2010 Record: (11-2, 7-1 in Big 10)
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (33-19 at MSU, 51-36 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2010 Capital One Bowl (lost to Alabama 49-7)
Final 2010/2011 AP Ranking: #14
Final 2010/2011 CFBZ Ranking: #14
9/2: Youngstown St
9/10: FAU (2010 result: won 30-17)
9/17: at Notre Dame (2010 result: won 34-31 OT)
9/24: Central Michigan (2009 result: lost 29-27)
10/1: at Ohio State
10/15: Michigan (2010 result: won 34-17)
10/22: Wisconsin (2010 result: won 34-24)
10/29: at Nebraska
11/5: Minnesota (2010 result: won 31-8)
11/12: at Iowa (2010 result: lost 37-6)
11/26: at Northwestern (2010 result: won 35-27)
2010 Offensive Statistics:
Scoring: 29.5 ppg (5th in Big Ten, 47th in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 152.15 yds/game (7th in Big Ten, 64th in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 236.4 yds/game (3rd in Big Ten, 46th in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 388.5 yds/game (6th in Big Ten, 53rd in Nation)
2010 Defensive Statistics:
Scoring: 22.3 ppg (4th in Big Ten, 39th in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 133.69 yds/game (5th in Big Ten, 37th in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 220.1 yds/game (5th in Big Ten, 60th in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 353.8 yds/game (6th in Big Ten, 43rd in Nation)
2010 Misc Stats:
Turnover Margin: +0.38 per game (5th in Big Ten, 31st in Nation)
Penalties: 58.0 yds/game (11th in Big Ten, 88th in Nation)
Top Returning Statistical Leaders:
Passing: QB Kirk Cousins, Sr (226 of 338 for 2825 yds, 20 TD, 10 INT)
Rushing: RB Edwin Baker, Jr (207 for 1201 yds, 5.8 ypc, 13 TD)
Receiving: WR B.J. Cunningham, Sr (50 rec for 611 yds, 9 TD)
Tackles: S Trenton Robinson, Sr (76)
Sacks: DT Jerel Worthy, Jr (4)
Interceptions: S Trenton Robinson, Sr (4)
Athlon Sports: Outback (vs South Carolina)
Phil Steele: Gator (vs Florida)
Coming off of a 6-7 season in 2009 the Michigan State Spartans exceeded all expectations by going 11-1 in the regular season. They went from tying for sixth place in the Big Ten to tying for first place. It was quite a jump for Mark Dantonio and the Spartans. This years team returns some key components in Kirk Cousins, Edwin Baker and B.J. Cunningham. Kirk Cousins is a big key for this team and our friend Matt Elder has him as his #2 ranked Senior QB going into the season. Baker ran for 1,200 yards and 13 TD last year so it will be hard for him to top those numbers but expect him to be an All Big Ten performer. Michigan State will have some work to do with it's offensive line but if they figure that out they should be very solid on offense this year.
On the defensive side of the football the line stays pretty much in tact for the Spartans but they must replace a good bit of their back seven. The Spartans get Trenton Robinson, Johnny Adams and Chris Norman back but they will need some help. The schedule is not an easy one for the Spartans but they do have a light out of conference slate with the exception of Notre Dame. The key stretch for the Spartans starts on Oct 1st when they travel to Ohio State, then it's home versus Michigan and Wisconsin and then back on the road to Lincoln, Nebraska. Michigan State's fate will be sealed in that five week, four game stretch. Michigan State will have as much of a chance as anybody else in the wide open Big Ten Legends divisions but like everybody else they will need a little bit of luck to navigate that stretch run. To get a local perspective on the Michigan State Spartans we talked to the man behind the great Detroit Lions blog The Lions In Winter. Oh yeah, he also contributes to a college football blog called A Beautiful Day For Football so make sure you check both of those site out.
Michigan State had a great year last year but got beat up by Bama in the bowl game. What did Michigan State learn from that game?
If anything, I think the Spartan coaches took away something they already knew: that size, speed, and depth in the defensive front seven wins college football games. I'd watched Alabama dismantle Tennessee earlier in the season, and I was astonished at the NFL-caliber D-line. They relentlessly penetrated and disrupted, and Tennessee didn't have a prayer. By the end of last season, I suspected Alabama might be the most talented team in the country, even if they weren't "the best."
MSU's only loss last season came to an Iowa team that dominated up front early, and capitalized on rare Cousins mistakes. When the bowl draw shook out, I was scared. I knew the Spartans' pass protection wouldn't hold up against that onslaught long, and an early Alabama lead or MSU turnover could spell disaster. What happened in the game was the worst-case scenario; I knew the blowout potential was high, but not like what happened. The Spartans had a chip on their shoulder about Wisconsin--a team they'd beaten head-to-head--going to the Rose Bowl over them, so I don't think motivation was a factor. They just ran into a more talented team, who was a particularly bad matchup, and everything that could go wrong did.
Everybody knows Kirk Cousins and Edwin Baker are the go-to guys for the Spartans on offense. Who are some other guys to watch this season?
Offensively, the sparkplug should be WR Keyshawn Martin, a senior who'll be pushing a lot of MSU career all-purpose and return records. He's scored a touchdown five different ways in a Spartan uniform, and racked up 46 plays of 20-or-more yards in his time here. He has big-time explosion and playmaking ability. Pushing him for time on the outside will be redshirt sophomore Bennie Fowler, who's a little bigger but possesses similar tools--and has been wowing the coaches in practice ever since he arrived on the sidelines. Don't forget about the other two heads of MSU's running Cerberus: Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. Both possess more size and power than Baker, and both will get touches (Bell more so than Baker). Perhaps the most interesting position to watch is tight end: fifth-year seniors Garrett Celek (Brent's brother) and Brian Linthicum are both excellent, but they'll be pushed by 6'-5", 276-pound Deion Sims, a redshirt sophomore freak of nature.
I'm concerned, as always, about the offensive line. Despite a series of highly-regarded OT recruits committing to MSU during Dantonio's tenure, the starter at left tackle will be converted sophomore DT Dan France. In the spring game, France looked willing and able--he was more highly regarded as an OT prospect than DT--but to my untrained eyes he struggled with blocking assignments. I have to believe repetition and coaching have helped that over the summer, but still, it's a concern of mine. Depth and experience are an issue all along the line, as LG Joel Foreman is the only returning starter from a line that wasn't exceptional. One of those highly regarded OT recruits, 2010 Rivals four-star Skyler Burkland (formerly Skyler Schofner) will start at right tackle as a redshirt freshman; I hope he blossoms quickly.
On defense Michigan State lost four of their top five leading tacklers, who are some guys that will need to step up to fill that void?
Trying to fill Greg Jones' shoes is a tall task indeed, but true sophomore Max Bullogh just might be up to it. In truth, Greg Jones' play took a step back last season as he tried to carry too much weight; Bullough possesses the natural size (6'-3", 245) that Jones lacked. Bullough, like me, is a third-generation Spartan--except he, his father (Shane), and his grandfather (Hank) actually played football for Michigan State (as did his uncle Chuck, and maternal uncle Bobby Morse). Junior Chris Norman's play improved quite a bit over last season, and showed flashes of meeting previously-lofty expectations; he'll be in the mix outside with ballhawking true sophomore Denicos Allen. The official depth chart lists Allen as the starting SAM and the Norman as the starting STAR--but since STAR is a roving 'backer/safety hybrid spot and Allen's 5'-10", 220, I'd expect that to be the other way around. I believe Bullogh will be an impact player, especially in seasons to come, but there's no question that there are a lot of questions here.
However it shakes out, the size and depth of the defensive line should help cover up the upheaval in the linebacking corps. It all starts with monster DT Jerel Worthy, a 6'-3", 310-pound DT with surprising ability to penetrate and disrupt. He had 40 tackles last season, including 17 TFL and 4 sacks. You'll find Worthy in the top ten of many mock 2012 NFL drafts, and on the first team of most preseason All-Big Ten lists. He'll be partnering in rotation with 6'-2", 316-pound junior Rashad White, and 6'-4", 288-pound 5th-year senior Kevin Pickelman. Pickelman is a steady run defender who's come up huge in big spots, and White has elite size an is no slouch, athletically.
On the outside, the headliner is true sophomore William Gholston, a 2010 Rivals five-star recruit whose lanky 6'-8" frame has grown to 280 pounds over the spring and summer. Last season, he played like a DE/OLB 'tweener with elite pass rush skills, but Gholston (cousin of Vernon) appears to have matured into a monster two-way end. On the other side, true junior Tyler Hoover--a similar, if lesser, prospect--has also swelled up his 6'-7" frame to an impressive 290 pounds. Interestingly, rotating with this two will be two pure speed rushers: 6'-2", 262-pound sophomore Denzel Drone, and 6'-1", 250-pound redshirt freshman Marcus Rush. Look for defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to deploy Worthy, White, Pickelman, Gholston, Hoover, Drone, and Rush in a variety of packages and rotations.
In the secondary, junior Johnny Adams is a talented gambler who I'd like to see take the next step and give up fewer home runs. Senior FS Trenton Robinson is a popular preseason All-Big Ten pick, and should provide a steady presence in the secondary. After that, there's a lot of youth in the two-deeps. The other starting corner, Darqueze Dennard, and the strong safety, Isaiah Lewis, are both true sophomores. Besides Adams and Robinson, reserve corner Mitchell White is the only upperclassman. Dennard played well last season, though, and talented redshirt freshmen Mylan Hicks and Tony Lippett should push for reps as the season wears on.
It has been a weird off-season in the Big Ten. Ohio State lost their Head Coach and had a bunch of players suspended, Michigan has a new man in charge and Wisconsin got Russell Wilson on the Free Agent market. What needs to happen for Michigan State to win the Big Ten?
The Ohio State upheaval slightly eased a punishing conference schedule. Opening up Big Ten play in Columbus is no easy task regardless of who's on the field--but OSU RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey, OT Mike Adams and reserve DE Solomon Thomas will be sitting out. Even if the Spartans can capitalize, this kicks off a brutal 4-game run: MSU then hosts Michigan, hosts Wisconsin at night, and then flies out to Lincoln to face Nebraska. The Spartans' Big Ten season will essentially be those four games. Only Michigan and Nebraska are in the Spartans' division--but if the Spartans win any fewer than three of these four, I think all championship aspirations are out the window.
Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games this year?
Again, those middle four games are everything, and the first and last of the four are the most important. Starting off the Big Ten schedule with a loss would be brutal, but escaping Columbus with a win should provide the Spartans with a huge boost of momentum. I believe the Spartans will most likely be chasing Nebraska in their division (I don't use the ridiculous names), so the head-to-head meeting in Lincoln may decide that race (if it isn't already over). Due to the realignment schedule oddities, the last real hurdle for Michigan State will again be a late contest at Iowa's Kinnick Stadium. Last season they tripped up badly, and it cost them an undefeated regular season and BCS berth . . .
What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Last season, I called 8-4, and instead they went 11-1. I underestimated the running game, the receivers, the defense, and most importantly the easy schedule. This year the schedule will be much harder; the Spartans might actually have to be better to go 9-3. But, given the depth on the defensive line, the skill position talent, and the senior year of "Captain" Kirk Cousins, I think they'll do exactly that, and finish second to Nebraska in whatever Big Ten division this is.
CFBZ Top 25
#15 Michigan State Spartans
2011 Team Previews