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2011 Jun 02
Michigan State: The Spartans have much of their Co-Big Ten championship team from 2010 returning. A mind-blowing loss to Alabama in the 2011 Capitol One Bowl is driving the team hard during the offseason. Coach Mark D'Antonio returns seven starters on offense and six on defense from a team that didn't really stand out statically. The Spartans were a top 50 team last year in passing yardage even with second-team All-Big Ten quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Running Back Edwin Baker returns as one of the top running backs in the conference. He’ll be running behind a line that is anchored by Joel Foreman and Chris McDonald, arguably the best guard combination in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. Cousins has Wide Receiver BJ Cunningham who is 10 receptions away from being the school’s all-time leader in receptions.
Defensively, this team will return potential All-Big Ten players in defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, linebackers Max Bullough and Chris Norman and safety Trenton Robinson. The defense was decent at times last year only allowing 22 points per game. That earned them a stat ranking in the top 40. There were times that the defense did break such as when they allowed over 300 yards passing to Penn State then 546 yards total offense and 49 points to Alabama. In Big Ten conference play, the Spartans allowed almost four yards per rushing attempt while allowing over six versus the Crimson Tide.
There were interesting times during the Spartans' season last year. Not many of us have forgotten the fake field goal that D'Antonio called in overtime against Notre Dame. That was definitely one of those calls that will make you a hero or a goat (ask Iowa State’s Paul Rhodes about that). The comebacks against Purdue and Northwestern also come to mind, but so does the egg laid against Iowa.
The thing that strikes me about this team is that they appeared to play over their heads at points last year. The non-conference schedule was not very tough save for the Notre Dame game. In-conference, they were hung out to dry at times, but left all but one game with a victory. The win at home against Wisconsin and the come-from-behind triumph against Purdue showed how good this team can be.
Offensively, this could be the best team that Nebraska will play sideline to sideline. Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar takes over play calling and I think that the confidence is there to hold audibles to a minimum. Cousins can slide and scramble out of the pocket and his line will be stout. Defensively, last year's team was the best in four years under defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. The key for the Spartans’ great season was takeaways. In 2009, they only had 14. In 2010, they reached 24 and was +0.38 in turnover margin.
Michigan State seems like a team that will be good, but you question if they’ll be good enough to repeat last year’s success. There are enough returning players to justify favorable preseason predictions Big Ten play, but enough question marks to make you wonder how good they will be overall.
Sparty has to deal with Wisconsin the week before they visit Lincoln, so it could help the Cornhuskers by getting this team just off a tough game. The Spartans should be able to speed through the non-conference schedule and if they can do so healthy, they could play close to the level that they were at last year.
Follow Brian on Twitter: @btbowling
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