- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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As the SEC tries to dominate every waking moment of media coverage this week, Brian Fremeau from Football Outsiders takes a look at the top six teams who could put us out of our misery and break the southerners' seven-year stranglehold on the national title.
He did this using a formula called Program FEI rating, a calculation based on five years' worth of data that I'll probably have to call John Urschel to understand but which can be found here.
Anyway, it's not much of a surprise to see Oregon at No. 1 on the list, followed by No. 2 Ohio State. But scroll down and you'll find a somewhat stunning entry at No. 6: Michigan State.
Fremeau writes that the Spartans' schedule, which avoids Ohio State and Wisconsin and sees Michigan come to East Lansing, is a big check mark in their favor. He says the FEI projections give Michigan State a 56 percent chance of winning at least two of its three road trips to Notre Dame, Northwestern and Nebraska. (I'm assuming that FEI is like Sex Panther Cologne in that 60 percent of the time, it works every time).
"Michigan State has to improve offensively in order to make a run, but extraordinary improvement may not be necessary," Fremeau writes. "The Spartans posted back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2010 and 2011 with pedestrian offensive efficiency metrics, ranking outside the top 40 in both years in avoiding three-and-outs. Mark Dantonio's defenses have been excellent, and should continue to be this fall."
I've written that I expect the Spartans to improve upon last year's 6-6 record, when they got a whole bunch of bad breaks and played a tough schedule. But improvement to national title level? I can't get on board with that. Not when Dantonio has so many question marks at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and even the offensive line. Yes, the Spartans' defense has been elite of late, and I think it will once again be the best in the Big Ten. But that offense is going to cost the team a game or two, and those road trips to Notre Dame and Nebraska in particular are daunting.
In fact, I think Michigan and Nebraska, both of whom get similar breaks in their schedules, are much better bets to make a surprise national title run than Michigan State. Any Spartans fans out there agree with Fremeau's assessment?