unless Gary Harris continues to gain confidence throughout the season and can gain a consistent shot. But good defense can go a long way, and that could carry this team. Realistically, I don't see the Spartans winning the Big Ten this year, but I certainly won't count them out.
I never got around to a football recap.
I know the season isn't over yet, with the Spartans soon heading to Arizona to play in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but by then the college basketball season will be about to get into full swing, and I may not want to write about football.
The Spartans' season was a disappointment, there is no denying. I didn't make any predictions before the season started because, honestly, I had no idea what to expect. However, I thought 8-4 or 9-3 were realistic expectations: a step back from 2010 and 2011, but not too far of a drop off. I didn't expect 6-6. When you get right down to it, this is still Michigan State football. The program has not yet reached the point where it can simply reload each season and one can automatically pencil in at least 8 or 9 wins.
Despite the 6-6 season, MSU really had a pretty darned good team this year. It wasn't one of those 6-6 records of past MSU seasons in which at least a few of the losses were blowouts. The Spartans lost five Big Ten games by a combined 13 points. The only game MSU lost by more than four points was the non-conference game against Notre Dame. The final score of that particular contest was 20-3, but the outcome swung on a few phenomenal offensive plays by Everett Golson. The game was closer than the final score indicates and, by the way, the Fighting Irish went undefeated this season and are playing for the national championship.
Still, great teams make the one or two plays necessary to seize victory from the jaws of defeat, and too often this season MSU was unable to make those plays. They were a competitive .500 team, and that's about it.
Along the way, the Spartans had a few quality wins. In retrospect, MSU's opening day win over Boise State may be the best one. The Broncos only lost one more game the rest of the season en route to an 11-2 record and a Maaco Bowl win over Washington. MSU's other impressive win was the improbable overtime road nailbiter over Big Ten Rose Bowl representative Wisconsin. Granted, the Badgers lost their starting quarterback in that game, but the Spartans thoroughly shut down Montee Ball and James White. The Badgers came into that game having won 22 straight home games until the Spartans beat them.
The Spartans' defense was absolutely great this season, but the team's downfall was without a doubt offense and special teams. Though Andrew Maxwell did an adequate job at quarterback, Kirk Cousins may go down as one of the top two or three quarterbacks to ever play at Michigan State.
We (fans and the media) thoroughly underestimated how difficult it would be to replace Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham, Keith Nichol and Edwin Baker. MSU has produced so many outstanding receivers over the years, I took it for granted that this year's crop would just step in and not miss a beat. That didn't happen.
Keshawn Martin has athleticism and kick return capabilities that were sorely missed on this year's team. (MSU always seemed to get very little from kick returns this season and often started possessions with poor field position). B.J. Cunningham and Keith Nichol had sure hands and always seem to make big catches when they were needed the most. Keith Nichol was also an exceptionally good blocker. Edwin Baker, despite his fumbling problems, had speed on the edges that Le'Veon Bell simply doesn't have. Baker was sorely missed in short yardage situations.
Le'Veon Bell had a great year at running back, but unfortunately nobody else stepped up as a viable second back. I expected either Larry Caper or Nick Hill to complement Bell, but that never happened.
The inexperienced receivers got off to a rocky start, but improved throughout the year. Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery each finished the season with 41 catches. Aaron Burbridge and Tony Lippett both had good seasons too, and Dion Sims was excellent at tight end. Sims may be in the NFL next season, but Fowler, Mumphery, Burbridge, and Lippett will all be back, so the receiver position should have a lot of depth in 2013. I just hope that DeAnthony Arnett can get things straightened out on and off the field, and that if Sims doesn't return, the Spartans have viable alternatives at tight end.
Dan Conroy also was not quite as good in 2012 as he had been in 2011. He was perfect on PATs for the second consecutive season, but only 22 of 31 on field goal attempts compared to 18 for 24 in 2011.
Basically, MSU's defense was just as good if not better in 2012 than 2011, but offense and special teams took a big step back. It added up to a disappointing 6-6 record, but a win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl would end the season on a bright note and give some hope for 2013.