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2011 Michigan State Preview
Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy
Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy
Posted May 23, 2011

Michigan State came up with one of its best regular seasons in decades, winning a piece of the Big Ten title, and then … pfffffft. The air flew out of the balloon when the Spartans got destroyed by Alabama. Could DT Jerel Worthy and MSU be better this year, even with some rebuilding? Can the program overcome the Bama loss? Check out the CFN 2011 MSU Preview.

Michigan State Spartans

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Mark Dantonio
5th year: 33-19
8th year overall: 51-36
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 24, Def. 24, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best Michigan State Players
1. DT Jerel Worthy, Jr.
2. QB Kirk Cousins, Sr.
3. CB Johnny Adams, Jr.
4. WR/PR Keshawn Martin, Sr.
5. FS Trenton Robinson, Sr.
6. RB Edwin Baker, Jr.
7. OG Joel Foreman, Sr.
8. WR B.J. Cunningham, Sr.
9. PK Dan Conroy, Jr.
10. DE William Gholston, Soph.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 Youngstown State
Sep. 10 Florida Atlantic
Sep. 17 at Notre Dame
Sep. 24 Central Michigan
Oct. 1 at Ohio State
Oct. 15 Michigan
Oct. 22 Wisconsin
Oct. 29 at Nebraska
Nov. 5 Minnesota
Nov. 12 at Iowa
Nov. 19 Indiana
Nov. 26 at Northwestern

Michigan State, this is your chance to prove you’re not Texas Tech.

The Big 12 South had a problem in 2008 when Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech all tied for the division title. After all the tie-breakers and all the arguments, Texas Tech was the odd program out in comparison to the mighty Longhorns and Sooners, and despite earning a piece of the Big 12 South title, and despite going 11-1 with a thrilling victory over Texas, because of a tie-breaker rule there was no shot to win the conference title and no chance to get to the BCS Championship. Thanks to the goofy rule that only two teams from a conference can get into the BCS, the Red Raiders didn’t even get a BCS bid and ended up in the Cotton Bowl. They felt so cheated and so disrespected that they were ultra-motivated, fired up, and looking to prove something to the world.

They lost to Ole Miss 47-34 to show that when all was said and done, to go Dennis Green, they were who we thought they were with one monster win – Texas – and a bunch of wins over mediocre teams on the way to what was supposedly a dream season.

Sound familiar?

Michigan State is always fighting against the stream as the second banana in its own state, but last year it was able to break free. Like 2008 Texas Tech had its big, street cred-earning win over Texas, Michigan State got its signature terrific performance against Wisconsin, coming up with key third down plays and limiting the mistakes it made all through the first month of the year to win 34-24. But that was sort of it.

The brilliant play call to beat Notre Dame on the fake field goal was an all-timer of a moment, and wins over Michigan and Illinois were impressive, but the Spartans hung their hats on the home win over the Badgers. Michigan wasn’t that great, Illinois was slightly above-average, and Notre Dame was flawed. Yeah, you have to beat who’s on the schedule, but there was no Ohio State and there were only two wins – Wisconsin and Notre Dame, and both were at home – over teams that finished with more than seven wins.

Unlike Wisconsin, who plays the role of 2008 Oklahoma in this overextended comparison, who obliterated the weak, and without the respect of Ohio State, the 2008 Texas, Michigan State didn’t have a lot of flash with the 31-6 thumping at Iowa cementing its role as the No. 3 team in the equation. The Spartans got their piece of the Big Ten title and were cast off to the Capital One Bowl with a hearty handshake and a pat on the back, and just when they had their chance to show the college football world that they were for real …

Alabama decided it wanted to play.

Teams, players and coaches – especially coaches – never like to buy into the idea that a great season can be undone by just one game, even a bowl. Unfortunately, yeah, in terms of perception, one game, or more like one half, soured everything MSU did in what should be considered a breakout campaign. The Tide rolled at will, Michigan State didn’t look like it belonged on the same planet, much less the same field, and one 49-7, six touchdown run-allowing loss later, the 11-1 regular season looked like a mirage.

As bad as the Capital One Bowl might have been, it doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Yes, Iowa and Nebraska are going to be nasty in the new Legends Division, and no, Michigan is going to continue to stink on a regular basis, but 2010 could be just the start. Mark Dantonio, health scares and all, is a terrific head coach, the systems in place work, and there’s always enough talent flowing through to be a yearly player in the conference race. Now, MSU just has to win a six-team division to get its shot at the Big Ten title, and unlike last year, no one can take away a shot at the BCS on a technicality or a tie breaker.

But the Spartans have to do their part.

This year’s team has a ton of shuffling and a lot of work to do on the offensive line. It needs to be more consistent running the ball, and the passing game, for all the yards and all the efficiency, has to be better on third downs and even more explosive.

The defense should be a killer up front and in the secondary, the linebacking corps is athletic, and the special teams might be the best in the Big Ten.

No, Michigan State will never be Ohio State or Michigan when it comes to national recognition, but that doesn’t matter as long as the results keep on coming.

And no, Michigan State isn’t Texas Tech. This year might prove it.

What to watch for on offense: Shuffling on the offensive line. The front five wasn’t exactly special last season, and it didn’t do enough on a consistent basis to blast anyone off the ball, but to get back to a Big Ten title level the right combination has to be found right away and the results have to be better. The guard situation is solid with Joel Foreman, when healthy, and Chris McDonald good ones to work around, but the tackle situation is more than just a question mark and the center job has to be settled. When you’re counting on defensive linemen to step in and produce on the offensive front, there’s a problem.

What to watch for on defense: How fast can the linebackers make up for the losses of Greg Jones and Eric Gordon? Oddly enough, the team came through with its big year even though Jones didn’t blow up like he did earlier in his career. Even so, he was the team’s leading tackler and a peerless leader for a good front seven. The Spartans have good athletes and lots of options at linebacker, and the stats will come just by the nature of the positions, but it’s asking a lot to replace two all-stars and get the same results.

The team will be far better if … the defensive front can rush the passer after finishing 90th in the nation in sacks and 91st in tackles for loss. The Spartans never seem to have that one, killer, dominant pass rusher who does nothing but fly into the backfield and sits on the quarterback’s head. The 2011 Spartans have a guy with the right name, Vernon Gholston’s cousin, William Gholston, and while he’s a hybrid type who can fly into the backfield, he’s built more like a 3-4 end. The same goes for Tyler Hoover, who at 6-7 and 274 pounds is a tall, rangy defender who’s good, but isn’t a double-digit sack guy.

The schedule: It’s one of the rare Big Ten schedules that gets easier late. With Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic to start, the Spartans get two games of tune-up time before going to Notre Dame, and the Central Michigan game should work some of the final kinks out before getting the killer out of the way going to Ohio State to start the Big Ten season (in a game everyone wanted to see last year). Going to Columbus is the worst interdivisional break possible, and facing Wisconsin, even at home, isn’t much better. On the plus side, the other Leaders date is against Indiana, but in Legends play, the Spartans have to go to Iowa and Nebraska … thanks for playing. The trip to Iowa City is in November, but that’s in the midst of a relatively easy run with Minnesota and Indiana at home and closing out at Northwestern.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Kirk Cousins. He’s not spectacular and he doesn’t have elite skills, but he’s a big, nice-armed passer who should be a top 50 NFL Draft pick if he can come up with a good senior season. He has thrown 19 picks in the last two years, he wasn’t always great on third downs, and he had a few struggles at odd times, but he was one of the nation’s most efficient passers, spreads the ball around well, and is accurate on his midrange throws. With a great receiving corps to work with, he should throw for more than 3,000 yards.

Best defensive player: Junior DT Jerel Worthy. The nice part for Worthy is that he doesn’t have to be the big, bad, body on the interior. The Spartans are loaded with plus-sized defensive lineman, so Worthy, at 6-3 and 305 pounds, can be turned loose as a playmaker in the backfield and a strong run stopper. While the projections always fluctuate wildly, Worthy has top ten overall pick talent and size, and now the pressure will be on to show that he can take his game up a notch with the scouting spotlight on. Call 2011 a multi-million dollar job interview.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore OT Dan France and/or junior OT Zach Hueter and/or senior OT Jared McGaha. Someone has to lock down the left tackle job. While having a tough veteran in Joel Foreman at left guard will help the cause, it’ll be vital for one of the three options, most likely France, to keep the relatively immobile Kirk Cousins clean. If the tackles are great, the offense will explode. If they stink, the machine will break down.

The season will be a success if … the Spartans win the Leaders. Having to play Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa on the road might screw things up, and getting Wisconsin from the Legends, even at home, isn’t a positive, but the Spartans have enough talent in key areas to make up for the shortcomings on the offensive line and linebacker. After going 11-1, and with all the talent returning, there’s no reason to demand anything less than a division championship. Is this the best team in the Big Ten? Probably not, but it’s not far off.

Key game: Oct. 1 at Ohio State. The Buckeyes will be in the final game of their five-game run without Terrelle Pryor and the Tattoo Five, and Jim Tressel will still be lawyering up somewhere, but Michigan State can’t care about those things. It’s an interdivisional game, and in the end, winning at Nebraska and/or Iowa will probably mean more, but starting out the new Big Ten season with a win in Columbus would make a huge statement that the program is still rolling after a great 2010. The last win over the Buckeyes was in 1999, and the last win in Columbus was 1998.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Michigan State 1st Quarter Scoring: 55 – Michigan State 2nd Quarter Scoring: 130
- Field Goals: Michigan State 14-of-15 – Opponents 11-of-13
- Fourth Down Conversions: Michigan State 12-of-17 (71%) – Opponents 13-of-21 (62%)

- 2011 Michigan State Preview | 2011 Michigan State Offense
- 2011 Michigan State Defense | 2011 Michigan State Depth Chart
- Michigan State Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006