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Spartans will rely on experience in 2013

BY CODY GOODWIN | AUGUST 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Michigan State football team went 7-6 in 2012, but it was a mere 13 points away from turning five of the six losses into victories.

“2012 was the year I think of the inches that we didn’t come up with,” Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio said during Big Ten media days. “We’re excited about 2013 coming, and look forward to it. We sort of feel like — sort of feel like our football team has a little bit of an edge to them right now.”

Michigan State lost five conference games by 4 points or fewer — the sixth loss was a 20-3 beating from Notre Dame. Nevertheless, the Spartans reached their sixth-straight bowl game last season: a 17-16 victory over Texas Christian.

Dantonio has often talked of the experience his team returns on both sides of the ball. He called the understanding vital for this upcoming season. Many college football pundits have dubbed Michigan State an outside favorite in the Legends Division in 2013.

The Spartan offense returns key playmakers on offense, specifically at wide receiver. Four of last year’s top six ball-catchers return to East Lansing with a slew of young, talented receivers who will likely compete for playing time.

Junior wide receiver Keith Humphrey returns after leading the team with 42 catches last season. Senior Bennie Fowler trailed Humphrey by a single reception in 2012 and led the unit with 4 touchdown receptions. Sophomore Aaron Burbridge joins them, and he will attempt to top an impressive freshman campaign.

A worry, perhaps, might be who throws them the ball. Andrew Maxwell enters his senior season with 13 starts under his belt, but he could have some competition from sophomore Connor Cook. Maxwell welcomes the effort, because he said it brings out the best in him.

“I don’t think competition ever hurts you,” Maxwell said at Michigan State’s media day on Aug. 5 in a release. “It does nothing but bring the best out of people. I think it adds an element of excitement and competitiveness. I think that is what you can expect out of a place like Michigan State. You don’t expect anything to be handed to you; you want to earn everything you get.”

The defense will look to three-year letterwinner Max Bullough at middle linebacker and cornerback Darqueze Dennard for leadership. Bullough is listed as one of college football’s top NFL draft prospects (No. 4 inside linebacker by CBSSports.com).

Dennard enters his senior campaign as a preseason third-team All-American pick by Phil Steele’s College Football Review. He’s picked off 6 passes in his career.

A hot topic at the Big Ten media days in Chicago in July was the newly implemented targeting rule by the NCAA. In essence, should a player make a tackle that endangers the opponent’s head and/or neck area — whether it resemble a launch, a crouch-and-thrust, or by leading with the helmet — that player may be ejected, pending the officials ruling.

It’s all for the safety of the game, of course, but Bullough was adamant in Chicago that he wouldn’t change the way he played. He told plenty of reporters that he was the wrong guy to ask about the new rule because he didn’t like it.

“I think all of those hits are accidental,” Bullough said. “For the most part, those hits happen every game, and every time we practice. I just think they’re taking it too far. We know what we signed up for.”


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