Big Ten

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Michigan State Spartans

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 6-7, 4-4
Bowl Game: Alamo Bowl (L 41-31 vs. Texas Tech)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): NR, NR
Conference finish: 6th Big Ten Conference
Offensive rank: 38
Defensive rank: 73

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Larry Caper, 468 yards, 6 TD; Edwin Baker, 427 yards, 1 TD
Passing: Kirk Cousins, 2,680 yards, 19 TD, 9 INT
Receiving: Blair White, 990 yards, 9 TD
Tackles: Greg Jones, 154 total tackles
Sacks: Greg Jones, 9 sacks (7 solo, 4 assisted)
Interceptions: Six tied with one interception

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2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 18 vs. Notre Dame: The Irish represent the Spartans' biggest non-conference opponent in 2010, but with Western Michigan, FAU and Northern Colorado, the bar isn't set all that high. If the Spartans can get by Notre Dame in Week Three, they'll be well on their way to four wins before they even start conference play.

October 9 @ Michigan: The annual in-state rivalry game for the Paul Bunyan Trophy went to the Spartans last season and with the Wolverines not exactly pegged as likely to reclaim their spot as one of the most storied programs in the nation, they should be able to keep the trophy in East Lansing at least another year.

October 30 @ Iowa: If you really look at it, it isn't all that crazy to say the Spartans could be 7-1 when they play the Hawkeyes. If they sweep non-conference play and can get by Michigan (away), Illinois (home) and Northwestern (away), and assuming a loss against Wisconsin, this could be an unexpected push by a team most have slated somewhere in the middle of the pack.

November 20 vs. Purdue: The Big Ten is pretty top-heavy with Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin and Penn State on top and Michigan State, Purdue and Northwestern generally considered on the next rung down. As mentioned above, if all goes their way, and it's a big if, the Spartans could hypothetically be 8-2 or better at this point.

AP: N/A

Coaches': Not Ranked

Key Losses

Blair White, WR; Rocco Cironi, OT; Joel Nitchman, C; Trevor Anderson, DE; Oren Wilson, NT; Jeremy Ware, CB; Brett Swenson, K

Key Returning Players

Kirk Cousins, QB; Larry Caper, RB; Edwin Baker, RB; Keith Nicol, WR; Mark Dell, WR; Charlie Gantt, TE; Joel Foreman, G; Jerel Worthy, DT; Greg Jones, LB; Eric Gordon, LB; Chris L. Rucker, CB

Offensive Overview

There is firepower all over the offense this season. Where they may have a problem, though, is along the offensive line. Three starters are gone on a line that allowed just 14 sacks all season, ranking 14th in the nation in sacks allowed. Guard Joel Foreman is the leader of the bunch that, as a whole, needs to improve in run blocking to make way for a few talented, young backs. D.J. Young will assume the left tackle position after starting 11 games at right tackle a season ago, with John Stipek handling the job at center after starting three games from the position in '09. With Foreman and Young protecting the left side, a couple inexperienced linemen in tackle Jared McGaha and guard Chris McDonald will take over on the right.

Handling running duties will be sophomores Larry Caper and Edwin Baker. The two didn't even combine for 1,000 yards last season as the team's leading rushers, but expectations are high for the very youthful running game. Factor in big Le'Veon Bell and the speedy Nick Hill, each a true freshman, and we're talking about some serious talent in the running game. As far as the passing game goes, it should be the linchpin of this offense with former quarterback Keith Nichol thought an excellent candidate to emerge as the deep threat for the offense. Keshawn Martin will be in the mix as well with B.J. Cunningham expected to see plenty of action, too. Mark Dell's career has failed to live up to its billing thus far, but in his senior season, hope remains for him to emerge as one of the leaders of this deep set of receivers. Throw in Donald Spencer and tight ends Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum, and this is one dangerous group of pass catchers.

Bringing it all together will be junior quarterback Kirk Cousins, who often goes unmentioned when speaking of the Big Ten's top passers. At 6'3, 202 pounds, Cousins has good size, a good arm and has the quarterback position all to himself as a junior. He has plenty of weapons to throw to and with the running game expected to emerge, the Spartans should be able to open things up a bit in the passing game. Cousins passed for 2,680 yards, 19 touchdowns and boasted a 60.4% completion percentage last year and could see those numbers increase to over 3,000 yards and over 20 touchdown passes with the team he has around him.

Defensive Overview

Linebacker Greg Jones could very well be the top defender in the country coming off a year in which he recorded 154 tackles, 14 for a loss and nine sacks, leading the Spartans in each category. He'll again be used as a pass rusher and run stopper at the second line of defense. Eric Gordon had a solid season in 2009, recording 92 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He'll be joined by Chris Norman and Jon Misch in a linebackers corps that needs to improve in pass protection. William Gholston and Max Bullough could also find time on the field this season.

In the middle of the defensive line is Jerel Worthy who churned out a solid freshman campaign with 37 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Sophomore Blake Treadwell, who also saw action as a freshman last season, is expected to join Worthy on the inside from the nose tackle position. Tyler Hoover takes over for Trevor Anderson at end opposite Colin Neely, who managed three sacks and 24 tackles in 2009.

The secondary was the weak link of the defense last season and, based on the spring game in which they let up over 500 passing yards, things are not looking very encouraging going into this season. Chris L. Rucker isn't exactly the best corner in the nation, but he's solid and is the top corner on the Spartans roster. He'll be counted on to hold down the fort with Johnny Adams expected to take over the other corner spot. Dana Dixon will also find himself a big part of the rotation. Marcus Hyde and Trenton Robinson, who finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles, are expected to start at the safety positions with some young talent providing depth.

Special Teams Overview

Losing Brett Swenson, who hit 19 of his 22 field goal attempts and 44 of his 45 extra point attempts, hurts. Dan Conroy and Kevin Muma are battling for the vacated place kicker spot, but replacing Swenson's dependability right away will be difficult. Aaron Bates will return as the team's punter after averaging 41.6 yards per punt a season ago. He put an impressive 23 punts inside the 20 yard line in 2009. Keshawn Martin returns as the primary return man coming off a season in which he averaged 7.4 yards per punt return and 28.9 yards per kick return with one touchdown, the 11th best average in the nation.

Head Coach: Mark Dantonio

 

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Mark Dell, WR; Charlie Gantt, TE; Greg Jones, LB; Eric Gordon, LB; Chris L. Rucker, CB

Season Prediction

5th Big Ten Conference

After a tumultuous ending to the 2009 season that will be remembered for an off-field melee that reportedly involved several members of the football team, the Spartans enter 2010 with high aspirations. Nobody at Michigan State will be content settling for fifth place in a conference that includes a couple of teams that could be a little more beatable than some seem to think. Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State mark the Spartans' marquee conference matchups in the upcoming season. They lucked out in missing Ohio State and if they can find a way to grab one, or more, of these bigger games, they'll be in excellent shape and could actually finish in the top three in the Big Ten.

That said, despite an offense that features plenty of depth at the skill positions and a defense that includes arguably the best defender in college football, and despite the fact that the Spartans can beat most of their opponents in October and November, there is still the chance they drop a couple key conference matchups against Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue. Combine that with matchups against favored Wisconsin, Iowa and Penn State and the Spartans have their work cut out for them if they want to break into the top of this top-heavy conference. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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