1. The past two weeks have seen Michigan State give up several fourth-quarter touchdowns against both Nebraska and Purdue, but held on to win both games. Do you see this pattern of fourth-quarter letdowns as a concern going forward for the Spartans, or were there different factors in both games that led to the collapses?
It's definitely a concern, but the more I've thought about it, the more I think two special teams plays were huge factors in the collapses. Against Nebraska, Mike Sadler kicked a line drive punt, and the return coverage was absolutely shoddy. The Cornhuskers get seven points and are back in the game. Against Purdue, Mark Dantonio inexplicably called a fake punt about halfway through the fourth quarter when MSU was up 14. Purdue only needed to go 30 yards for the touchdown, which they did, and they only trailed by one score. If MSU can erase the special teams stupidity, they should be able to make the collapses a thing of the past.
2. Michigan State currently stands at 5-1 and is ranked 8th in the AP poll. This puts them in good position to get consideration for the inaugural College Football Playoff. Other than the home tilt against OSU on Nov. 8, which other games have the potential to trip the Spartans up before the postseason?
MSU's other two home games besides OSU are Michigan and Rutgers, contests the Spartans are unlikely to lose. The two games left on the road besides Indiana this Saturday are Maryland and Penn State. Of all these games I'd say Maryland is the game that I'm currently most scared of. MSU's secondary has had trouble defending the deep ball at times this season, and Stefan Diggs potentially has the ability to have a huge game against the Spartans.
3. The Spartans are known as a defensive-minded team under head coach Mark Dantonio and DC Pat Narduzzi, but MSU's offense has made some noise this season, and right now the Spartans rank 27th in both offensive and defensive F/+. What do you think is this team's biggest strength at the moment?
Despite looking iffy at some points in last week's win against Purdue, I'm going to say the run defense. They completely stifled Ameer Abdullah a couple weeks ago, and most of MSU's other opponents have had to settle for the pass, which they've been able to do with varying degrees of success.
4. Would you consider Connor Cook to be the best QB in the B1G at this point of the season? And other than RB Jeremy Langford, who are the other major weapons of this offense that a weak Hoosier defense will have to contend with?
If you had asked me a couple weeks ago? I would've said definitely yes. However, Cook has had accuracy problems the past two games, and if he continues on that trend, J.T. Barrett will definitely pass him. As for other MSU threats, Tony Lippett is one of the top three wide receivers in the Big Ten, and Cook has made him a focal point of the offense. Look for a couple deep balls thrown his way.
5. That MSU defense is still a point of concern for the Hoosiers though, and they shut down Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah two weeks ago, holding him to 45 yards on 24 carries. Do you expect the Spartans to do the same to Tevin Coleman, especially considering that we are, umm, quite limited at quarterback right now?
Tevin Coleman had a great 64 yard run last year for a TD, but was held in check after that. With the run defense looking a bit weaker for MSU this year and with Coleman undoubtedly going to be the focal point of the Indiana offense, he's going to get a lot of touches. My prediction is that he breaks a couple of 30+ yard runs due to his speed.
6. Last year, MSU had a first-round NFL draft pick on its defense in Darqueze Dennard. Could defensive end Shilique Calhoun be another first-round choice in 2015, and do you see him having the potential to be a star in the pros?
He definitely could. He hasn't been as explosive as he has been in the past season, but he's second on the team in sacks (4.0), and he leads the team in QB hurries (6) and suplexes (2). He came to MSU around 210 lbs, but he's tacked on 45 pounds, seemingly all muscle, and has barely lost any athleticism. He was projected as a first-round pick when I last checked the mock drafts, and with his athleticism I could see him being a great pro, either as an end or a middle linebacker.
7. Is there any concern among the fanbase that Dantonio and/or Narduzzi could leave East Lansing in the coming years? Narduzzi, in particular, was linked to several openings last season.
It's not a question of if Narduzzi leaves, it's when. He got a hefty raise this past season, and he's biding his time picking the right head coaching situation (case in point: he turned down UConn last season. Smart move.) As for Dantonio, I think there's very few jobs he'll leave for. He's built MSU into a team that has the ability to consistently win 10 games a season, and it'd take a job he'd have a previous connection to, like Ohio State, or an obscene amount of money, for him to leave.
8. I've noticed that the town of East Lansing gets ragged on a lot, particularly by Michigan fans. DEFEND ITS HONOR.
Obviously, East Lansing doesn't have the cachet of Big Ten college towns like Ann Arbor, Madison, and so on. It's smaller than those towns for one -- but sometimes small can be a very good thing. On tailgate the entirety of MSU's campus shuts down, and you can walk across one of the biggest campuses in the nation with a beer enjoying the scenery. We also have some great restaurants (HopCat has 100 beers on tap, and Crunchy's is a classic dive with great craft beers). I had a great time at MSU, and the north campus is very charming.
9. Basketball talk: The Spartans lost Gary Harris and Adreian Payne among others after last season, and Tom Izzo faces one of his biggest rebuilding efforts yet in East Lansing. How do you see the Spartans faring in a Big Ten that, other than Wisconsin, looks to be up in the air at the moment?
Michigan State should do fairly well, in no small part because the rest of the Big Ten save Wisconsin is in varying stages of rebuilds themselves, and the additions of Maryland and Rutgers will give MSU two opponents that have been weaker than them in the past seasons. I think the rebuild will be a bit rough this season, but I think MSU will end up in the 10-8/11-7 range in the Big Ten this year.
10. Prediction time: Who wins the Old Brass Spittoon on Saturday, and by how much?
I think MSU wins this game, but I also think the Hoosiers put up some points as well thanks to Tevin Coleman. Let's call it 38-20, Spartans.
Thanks again, Pete! The Hoosiers take on the Spartans from Memorial Stadium in Bloomington on Saturday at 3:30pm, with the game televised on ESPN.