Five reasons Michigan State won’t make the College Football Playoff in 2015


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Although this is generally a place to take a positive look at Michigan State sports, often times a season ends with Spartan Nation not having their thirst quenched with the ultimate goal: a national championship.

We took a look at the five reasons that the Spartans would make the College Football Playoff in 2015, but let’s shift gears this time around and take stock of the roadblocks that could prevent MSU from making the four-team playoff. This way we can be prepared as to what the obstacles are that the Spartans will need to overcome.

1. Ohio State 

Let’s get this out of the way early, traveling to Columbus is not going to be an easy trip and that may be the understatement of the year. This game will most likely be the only time the Spartans are an underdog the entire season, and it’s a hefty challenge.

The defending national champions, who came into East Lansing last year and ripped the playoff dreams away from MSU defeating them 49-37, bring back a large pool of talent. Returning for the Buckeyes are Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliot and the three-headed monster and quarterback of Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, to name a few.

Nov 8, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

If the Spartans enter this game undefeated, and put up a valiant fight, they still may qualify for the playoff, but it will be difficult without even playing in the Big Ten Championship. There are other difficult tests on the schedule, such as at Nebraska and home against Oregon, but none match the game on November 21 in Columbus.

2. Defensive backfield 

The Spartans have lost every starting member from the original No Fly Zone. Most recently, Trae Waynes and Kurtis Drummond have moved on to the NFL. This isn’t to say that the secondary cannot continue the tradition, but there is a lot of inexperienced talent.

At the safety position, returning starter RJ Williamson will bring leadership and part-time starter Montae Nicholson has the skills to burst onto the scene in East Lansing. Where the largest concern comes to fruition is at the corner spot. It appears that Demetrious Cox is the early leader for one of the starting corner positions with Arjen Colquhoun, Darian Hicks, Vayante Copeland and others fighting for the other starting spot.

Michigan State forces its corners to play on an island and it is the utmost importance for them to perform at a high level for the defense to have success. This puts a lot of stress on finding the right players to play in these roles, as the stakes are high. If the defense falters this year, it will be at the corner positions.

Spartan Nation has been spoiled with the likes of Waynes and Darqueze Dennard patrolling for so many years, now it is time for a new crop to rise in the No Fly Zone and make a name for themselves.

3. Wide receivers 

Another position where the Spartans will look to replace production is the wide out spot. Tony Lippett emerged last year as the No. 1 receiver and had what is nothing short of an unbelievable season. Lippett amassed 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns on his way to being named 2014 Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year.

Oct 11, 2014; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Aaron Burbridge (16) celebrates a TD with Michigan State Spartans guard Connor Kruse (54) in the 2nd half at Ross Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

There is experience at the receiver position so the anxiety of replacement is not has high as it is at the corner position. Aaron Burbridge looks to have the most potential and talent to take over that number one receiver role, but again this is all on potential and talent, Burbridge has to put it together. Macgarrett Kings, RJ Shelton and DeAnthony Arnett will also look to become consistent contributors to the receiving corps on Saturdays.

With Connor Cook at quarterback and a great offensive line by no means is this 2012 all over again where MSU couldn’t buy a first down through the air. It will be important for this group to continue to improve their abilities if the Spartans want to get into the rarified air of the College Football Playoff.

4. Running Back 

This barely makes the list, as I do have confidence that with the offensive line and the track record of the next-man-up mentality at the running back position, the Spartans will find a replacement for Jeremy Langford.

However, Langford has been a rock in the Spartans’ backfield for two consecutive seasons. In his two years of starting, Langford rushed for 2,967 yards, 40 touchdowns, 16 consecutive games against Big Ten opponents where he rushed for 100 yards and always seemed to have that run to close out the game and put the hypothetical cleat on the opponent’s throat. Those are huge numbers that will have to be replaced.

Michigan State is a smash-mouth, ball-controlling team at heart and it will be important to find the “next guy” or platoon to keep the offense rolling. Madre London, Gerald Holmes, incoming blue chip freshman Larry Scott and possibly Delton Williams will all do battle for this role. There is no question that each has talent, but, besides Williams, it is untested ability which is an entire other monster.

Again, with the talent returning on the offensive line and the potential each of these running backs possess MSU should be fine, but it is still a position to keep an eye on for production.

5. Replacing Pat Narduzzi 

Sep 20, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi in post game interview after the game against the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Spartan Stadium. Spartans beat the Eagles 73-14. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

I preface this paragraph by saying that this is Mark Dantonio’s team and he will lead it just fine, actually better than fine, he will lead MSU spectacularly. But, there is a certain fire that coach Duzz always brought to this team, specifically a swagger to the defense.

Whenever in the fourth quarter of a big game coach Narduzzi left his perch and came down to the sidelines, that’s when everyone took notice. In the Big Ten Championship against Ohio State, when it felt like the game was slipping away, Coach D had Pat Narduzzi come to the sidelines to challenge the defense and to turn the tide of the game. It did exactly that, and the Spartans went on to win the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl.

The scheme will remain the same, and the continuity that Harlon Barnett and Mark Staten bring will be very familiar to the MSU players, as they have been on staff for a long time. It will be the fire and swagger that the Spartans will need to be able to replace.

Will it be another coach or a player that challenges them to dig deep during the intense moments of a game? We don’t know that yet, but when you are playing for the possibility of a national championship, every little thing matters.

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