Steven M. Sipple: Husker fans should study Spartans intently

2014-04-27T23:45:00Z 2014-04-29T21:56:14Z Steven M. Sipple: Husker fans should study Spartans intentlyBy STEVEN M. SIPPLE / Lincoln Journal Star

Things I know and think I know:

Our trusty spy in the sky scouted Michigan State's spring football game Saturday and emerged impressed with the Spartans.

Nonetheless, he favors Ohio State to capture the Big Ten East Division.

"That (East) division is going to be tricky," said Kevin Kugler, erstwhile Lincoln High graduate, who handled play-by-play for the Big Ten Network during the Spartans' spring season-ending shindig.

The book on Michigan State, reigning Rose Bowl champion, is it will be better offensively than last season, but not as salty defensively. Which isn't to say the defense will be haggardly. The Spartans finished second nationally in total defense in 2013, but lost six starters from that crew, including four All-Big Ten selections.

The defense might still be top-15 caliber in 2014, Kugler said after the scrimmage, which drew 35,000 fans on a sunny, 50-degree day in East Lansing, Mich.

Kugler said the atmosphere was "festive."

I'm guessing Spartan Stadium will be raucous Oct. 4, when Nebraska invades for what likely will be the Huskers' toughest regular-season challenge.

Michigan State, 13-1 last season, will have an edge on Nebraska in two key areas -- home field and quarterback.

I've made it clear I think Tommy Armstrong could become an excellent QB for the Huskers. But Spartan starter Connor Cook, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior, last season proved himself on big stages -- in Memorial Stadium, the Big Ten Championship Game, the glorious Rose Bowl.

Remember, Cook didn't establish himself as "The Man" at the position until last October.

"He looks so much more comfortable in the offense," Kugler said. "It's so obvious -- his confidence, and the respect he gets from teammates."

Michigan State returns a wealth of experience at the skill positions, including 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Langford. The Spartan offense essentially won the two scrimmages preceding the spring game.

Watch out for Damion Terry, who challenged for the starting quarterback job last season before redshirting. Kugler noted that Michigan State is using Terry "in almost a Kordell Stewart-kind of role -- a 'slash' role."

On the White team's first possession, the 6-3, 230-pound Terry ran a jet sweep 23 yards for a touchdown. He's the No. 3 quarterback.

Meanwhile, Langford seems a bit overlooked by fans. He rushed for 1,422 yards on 292 carries last season -- 11 more carries than Nebraska All-Big Ten back Ameer Abdullah. Michigan State eighth-year head coach Mark Dantonio is looking to lighten Langford's load to keep him fresh late in the season.

"The big question mark is the offensive line, still," said Kugler, noting MSU lost three senior line starters from last season. "They want to have, like last year, an eight-player rotation. The left side of the line is a lot more solid than the right side coming out of spring."

As for Michigan State's defense, the front four was particularly impressive, Kugler said. The Spartans lost both of their interior tackles to graduation, but that doesn't appear to be an issue. Watch out for redshirt freshman defensive end Demetrius Cooper (6-5, 240).

"He looks explosive," Kugler said.

You have to give defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi the benefit of the doubt. What's more, MSU's athleticism on defense is glaringly apparent, Kugler said, although the Spartans will have new starters at cornerback, safety and middle linebacker.

Even so, I'll take Michigan State to win the beastly East. Ohio State's offensive line is a massive question mark, and the Buckeyes' vulnerabilities on defense won't magically vanish.

Get to know the Spartans, Husker fans. I'm guessing NU will play them twice in 2014.

* I know what some curmudgeons are thinking: A media guy interviewing a media guy, just wonderful. Give it a rest, sourpusses. I'm keeping close tabs on Kugler, in part because I regard him as the next Jim Lampley.

Don't snicker. Lampley, 65, may be nearing the end of the line as HBO's lead boxing voice. Here's the news: Kugler, for the first time in his career, will handle boxing "play-by-play," working alongside Roy Jones Jr. for an HBO telecast May 31 in Las Vegas.

I'm not exactly Roone Arledge, but I could see it happening. My unsolicited advice to Kugler: Go back to the archives and listen to Howard Cosell. Nobody's done it better, although Lampley comes close.

* We live in an increasingly litigious society. Exhibit A: College athletics. The future of college sports, to a large extent, is in the hands of attorneys. Attorneys for the NCAA. Attorneys for Ed O'Bannon's class-action antitrust suit against the NCAA. Attorneys for Northwestern. Attorneys for the National Labor Relations Board. On and on.

In the current climate, it makes sense to have an athletic director with a law degree, as is the case at Nebraska with Shawn Eichorst. His resume includes time as an attorney after earning his law degree from Marquette.

One thing about Eichorst: You wouldn't worry about him violating attorney-client privilege. He isn't exactly the chatty type.

* Coolest story of the weekend: Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook taking his players to see tornado-damaged parts of Wayne after playing Creighton to benefit the town of 5,700. Cook called it "the most meaningful thing we've ever done in Nebraska volleyball for a life skill, giving back to a community."

* The Big Ten has been a boon for Nebraska athletics in several ways, but not necessarily for baseball. It's taken away much of the buzz. Do you agree?

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