1. Michigan State Spartans
Big Ten Countdown - Legends Division - First Place
By Tony Gerdeman
The most balanced offense in the conference, but one with offensive line concerns. The defense loses its top three tacklers, but Mark Dantonio built depth over the last few years, and there are talented replacements waiting their turn on all three levels of the defense.
Seven on offense, six on defense and the placekicker.
Sept. 2 Youngstown State (W)
Sept. 10 Florida Atlantic (W)
Sept. 17 at Notre Dame (L)
Sept. 24 Central Michigan (W)
Oct. 1 at Ohio State (L)
Oct. 15 Michigan (W)
Oct. 22 Wisconsin (W)
Oct. 29 at Nebraska (L)
Nov. 5 Minnesota (W)
Nov. 12 at Iowa (W)
Nov. 19 Indiana (W)
Nov. 25 at Northwestern (W)
"What 'Sparty Curse'?!"
A Big Ten Championship. Now that the Spartans have a taste of championship glory, they no doubt want more. Call it gluttony if you want, but they're not leaving the table until they get more. And don't be swayed by the team breaking huddles by shouting "National champs!", because they'll be plenty thrilled with back-to-back Big Ten titles.
Ten wins. There are just too many tough road games to win more than three of them. That will still be plenty for an appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game, however.
Five wins. Each of those road games could be losses, as could home games against Michigan and Wisconsin. Could they all happen together? Doubtful, but that's why we call it a "worst case scenario".
Five Questions Looking For Answers
1. Can this offensive line protect quarterback Kick Cousins?
2. Are there enough carries for all of these running backs?
3. The defensive ends look imposing, but will they play that way?
4. How do you replace Greg Jones?
5. Can Michigan State put two great years together in a row?
Best Chance For a Big Loss
At Notre Dame. No matter what you think of the Irish, playing Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic won't get the Spartans ready for Notre Dame. Michigan State won't run into problems in their first two games, which could lead to a false sense of security.
Most Important Game
Michigan. Dantonio needs to slow down some of Brady Hoke's momentum, or "Hokementum", and putting a pounding on the Wolverines would be one way to do it. Plus, it's like a division game and all.
Best Road Game To Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To
At Ohio State. If ever there was a chance to get a win in Columbus, this would seem to be the year. Michigan State hasn't defeated the Buckeyes since 1999, having lost seven straight in the series, but getting Ohio State without many of their top offensive players would seem to help out the Spartan defense greatly.
Game They Shouldn't Lose, But Could
Michigan. I know, it's heresy to say that Michigan State "shouldn't lose this game", but since the game is in Spartan Stadium, they really shouldn't. But being that it's a rivalry game, they very well could. Assuming Michigan State still considers Michigan a rivalry game, of course.
Something To Look For
More passing on early downs, and deeper down field as well. With Dan Roushar installed as Dantonio's new offensive coordinator, one of the things he wants to do is make his team more unpredictable. First down runs were the norm in East Lansing, as were second down runs. Roushar's plan is to throw more on early downs, and also take more shots down the field. We'll see how long Dantonio allows this.
Safety Trenton Robinson. On a defense that lost three of its best leaders from last season, Robinson is being looked at to set the tone for the entire defense, and it doesn't seem like he'd have it any other way. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season, and regardless of whether or not he returns to that team again this season, he will be giving the Spartans everything the coaches ask of him.
Cornerback Johnny Adams. There are legitimately five different players who could be named here, but there's something to be said for a lockdown cornerback. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last year and many are expecting him to reach first-team status this season.
Player People Are Expecting Too Much From
Quarterback Kirk Cousins. If the offensive line doesn't come together, he may not have as good a showing as people want. Still, he's a three-year starter who has put up some nice numbers and more will be expected of him as a senior, and he has the receivers around him to merit those expectations as well as the running game to keep the defense from focusing solely on the passing game. But he hasn't played his best in recent scrimmages, and you have to wonder if the offensive line has him worried.
Player People Will Be Pleasantly Surprised By
Middle linebacker Max Bullough. Replacing a player like Greg Jones is never easy, but the Spartans think they'll be just fine with Bullough patrolling the middle. He's a smart guy, and even though he's only entering his second year on campus, linebackers coach Mike Tressel said that he's playing like a four-year starter right now. The coaches have also said that he'll be better than Jones when it comes to defending the pass.
Offensive tackle Skyler Burkland. Burkland has been given the nod at right tackle and has run with it. Players have talked about the edge and attitude that he brings. He is a relentless blocker and has all the makings of a four-year starter.
Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated
The road schedule. They could very well lose all five of their road games and none of the losses would be considered much of an upset. Traveling to Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern are going to take their toll. Only an idiot would pick them to win their division.
Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated
The depth on defense. You're probably thinking that the offense would be the real key, but Michigan State has had good offenses before, and nothing has come of it. The reason? The lack of defensive stops. That will differ this season as there is talent and depth at all levels, though much of it is unknown outside of East Lansing right now.
Something They Do Well
Get as many running backs involved as can handle it. Mark Dantonio has said this summer that he doesn't care who is carrying the ball, but he definitely wants the hot hand to be utilized. With four running backs who are capable of carrying the ball, all four will get their cracks. Whichever running back is closing out the fourth quarter will probably be the one who showed the most over the first three quarters.
Something They Don't Do So Well
Pressure the quarterback. The Spartans were 90th in the nation in sacks last season. Sadly, they were still better than five other Big Ten teams. Getting to the quarterback will be a renewed focus this season, and the staff will be expecting a lot more production from their defensive ends. They also wouldn't turn down a little more production in the pass rush from defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, who is an NFL prospect as a run stopper.
The competition at defensive end. The lack of sacks has been a frequent topic of conversation for the Spartans, but the coaches think they have four defensive ends who can make some noise in that department. William Gholston put on 20 pounds from last season, and the hope is that at 275 pounds this season he won't get tossed around as much as he did last year. Tyler Hoover started nine games last season, but is in a battle for a starting spot with Denzel Drone, who started four games last season as a redshirt freshman. The talk of camp among the defensive ends, however, has been redshirt freshman Marcus Rush. Both jobs are still technically up for grabs, but there will be a rotation of four all season long.
What's Gotten Worse?
The offensive line. Maybe. The only starters returning from last season are guards Joel Foreman and Chris McDonald, so the Spartans are not only looking for bookends, they're also looking for somebody to make the calls and snap the ball. Amazingly, however, they seem to be very excited about their two tackles. Sophomore Dan France has apparently secured the left tackle spot, and redshirt freshman Skyler Burkland has shown a nastiness at right tackle that has him standing out. The only battle right now is at center, which is between redshirt freshman Travis Jackson and converted defensive tackle Blake Treadwell.
Anything Else We Should Know About?
There are playmakers at cornerback. Even aside from the obvious mention of Johnny Adams, Darqueze Dennard and Tony Lippett have been impressive this summer. Many expected the redshirt freshman Lippett to win this job, but Dennard has locked it down through no fault of Lippett's. In fact, Lippett has returned a couple of interceptions for touchdowns in the last two scrimmages.
There are four linebackers that could start right now. Even with the loss of perpetual starters Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, the Spartans like who they have coming back at the position. Along with Max Bullough, they return Chris Norman, Denicos Allen and Steve Gardiner. Norman started ten games last year as a sophomore, but a lot more is expected of him this year. Allen brings more speed than either Jones or Gordon last year, and Gardiner can play a couple of positions after getting a ton of work this spring.
Make a Wish
A solid offensive line that allows Kirk Cousins to survey the field and utilize each of his weapons.
Despite loads of talent - but more so because of it - the Spartans won't have a 1,000-yard rusher this season.
Scandal Most Likely To Rock the Program
Wrong name-gate. While in Ohio Stadium for the Spartans' October 1st matchup against the Buckeyes, Mark Dantonio will gather his team on the sidelines prior to the kickoff and after a rousing speech, scream out, "Let's go Buckeyes!" He will then spend the rest of the game trying to convince his players that what he really meant to say was "Let's go buck the Buckeyes!"
If The Head Coach Was a Superhero, What Would His Super Power Be?
The super ability to only see the good in people. Whether it's reinstating a running back who nearly killed a hockey player, or calling your best friend a "hero" after he cheated you out of a Rose Bowl berth. What an amazing gift.
Donate by Check :
1380 King Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43212
Help us bring you more Buckeye coverage. Donate to the-Ozone.
Click here to email this the-Ozone feature to a friend...or even a foe.
(c) 2010 The O-Zone, O-Zone Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, rebroadcast,rewritten, or redistributed.