This is Sparta!
Michigan State standout WR BJ Cunnigham leads a lethal deep threat attack for the Spartans.
Ryan Trapp | Staff Writer
13. Michigan State
2011 Record (Big 10): 11-3 (7-1)
Returning Starters (Off/Def/ST): 14 (4/8/2)
The Spartans return eight starters on what was the Big Ten’s best defense last season. They have the ability to tear teams apart from behind the line of scrimmage, ranking third in the FBS last season in both sacks and tackles for loss. Leading the way is the one of the best linebacker combinations in the country in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen. Both tallied over 80 tackles last season and had 25 tackles for loss and 15 sacks between them. The front four is anchored by All-American candidate William Gholston, who is coming off a 70 tackle, five-sack performance at defensive end in 2011. The Spartans also return senior Tyler Hoover, who, after missing almost all of 2011 with a rib injury, will help fill the void at tackle following the loss of Kevin Pickelman to graduation. Cornerback Johnny Adams considered leaving East Lansing for the NFL after a stellar 2011 campaign, but the senior is back and could be competing for All-American honors alongside Gholston. Darqueze Dennard fills in at the other corner slot, and safety Isaiah Lewis returns after earning second team All-Big Ten honors last season. Four-star recruit Demetrious Cox will throw his hat into the talented secondary that is at least two deep all around.
The offense will undoubtedly miss Kirk Cousins, who leaves MSU with his name all over the record book, but his replacement is no scrub. Andrew Maxwell was highly touted coming out of high school, and performed well in limited action last season. Maxwell won’t have downfield targets BJ Cunningham or Keshawn Martin to play with, both receivers were late-round NFL picks, but the Spartans have plenty of athletes waiting in the wings. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett could help mitigate some of that loss, but Bennie Fowler could erase doubts at the position altogether. After foot injuries kept him off the field last season, Fowler could emerge as a legitimate number one if he manages to stay healthy. The ground game is going to be very strong on the back of Le’Von Bell. A big bruising tailback, Bell is a complete runner who can move the chains (averages over five yards a carry in 289 carrier rushes) and has emerged as a threat catching the ball as well. Running behind an experienced offensive line that returns four starters, Bell has a chance to be a break-out star in 2012 and could carry the Spartans to a BCS title berth.
ROAD TO THE BCS
The Spartans open up 2012 with a bang, hosting Boise State in week one. They’ll have two more tough home games against Notre Dame and a much-improved Ohio State program in September. But their biggest challenge could be a two-week road test in October, traveling to Ann Arbor on the 20th and Wisconsin the 27th. It’s a tall order, but one Michigan State certainly has the talent to fill.
BURNING QUESTION:Was it Kirk Cousins or Mark Dantonio bringing stability to East Lansing?
After a tumultuous start to the new millennium, Michigan State seems to have finally found stability on the coaching staff in Mark Dantonio. He’s gone 44-22 in five seasons at the helm, but three of those were with star quarterback Kirk Cousins under center. The Dantonio-led Spartans are 28-12 in games Cousins started and 16-10 without him. There’s no question MSU’s football program is in much better shape than when Dantonio arrived, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can sustain the same level of success now that Cousins has left for the NFL.