The 2014 season might be eight months away, but it's never too early to start thinking about the teams that could challenge for the new College Football Playoff. This week, we'll count down Dr. Saturday's Top 10 teams for 2014. Past entries: No. 10: LSU, No. 9 Stanford, No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 7 UCLA
Michigan State Spartans
2013 record: 13-1, 9-0 Big Ten
Final AP ranking: 3
Bowl result: def. Stanford 24-20 Rose Bowl
Top returners: QB Connor Cook, RB Jeremy Langford,
Top losses: CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Max Bullough, LB Denicos Allen, OL Blake Treadwell, OL Fou Fonoti
Overview: Michigan State won its first outright conference title since 1987, enjoyed its first Rose Bowl appearance and win since 1988 and was just a four-point loss to Notre Dame away from the program’s first undefeated season since 1966.
That seems to be cause for optimism, right?
Well, yes and no.
Michigan State is certainly moving in the right direction, but the defense it relied so heavily on in 2013 is getting a major overhaul in 2014. Gone are six starters, including star linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen and Thorpe Award-winning defensive back Darqueze Dennard. Even Kyler Elsworth, the player who replaced Bullough and made the game-winning stop in the Rose Bowl, is gone.
But defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is still around and if there’s one thing Elsworth’s play in the Rose Bowl taught us, it’s that Michigan State has the depth to weather the defensive losses.
Offensively, the emergence of quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford was a major positive at the end of the season. Both players seemed to come into their own against a stout Stanford defense and that confidence should help propel this team into 2014. If there’s one concern offensively, it’s that the Spartans lose three starters on the offensive line.
It’s hard to see this team going backward. Ohio State will once again be at the top of the Big Ten heap, but Michigan State should be right there with the Buckeyes. The Spartans probably won’t be good enough to find their way into the College Football Playoff, but they do have the talent to be considered one of the nation’s top 10 teams.
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