Penn State Can Find Hope in 2012 Michigan State Team
If what Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said in his Tuesday press conference holds merit, then the future is as bright as ever for Penn State.
“I think Penn State itself, Coach Franklin, has a football team that’s been extremely close. A lot of parallels probably with our season in 2012, losing a number of games by a total of 15 points,” Dantonio said. “Maybe four games.”
Of course, following that 2012 season, Michigan State won the Big Ten and Rose Bowl. The 2014 Michigan State iteration is currently 9-2.
Yes, a bright future seems distant right now for this “utterly rudderless,” 6-5 Penn State team that just lost to Tim Beckman’s Illinois. But if you’re in search of a silver lining, it’s this — Penn State’s average margin of loss is only 6.8, including the 23-point drubbing Northwestern handed it on Homecoming. If one play went another way in the Michigan (18-13), Maryland (20-19), or Illinois (16-14) losses, Penn State’s season would have an entirely different outlook.
To that mantra, the 2012 Michigan State team that Dantonio mentioned can certainly relate. After opening the season No. 13 with soaring expectations, those Spartans lost six regular season games by a maddening average of 4.84 points, including a 17-point outlier loss. Football Outsiders’ season-ending 2012 F/+ rankings tell the tale of how snakebitten the Spartans were, placing them 15th, one spot behind undefeated Ohio State (F/+ is a statistic that combines efficiency with effectiveness to determine how good teams really are). Penn State is currently 49th in F/+, above three teams to which it lost.
The frustrating similarities between the 2014 Lions and 2012 Spartans extend beyond close losses. Both had similar mediocrity from their signal callers…
- 2012, Andrew Maxwell: 107.13 efficiency, 52.5 completion percentage, 200.5 y/g
- 2014, Christian Hackenberg: 106.9 efficiency, 55.3 completion percentage, 219.2 y/g
…and offenses that at times seemed operational but ultimately failed miserably. Michigan State had 27 touchdowns in 13 games that year; Penn State is currently on pace for 25.
But here’s the best similiarity of all: Penn State figures to lose only five current non-special teams starters (Bill Belton, Miles Dieffenbach, C.J. Olaniyan, Mike Hull, and Adrian Amos) to graduation this offseason. From 2012 to 2013, Michigan State lost only six, and one of them allowed quarterback Connor Cook to become a superstar. A Rose Bowl is wishful thinking, but if the bounces fall for Penn State in 2015, a significant step forward certainly is not.
Now, Dantonio did say Penn State is “very good on special teams,” so perhaps he was straight spitballing when he compared these Lions to his former squad. Either way, let’s hope he’s a fortune-teller.