*This is the third installment of Making an Argument. The purpose is to disprove that a team, player, or coach, who has been perceived as being a disappointment and or being categorized as underrated, is an actual success. The series will continue to present an argument that reshapes this perception and proves the case.
Key Stats, Facts, and Highlights of the 2013 Season:
*Won all nine Big Ten games by double digits.
*Undefeated in the Legends Division and undefeated at Home
*Defeated previously undefeated Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game.
*Beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl for their first Rose Bowl Championship since 1988.
*In six of their victories they held their opponents to 6 points or less.
*Michigan State held Michigan to minus-48 yards rushing in a 29-6 blowout.
Key Players that were selected in the NFL Draft and or Signed with an NFL Team
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Round: 1, Overall: 24, Cincinnati Bengals. 2014 NFL Draft
Bennie Fowler III undrafted 2014, signed with Denver Broncos
Max Bullough undrafted 2014, signed with the Houston Texans
Trae Waynes, CB, Round: 1, Overall: 11, Minnesota Vikings. 2015 NFL Draft
Jeremy Langford, RB, Round: 4, Overall: 106, Chicago Bears. 2015 NFL Draft
Tony Lippett, WR, Round: 5, Overall: 156, Miami Dolphins 2015 NFL Draft
Keith Mumphery, WR, Round: 5, Overall: 175, Houston Texans 2015 NFL Draft
Marcus Rush undrafted 2015, signed with San Francisco Forty Niners
Jack Conklin, OT, Round: 1, Overall: 8, Tennessee Titans 2016 NFL Draft
Shilique Calhoun, DE, Round: 3, Overall: 75, Oakland Raiders 2016 NFL Draft
Connor Cook, QB, Round: 4, Overall: 100, Oakland Raiders 2016 NFL Draft
Aaron Burbridge, WR, Round: 6, Overall: 213, San Francisco 49ers 2016 NFL Draft
Donavon Clark, G, Round: 7, Overall: 224, San Diego Chargers 2016 NFL Draft
Josiah Price undrafted 2017, signed with Minnesota Vikings
Demetrious Cox undrafted 2017 signed with the Cincinnati Bengals
“I thought we would have been national champions, to be perfectly honest with you,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said at Big Ten Media Days in the summer of 2014. “I think we would have had a shot to do that because I think we were playing, coming out of the end of the season — that stretch coming out of the season — we were playing great football and we were believing in ourselves.”
“I would have liked that team’s chances to beat Florida State, considering the way those teams matched up. I would have liked it to find a way to beat anyone by the end. That was an exceptional defense, probably the best Mark Dantonio will ever field, and on the other side, you had Connor Cook throwing to Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett and Josiah Price, handing to Jeremy Langford, protected by Jack Conklin and Jack Allen. Pros, all of them. First-round corners on the other side. The best punter/tweeter combo in NCAA history. The ability to overcome the suspension of the heart of the defense and beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl anyway. No weaknesses,” former Detroit Free Press writer Joe Rexrode wrote April 3, 2016.
Rough Start but…
The old saying goes, “It is not how you start, but how you finish that matters”. The Spartans entered the season with many question marks. Andrew Maxwell, for example, was given the start at quarterback against 1st-year coach P. J. Fleck and the Western Michigan Broncos in the season opener. However, Connor Cook would take over in the game, and the rest is history.
Even though running back Jeremy Langford played well in the season opener; it was not a guarantee that he would beat out redshirt junior Nick Hill for the starting spot.
Even the kicking game was a close and competitive battle between senior Kevin Muma and freshman Michael Geiger. Geiger did not beat Muma out until the fourth game of the season.
With all of that being said, Langford like Cook would emerge slowly but surely as a potent 1-2 combo. The defense carried them the first two games before the offense would explode in their third game with Cook throwing for four touchdowns all in the first half.
The future became more evident and the sun looked a lot brighter after the third game of the season, but this team still did not play a quality opponent and had not played on the road but that all would change in their fourth game of the season. It was still a rough start, and it was evident in Michigan State’s game at Notre Dame.
Every great college football team that does not win a national championship can always to look at one game that cost them an opportunity to hoist a national championship trophy. Fans and coaches alike obsess over key moments in that game. For the 2013 Michigan State football team, that game was on September 21st in South Bend, Indiana.
Four pass interference calls and a holding penalty that kept drives alive, allowed the Fighting Irish to defeat Michigan State. Michigan State committed 17 percent of its penalty yards for the season in that one game. Head Coach Mark Dantonio said he couldn’t ever recall so many defensive pass interferences calls in one game. “I’ve been coaching 30-plus years, no. Never,” he said. “I guess that’s where we should stop.” He was not the only one who agreed with the fans who argued the alleged terrible officiating calls against the Spartan defense.
Michigan State did not do itself any favors either especially when they had ten penalties for 115 yards called by the Big Ten officials who were officiating the game.
The biggest mistake was when they called a trick play. Spartan receiver R.J. Shelton threw and interception into double coverage. That shifted momentum Notre Dame’s. Michigan State had been making progress against Notre Dame.
But, as it turns out, Michigan State didn’t lose this game. Notre Dame would have to vacate that win against Michigan State year’s later.
Technically, Notre Dame did not win, which means Michigan State did not lose any games during the 2013 season. The NCAA ordered the University of Notre Dame to vacate its football wins from the 2012 and 2013 seasons after denying the school’s appeal of sanctions tied to academic misconduct.
Though it can be argued that Michigan State should have beat Notre Dame if it had not been for the questionable play calling. Others would say that if the game were played later in the year, it would have been a decisive victory for the Spartans.
Finally, the main argument is that the NCAA found Notre Dame to have violated the rules and the consequences mean that the Fighting Irish does not have a win against the Spartans for the game because its’ victory against Michigan State has been vacated. Even with all that said, the 2013 Michigan State team would not look back and would finish out the season with win after win.
The Young and Talented
It may surprise many who are unfamiliar with this Spartan team for the 2013 season that the team had a good amount of underclassman who contributed to Michigan State’s Success.
The offensive line featured Jack Allen as a redshirt sophomore, Jack Conklin as a redshirt freshman, Donavan Clark as a redshirt sophomore, and Kodi Kieler as a redshirt freshman.
At quarterback, Connor Cook played as a redshirt sophomore with Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings as sophomores at receiver. R.J. Shelton played as a true freshman returning kickoffs, and redshirt sophomore Andre Sims returned punts.
True freshman Delton William played at running back, and Josiah Price started at tight end as a redshirt freshman. Michael Geiger who only missed one field goal that season kicked as a true freshman.
The defense had young talent as well with Trae Waynes as a redshirt sophomore starting at cornerback, RJ Williamson also a redshirt sophomore contributing significant minutes at safety, and Shilique Calhoun staring as a redshirt sophomore. There were other talented underclassmen who played but did not get to make significant contributions because of the senior and junior leadership on the defensive unit that season.
This team had two cornerbacks in Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes who would go on to be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. The linebacker duo of Denicos Allen and Max Bullough both went undrafted but went on to play multiple seasons in the NFL.
Defensive ends and tackles, led by Shilique Calhoun, who would be drafted by the Oakland Raiders. Tyler Hoover was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Indianapolis Colts. Marcus Rush also went undrafted but would sign with the San Francisco 49ers.
The most underrated unit may have been the safeties lead by Isaiah Lewis and Kurtis Drummond. Drummond would go on to play over four seasons with the Houston Texans.
The above names mentioned don’t even include main contributors to this amazing defense such as Tawain Jones, RJ Williamson, Micajah Reynolds, and Ed Davis.
Michigan State finished the season with the #1 total defense in the country. Dennard was as dominant as they come, and quarterbacks couldn’t throw it to the other side due to Waynes being at the other corner.
Lewis and Drummond were back at the safety positions severely limiting what opposing defenses could do. No other back four in the entire country could compare to the No Fly Zone Spartans defensive backs, and they had the depth to go into nickel coverage with R.J. Williamson.
Add in a veteran linebacking core that overcame the season injury of Jairus Jones and the suspension of Bullough for the Rose Bowl, and they were one of the best units in the Big Ten.
Let’s not forget about the defensive line as Calhoun was the playmaker and star of the defensive upfront, and he had some help and strong depth to anchor the defensive line in Micajah Reynolds, Tyler Hoover, Marcus Rush, Damon Knox, and Denzel Drone.
In summary, you couldn’t run or pass against this defense, and the stats don’t lie. Pat Narduzzi feels stats are for losers but as defensive coordinator without even looking at the stats, on film, you couldn’t find a more solid and efficient defense in the country. Darqueze Dennard was beyond outstanding and was the superstar of the group, but he had plenty of help. Just look at the highlight tape, and you will see that they pass the so-called eyeball test.
What about that offense
It started with the offensive line that did not get the credit it deserved. Dan France at right guard, Fou Fonoti at right tackle, Jack Conklin at left tackle, Jack Allen at center, and Blake Treadwell at left guard. This group allowed Jeremy Lanford to shine and allowed Conner Cook time to develop as a young starting quarterback.
The receiving core was led by Tony Lippett and Bennie Fowler who were a solid one-two punch for opposing defensive backs. The whole receiving unit had tremendous depth in Macgarrett Kings, Keith Mumphery, Josiah Price, and Aaron Burbridge.
The primary emphasis of the debate looking back at how powerful and robust this offense was lies with Cook and Langford. Langford did not do much his freshman and sophomore season, but in 2013 his junior year, he ran for over 1,400 yards and had 19 touchdowns on the season.
Cook, like Langford, did not do much before the 2013 season as Cook was a redshirt sophomore in 2013. Cook was more efficient then people remember because not only did he throw for over 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns but he only threw six interceptions on the year during the 2013 season.
This offense may not have been explosive and exciting as teams before and after them, but this offense was a lot better than fans realize. They may not have played well as a unit statistically at times especially earlier on in the season but they apart from a game or two was very reliable and dependable allowing this Spartan team to flourish. The Ohio State is a perfect example of the Spartan offense producing when need to do so to beat a great team.
They Deserved an Opportunity to play Florida State for the Championship
In the 2013-14 season when they beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game and Stanford in that epic Rose Bowl, it seemed like a fairytale ending.
To put it in perspective, Michigan State had not sniffed a national championship in some time. The Michigan State football program claims a total of six national championships (1951, 1952, 1955, 1957, 1965, and 1966); the AP Poll voted Michigan State as national champion one time (1952). They have been named national champions twice in the Coaches Poll (1952 and 1965).
It appeared then that winning a Big Ten Division and League Championship along with their first Rose Bowl victory since 1988 and a top 3 ranking in the final BCS poll was more than satisfying for the Spartan football program, the alumni, and its fans across the county.
The old saying of, “objects may appear closer than they seem” is a perfect analogy because the object being the National Championship trophy and it was closer to be attainable for the Michigan State football team than many people realize.
The 2013 Michigan State football team was a national championship caliber team, and frankly, they were more deserving to play for the national championship that year than Auburn was. They were an unfortunate by-product of being in the final year before the playoffs. Had the playoffs been into effect, I am confident as was Mark Dantonio that the Spartans not only would have been playing for a national championship but led by the Michigan State secondary, and a balanced offensive attack, they would have beaten Florida State as they had done to Stanford.
At the least, with Notre Dame vacating their victory over Michigan State, Michigan State should get serious consideration of being co-national champions for the 2013-2014 season.
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