The Michigan State Spartans enter 2012 with the goal of finally ending their Rose Bowl drought. They came one roughing the punter penalty away from doing just that last season, and now their quest back to the Big Ten Championship Game begins with a new quarterback, Andrew Maxwell.
Although the Spartans did lose a lot of talent from last year's team, they return even more talent. The Spartans are expected to have one of the best defenses in the country, and even though Maxwell is a new starter at quarterback, he will have Le'Veon Bell and a strong running game to lean on. When you put it all together you get a squad that looks like it has the makings of a top-10 team and a team that could once again win a double digit amount of games.
Here's a look at what SB Nation Detroit's writers expect out of the Spartans in 2012:
Brian Packey: 9-3 (5-3)
The Spartans, ranked No. 13 to start the season, are scheduled to play five preseason top 25 teams this year. That's a tall order for most teams, let alone one that lost its quarterback and all of its wide receivers.
New starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell will be able to rely on experienced backs Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper, but how he connects with extremely inexperienced wide receivers will determine just how far this team goes.
The defense remains one of the best in the nation and should help compensate for any weaknesses on offense, but I don't think it will be enough to take the Spartans to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years.
Dave Ryan: 10-2 (6-2)
The Spartans will take a full dose of in-state opponents this season, but they may end up needing their Sept. 8 date with Central Michigan and Sept. 22 game with Eastern Michigan more than they'll ever know. Mark Dantonio's team faces a brutal slate that opens with a sneaky-good Boise State program and ends with an ever-improving Minnesota squad, and they'll have to do it all without the services of former steady-handed quarterback Kirk Cousins, which is no chore.
Defensively there are few better in America (although Alabama may just be one of those few) heading into the season, leaving many of the question marks surrounding the offensive side of the ball. Edwin Baker's decision to go pro opened the door completely for tailback Le'Veon Bell, a 244-pound power back who should have a monster campaign in 2012. But replacing Cousins won't be quite so easy. Junior Andrew Maxwell looks and acts the part as the team's new signal caller, but he's thrown exactly one collegiate touchdown pass and has yet to be thrown to the wolves in a big game. Dantonio's beefed-up program is obviously here to stay at the national level, but a year of breaking in a new quarterback could keep these guys on the outside looking in when it comes to the conference title picture.
Sean Yuille: 10-2 (6-2)
Lots of question marks surround Michigan State's offense, but it doesn't matter a whole lot when you have a defense as talented as the Spartans. They figure to be one of the top defenses in the country, and I expect this unit to lead Michigan State to a 4-0 start to the season (wins over Boise State, Central Michigan, Notre Dame and Eastern Michigan).
While I do have Michigan State slipping up at home against Ohio State, I only see one other loss on the remainder of the schedule (at Wisconsin). It pains me to say this as a Michigan graduate, but I would be surprised if Michigan State doesn't extend its winning streak over the Wolverines. That game will be the difference between winning and losing the Legends Division, and I have Michigan State prevailing and getting another shot at the Rose Bowl.