The Michigan State Spartans have been one of the most successful college football programs in the past couple of seasons, winning 24 games and two major bowl games.
While the Spartans’ player development has been a key component to their success, one forgotten factor has been their ability to avoid major injuries to key players. This is especially important for programs like MSU which are rising from good to great, as one of the key differences between the best and the rest lies with the depth of their respective rosters.
With four seasons of eleven or more wins in the past five years, MSU is reaping the rewards on the recruiting scene, with more elite prospects now joining the fold. While Dantonio and his staff have demonstrated they can turn undervalued recruits like Le’Veon Bell, Darqueze Dennard, Trae Waynes and Connor Cook into star players by their junior and senior seasons, the recent influx of more college-ready underclassmen to the team’s roster is proving to be crucial in 2015.
After avoiding the injury bug the past few years, Michigan State’s depth has been tested several times already this season. Just a few weeks before the Spartans’ season opener, the team watched as 2014 starting cornerback Darian Hicks went down with mononucleosis and starting “SAM” linebacker Ed Davis suffered a season-ending knee injury. Since then, Hicks’ replacement, Vayante Copeland, was lost for the season to a fractured vertebra.
While Hicks is now regaining his form and should be ready to play more snaps, the losses of Davis, a preseason All-Big Ten pick and Bednarik Award Watch List member, and Copeland, a rising star in an inexperienced secondary, are still major challenges.
Injuries haven’t been the only deterrents, either.
This past offseason, two offensive players expected to start, wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. and running back Delton Williams, were arrested and suspended from the team. While both are now back on the active roster, the time they missed was invaluable for a team that was already replacing its top two pass-catchers and running backs from last season. In the past two weeks, Dantonio has also had to suspend two backups, defensive end Montez Sweat and safety Mark Meyers.
With early non-conference challenges against a top-ten Oregon squad and three other teams that earned bowl invites in 2014, Western Michigan, Air Force and Central Michigan, these roster setbacks might have spelled disaster in the past. Now, with consecutive top-25 recruiting classes and several four-star prospects from the 2013 class on the roster, Michigan State has managed to call on the “next man up” without sacrificing its playoff aspirations.
Success on the gridiron is just as much about luck as it is about talent. Michigan State has proven it has the talent in the past, but now faces an entire new monster with the challenges to its depth. The early signs suggest Dantonio has prepared well for this spell of bad luck, but there’s still a lot of football left to be played.
It’s time to see just how elite the Michigan State Spartans have become.