It is now time for my annual college football predictions. I like doing this nice and early as it allows me to focus not on the specific players but on the overall direction of the programs.
CAN THE SPARTANS WIN IT ALL? The Posse was part of the 48,000 that strolled into Spartan Stadium to watch the annual spring practice game.
The low score has been the subject of some amusement by the Skunk Bear faithful, but beyond cheap rhetorical points, there really is no comparison between the two programs.
Michigan State has had a dominant defense and next fall looks like it will in some ways become even better. The two losses last season came because both Oregon and Ohio State were able to target the Spartan secondary. Baylor did this as well, but by then, MSU was willing to adjust its defensive scheme and compensate.
A similar dynamic explains the score of the spring game. The defensive unit has clearly been working at improving penetration of the opposing offensive line. It is now clear that MSU cannot count on having the best corner backs in the nation and that is unfortunately what former Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi's scheme required to work against top-notch opponents.
Of course spring games are also a time to experiment, testing trick plays and alternate assignments (even letting linemen carry the ball).
The Spartans have a daunting schedule next year with a crucial road game in Columbus and another at Nebraska. The game against Oregon on Sept. 12 is perhaps why coach Mark Dantonio is placing such an emphasis on being 'game ready' this spring.
Like last year, the Oregon and Ohio State games will be decisive - victories in both would give MSU a clear shot at playing for the national title.
I've long stressed the fact that MSU fans should not be greedy. It was not that long ago that even making a bowl game was a successful season and winning the bowl was a towering achievement for the program.
At the same time, one cannot deny that the Spartans are breathing rarer air than of old. Not since the era of Duffy Daugherty have we posted back-to-back top five finishes. This is the new golden age of Spartan football and fans should both accept that fact and understand that it cannot go on forever.
Given the level of talent, anything less than a conference championship would have to be a profound disappointment. A 10-2 season would arguably be a serious defeat. At the very least, the Spartans need to beat Oregon and come into the OSU game ready to play for the division title.
These are lofty goals, but I think that the Spartan players and staff are now becoming used to the pressure and gaining confidence. Last year they faced the two best teams in the nation and held leads over them. I think the team is mentally ready to move to the next level.
Prediction: National champions.
MEANWHILE AT THE SHRINE OF ST. HARBAUGH: While it is true that Jim Harbaugh has achieved success in the past, his outsized personality and need to shoot his mouth off may play well with the Blue-Ade drinkers but I doubt his bosses are enjoying it.
Here at the Posse, we focus on the 'operational level' of football when making predictions. Individual players count, but more important is the overall direction of the program, its players and - most importantly - its leadership.
St. Harbaugh is a loose cannon in every sense. He shoots his mouth off, challenges the decisions of his employer on twitter, and seems to enjoy sticking his fingers in the eyes of everyone involved in the college scene.
How else can one make sense of his strange embrace of Jameis Winston and Baylor's Bryce Petty? The official line is that he is advising these future NFL quarterbacks based on his own extensive knowledge, yet U-M's quarterback situation is abysmal.
Similarly, the Prodigal Michigan Man has announced satellite recruiting camps (dubbed 'mini-combines' by no less than Nick Saban) as well as a coaching camp (!?) yet he also canceled the charity and alumni games in Ann Arbor.
None of this bodes well for a program that has endured seven years of erratic behavior and constant leadership turnover. I find it telling that fifth-year seniors are choosing to transfer out or leave the game entirely rather than play for this maniac.
All of this goes to say that I don't have a lot of confidence in the Skunk Bears at this point. The head coach seems more interested in winning the Twitter war than playing the game.
Looking at the schedule, this is one of the harder ones the Skunk Bears have faced, with a season opener on the road at Utah followed by hosting Oregon State, UNLV and Brigham Young. Then it is on the road to Maryland before a home stand against Northwestern and my beloved Spartans.
Road games include surging Minnesota as well as rising Penn State before facing the Buckeye beat-down in the Big House.
At this point, I think the best case for the Skunk Bears is 6-6, but 4-8 or is possible. The problem is figuring out exactly how St. Harbaugh will coach. He has a reputation as a turnaround artist, but he is also not the same man and circumstances have changed. The raging Skunk Bear faithful demand immediate results and it is easy to imagine an ill-considered Tweet or flippant remark that leave the program in chaos.
In addition, there is the off-field drama, which shows no signs of going away.
Prediction: 5-7 and at least one epic post-game rant about obnoxious fans.