Coming off a disappointing 2009 season, the Michigan State football team is looking to rebound as a dark horse in the Big Ten. Expectations were high last year and the Spartans struggled to a 6-7 record. The good news was that 5 of their 7 losses were by a combined 23 points and that they went to a bowl game for the 2nd straight year. The bad news was that it was the same old thing that has happened in previous years, such as not being able to finish games and committing crucial mistakes at key points in the game. If these can be corrected, and I believe Coach Dantonio is on his way to doing so, then the Spartans should be able to contend for a Big Ten Title. The team is looking forward to a successful season this year with 6 starters returning on offense, 7 starters on defense and a recruiting class that was near the top of the Big Ten.
On offense, JR. Kirk Cousins returns as the starter after splitting time with Keith Nichols last year. He will be “the guy” this year, as he looks to improve upon his 2009 statistics of 2,680 yards and 19 touchdowns. Cousins will be throwing to a group of talented and experienced wide receivers. Mark Dell had a slow year in 2009, but looks to regain his old form of 2008, where he was the team’s leading receiver and playmaker. Also returning is JR. BJ Cunningham, a consistent and durable receiver and JR. Keshawn Martin and his big play ability. He averaged 22.8 yards a reception and had 3 touchdowns of 80 yards or more. He is electric in the open field and every time he touches the ball, there is the opportunity for a big play. The sleeper of the group could be converted QB Nichols, who was permanently moved to wide receiver in the spring. He could be a player that eventually becomes a go to guy for the offense with his ability to run and catch the ball.
Running back is a question mark, but 2 guys return that saw significant playing time as true freshmen. Edwin Baker and Larry Caper have the potential to become a dynamic duo, with Baker being lightning and Caper thunder. The two sophomores combined for 895 yards and 4.4 yards per carry in 2009, but both need to make improvements in certain areas of their game. Baker needs to hang on to the football and run lower to the ground and Caper must improve his vision and see the hole open up quicker. If they both can accomplish these things, the offense should really take off. If not, there are 2 freshmen who will be ready to step up and assume the role of starting running back. The first is Nick Hill, an early enrollee, who made quite an impression during spring ball. What he lacks in height (he is only 5-foot-6), he makes up for with great instincts, speed and elusiveness. Also in the mix is 6-foot-2 230 pound battering ram LeVeon Bell. He could be used as a Jehuu Caulcrick type in short yardage and goal line situations.
The tight end position should also be a contributing part of an offense that ranked #1 in passing efficiency and #2 in passing offense in the Big Ten last year. Senior Charlie Gantt returns as a three year starter and was honorable mention All Big Ten last year. He will be joined by Brian Linthicum and Soph. Dion Sims, who has finally decided to pursue football only and give up on his basketball career (we did not want another Matt Trannon!).
Finally, Cousins must be protected and the O-line for the Spartans should be up to the challenge. The strength should be the left side of the line, where 2 starters return to protect Cousins’ backside. Guard Joel Foreman is a 3 year starter and Tackle D.J. Young will continue to be solid as a senior. They also have 2 senior linemen that saw significant action last year, Center John Stipek and Right Tackle J’Michael Deane. Deane is not even projected as a starter because it looks as if Jared McGaha is expected to start at Right Tackle and Soph. Chris McDonald at Right Guard. If they can gel, the final and most important piece to a potent offense will be in place, and 30 points a game is a real possibility.
The offense should be very dynamic and score a ton of points, even in the grind it out Big Ten. They have numerous playmakers on offense that have the ability to score every time they touch the ball. If they can all step up and play to their potential, this offense could be very scary and give opponents fits. But as always, defense wins championships and this year’s defense will be no different lead by All-American Greg Jones. Next week, I will preview the defense that will lead the Spartans to a Big Ten title in 2010!
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Written by David Lesmeister