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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

College Football Preview: No. 13 Michigan State

Joey Kaufman |
July 13, 2011 | 8:44 a.m. PDT

Contributing Writer

(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.)

Despite key losses on both sides of the ball, Michigan State retains an experienced crew. (John Martinez Pavliga via Creative Commons)
Despite key losses on both sides of the ball, Michigan State retains an experienced crew. (John Martinez Pavliga via Creative Commons)
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (51-36, 7 years)

Michigan State's 2010 Season: 11-2, 7-1 in the Big Ten 

Offensive analysis: 

--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. 

Defensive analysis:

--Six returning starters

--Impact players: DT Jerel Worthy, MLB Max Bullough, FS Trenton Robinson

--353.8 yards allowed per game (43rd in the nation)

(John Martinez Pavliga via Creative Commons)
(John Martinez Pavliga via Creative Commons)
Now this is where it gets a bit dicey. Based on the number of returners on the offensive side of the ball, Cousins and Baker namely, Michigan State would qualify as a top-10 team in most seasons. But instead, there remain a fair share of question marks defensively, most notably at linebacker as all-American linebacker Greg Jones, who led the team with 106 tackles, was selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft by the New York Giants. Fellow linebacker Eric Gordon is also gone after finishing second on the team in tackles with 92. Replacing what was arguably the country’s top linebacker duo will be sophomore Max Bullough (MLB), who while finishing with just 23 tackles and playing sparingly during his freshman season was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. The unit is expected to experience a dip in production, but if Bullough, whose father and grandfather also played at Michigan State, can match his potential they should be posed for another prolific season. While the defensive line is certainly formidable with junior defensive end Tyler Hoover and junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy returning to the lineup, the secondary is where the Spartans might make their mark, as senior free safety Trenton Robinson is their leading returning tackler and cornerback Johnny Adams is said to be NFL-ready. Considering the departures, it’s safe to say there might be a decline, but with Dantonio (who is a defensive guy) still roaming the sidelines, the dropoff might not be too steep. 


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. 

(Jaym Esch via Creative Commons)
(Jaym Esch via Creative Commons)
Areas of Concern:

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. 

Final Thoughts:

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. 


Joey is the Sports Editor for the Daily Trojan. Reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.



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