College Football Preview: No. 13 Michigan State
(Neon Tommy will be previewing the 2011 College Football Season throughout the summer. You can find links to each of our Top 25 previews here. Today, we preview the team ranked 13th, the Michigan State Spartans.)
Michigan State's 2010 Season: 11-2, 7-1 in the Big Ten
--Six returning starters
--Impact players: QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker, WR BJ Cunningham
--29.5 points per game (fifth in the Big Ten)
It was a banner year for the Spartans in 2010, as they got a trip to a New Year’s Day bowl game after earning a share of the Big Ten championship for the first time since 1990. And at least offensively, it looks as if they are more than ready to continue their ascent under Dantonio, who begins his fifth season in East Lansing. Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw for 2,825 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, is back under center, as well as junior running back Edwin Bakaer, who totaled 1,201 yards on the ground. Both should be among the best in the Big Ten this season, particularly Cousins who was incredibly efficient a season ago – finishing with a completion percentage of 66.9. Elsewhere, though, there could be a dropoff in spite of showcasing one of the conference’s top backfield tandems. At wide receiver, they must replace Mark Dell and Charlie Gantt, who combined for 1,089 yards and nine touchdowns, and on the offensive line, they lose both tackles and center John Stipek. But most notable is the departure of offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, who accepted the head coaching position at his alma matter, Miami (Ohio). As a result, they promoted offensive line coach Dan Roushar, who has been on staff ever since Dantonio took over. But with plenty of experience, not many are anticipating a dropoff.
--Six returning starters
--Impact players: DT Jerel Worthy, MLB Max Bullough, FS Trenton Robinson
--353.8 yards allowed per game (43rd in the nation)
Experience. With Cousins under center and Baker still in the backfield, the Spartans have two of the Big Ten’s top players in two of the most important positions – at least offensively. The team has a total of 12 returners and has upperclassmen in many of its key positions.
It’s a fair point to be raised: How good was Michigan State really in 2010? It faced just three ranked teams during the regular season (it didn’t draw Ohio State), and despite 11 wins, it benefited from some very close contests as five of its wins were decided by 10 points or less. On the season, its average margin of victory was just 7.2, which as a result, leaves very little room for error. And in their two losses, they fell to Iowa by 31 points and Alabama by 42 points. In short, they weren’t far off from being 9-3 or 8-4. And this season, the schedule is tough, as the Spartans must face Iowa, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Ohio State all on the road. Their non-conference slate should be a breeze, but conference play might not be as forgiving.
There are plenty of reasons to believe that, all in all, Michigan State could be a better football team in 2011. It has arguably the most talented skilled position players in the Big Ten in Cousins, Baker and Cunningham. And thanks to recruiting on defense, despite the loss of Jones, it has plenty of talent to help sustain those losses – which based on numbers aren’t actually that much to begin with. But with a more challenging schedule due to the arrival of Nebraska in the conference, it might to a stiff challenge to surpass the Cornhuskers in the division to earn a spot in the Big Ten title game.