By Mike Castiglione, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: For the second straight year, the Michigan State
Spartans were tripped up early in the season. Only this time, they never
really picked themselves up. Despite playing in a post-New Year's Day bowl
game -- a 41-31 loss to Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl -- the Spartans didn't
make a whole lot of noise on the national radar. They followed up a stunning
week two loss at home to Central Michigan (29-27) with consecutive losses to
Notre Dame (33-30) and Wisconsin (38-30).
A three-game win streak, highlighted by a victory over then 22nd-ranked
Michigan and another at Illinois, provided a glimmer of hope. But they went on
to lose three of their final five regular-season contests, with one of the
victories coming against Western Michigan, and the other necessitating an 11-
point comeback in the fourth quarter against Purdue. However, the real fallout
came after the team's awards banquet, when 15 players were involved in a brawl
with a fraternity, leaving a big scar on the program.
OFFENSE: The Spartans are set at quarterback, where junior Kirk Cousins threw
for an impressive 2,680 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first year as the
starter. He ranked third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency (142.6), and
most importantly, now has a full year of experience under his belt.
"I think Kirk did an outstanding job last year," head coach Mark Dantonio
said. "He's always been an extremely mature, hard-working individual. He's
determined he can play, and play at a high level under pressure, which is
something I feel as well."
Meanwhile, former quarterback Keith Nichol, who lost the job to Cousins last
year, has switched to receiver where he can take advantage of his athleticism.
Replacing First Team All-Big Ten wideout Blair White won't be easy, but junior
Keshawn Martin is a threat to take it to the house at any time, as he ranked
third in the Big Ten with 1,451 all-purpose yards (111.6 ypg) last year.
Top rushers Larry Caper and Edwin Baker are back, and both are only
sophomores. Caper earned Freshman All-Big Ten honors after rushing for a team-
high 468 yards and six touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime
against rival Michigan. Baker led the team in rushing in the second half and
racked up 97 yards in the Alamo Bowl.
Joel Foreman is a three-year starter at left guard, while D.J. Young will
slide over to left tackle after starting the final 11 games at right tackle
DEFENSE: Yards up the middle should be tough to come by against the Michigan
State defense. All-American Greg Jones is a wrecking ball at linebacker, as
evidenced by his 154 tackles (14 TFL), which ranked third in the nation last
season. Jones also accumulated nine sacks and eight quarterback hurries, and
Big Ten QBs can expect more of the same in 2010. Defensive end is a question
mark entering the season, but sophomore Jerel Worthy (4.5 sacks, 9.0 TFL) is
also a force at defensive tackle after earning Freshman All-America honors.
Eric Gordon, who will be a four-year starter at linebacker, ranked second on
the team with 92 tackles (7.5 TFL) and also notched 3.5 sacks.
In the secondary, four players with starting experience return, including
Chris L. Rucker who is entering his fourth year as a starter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior receiver Keshawn Martin will once again return kicks
after averaging nearly 29 yards per return in 2009. He also handled the punt
return duties (7.4 ypr), although that job may go to someone else as he is
expected to play a bigger role in the offense. At kicker, the Spartans must
replace record-setting kicker Brett Swenson, and redshirt freshman Kevin Muma
may be the guy. Junior Aaron Bates (41.6 ypp) is back at punter.
OUTLOOK: After another shaky start in 2009, the Spartans must come out of the
blocks strong. The good news is they won't play a true road game until October
9th at Michigan. They'll also have 15 starters returning, and their best two
options on both sides of the ball happen to play the two most critical
positions in Cousins and Jones.
On one hand, MSU is coming off a third straight bowl bid. On the other, the
Spartans know they underachieved last year, and the offseason legal troubles
didn't exactly help matters. Tough road games at Iowa and Penn State await at
the back end of the schedule, but the Spartans dodge Ohio State. If they can
get through the Michigan game in good shape, they should have a good shot at a
fourth straight bowl bid.