Spartans eager to move on after close calls

Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell is well aware of how
many close calls his team was involved in last season.

The Spartans’ first seven Big Ten games were decided by four
points or fewer, and since they lost five of them, it would be easy
for this team to expect a rebound in 2013.

Maxwell, however, is taking nothing for granted.

”They really are inches – but those inches can become miles
when you don’t find them,” Maxwell said. ”There’s an old saying –
they don’t ask how, they just ask how many. An inch here, an inch
there – a loss is still a loss.”

Michigan State went 7-6 last season after falling just short of
the Rose Bowl the previous two campaigns. The Spartans lost only
three starters on offense and four on defense, and their schedule
this season looks favorable. The hope in East Lansing is that 2012
was a mere blip for a program that has gained confidence in recent
years under coach Mark Dantonio.

”Our expectations were higher, there’s no question about
that,” Dantonio said Monday at media day. ”I do think we had to
take a step back, re-evaluate who we are, what inches we came up
short on, and then transition back forward.”

Although there’s plenty of experience returning, the Spartans do
have lingering questions. Running back Le’Veon Bell left school
early to go to the NFL draft after a tireless junior season in
which he carried the ball 382 times. Michigan State also lost tight
end Dion Sims and defensive end William Gholston. They declared for
the draft as well.

And the quarterback situation is a bit uncertain. Maxwell took
most of the snaps last year, but he split time with Connor Cook in
the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It was Cook who led the winning drive
against TCU in that game.

”It just kind of shows you that nothing’s really promised,”
Maxwell said. ”And it shows you that coach Dantonio and the
coaches are going to put the best football team that they feel that
they can put on that field.”

Maxwell didn’t have much experience last season when he took
over for Kirk Cousins, who had moved on to the NFL. Dantonio says
he’d like to avoid a situation like that in the future – that’s one
of the reasons he wants more than one quarterback to be prepared to
play.

Maxwell is a senior, but Cook is a sophomore.

”I didn’t like the way Andrew had to come in with no experience
and perform,” Dantonio said. ”We’re going to see how it all
shakes out. Our players understand we’re going to do the very best
we can to play the best player that gives us the best chance to
win.”

Meanwhile, the task of replacing Bell could fall to redshirt
freshman Riley Bullough or junior Nick Hill.

”I thrive off competition – I embrace it,” Hill said. ”If you
look at it, a lot of teams that have multiple backs do really
well.”

The Spartans appear to have caught at least one break already.
Their conference schedule doesn’t include Ohio State or Wisconsin.
They split with those two teams last year.

In 2010, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin finished tied
for first in the Big Ten, but the Spartans lost out on a Rose Bowl
berth because of a tiebreaker. The following season, Wisconsin beat
Michigan State in a thrilling conference title game.

Michigan State was able to stay in a lot of games last year
because of Bell’s efforts and a defense that’s become one of the
Big Ten’s best, year in and year out. Defensive coordinator Pat
Narduzzi returns this season with an additional title of assistant
head coach.

Narduzzi hopes the Spartans won’t have quite as many nail-biters
this year – as long as they’re on the right side of the score.

”I hope it’s not our style,” Narduzzi said. ”I hope we score
a lot of points, and I hope we hold people down and we beat people
by 25.”