2008 CFN Michigan State Preview
Michigan State RB Javon Ringer
Michigan State RB Javon Ringer
Posted May 2, 2008

Just how close is Michigan State to being a major Big Ten power? Closer than you might think. If star RB Javon Ringer can stay healthy, and the defense comes through as expected, this could be a big second season in the Mark Dantonio era. Check out the CFN Michigan State Preview.

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2008

By Pete Fiutak

- 2008 CFN Michigan State Preview | 2008 MSU Offense
- 2008 MSU Defense | 2008 MSU Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Michigan State Preview | 2006 CFN Michigan State Preview 

If nothing else, head coach Mark Dantonio did a great job of changing the culture of flake around East Lansing. Past Spartan teams would’ve gone into the tank after losing three straight games including an overtime heartbreaker to Iowa and a soul-crusher at home against Michigan. But Dantonio showed that this isn’t the same old Michigan State as he rallied his team to come up with two nice wins over Purdue and Penn State to earn a bowl trip.

This isn’t the MSU you’re used to, but there’s still a lot of work to do and the program still might be a year or two away from being at the high level Spartans fans are demanding.

Head coach: Mark Dantonio
2nd year: 7-6
5th year overall: 26-23
Returning Lettermen
Off. 15, Dec. 19., ST 3
Lettermen Lost:
Ten Best MSU Players
RB Javon Ringer, Sr.
2. LB Greg Jones, Soph.
3. SS Otis Wiley, Sr.
4. DE Trevor Anderson, Jr.
5. QB Brian Hoyer, Sr.
6. CB Kendall Davis-Clark, Sr.
7. DT Justin Kershaw, Sr.
8. DE Brandon Long, Sr.
9. OT Jesse Miller, Sr.
10. WR Mark Dell, Soph.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Results: 0-0

Aug. 30 at California
Sept. 6 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 13 Florida Atlantic
Sept. 20 Notre Dame
Sept. 27 at Indiana
Oct. 4 Iowa
Oct. 11 at Northwestern
Oct. 18 Ohio State
Oct. 25 at Michigan
Nov. 1 Wisconsin
Nov. 8 Purdue
Nov. 15 OPEN DATE 
Nov. 22 at Penn State

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Results:

Sept. 1 UAB W 55-18
Sept. 8 B. Green W 28-17
Sept. 15 Pitt W 17-13
Sept. 22 at No Dame W 31-14
Sept. 29 at Wisconsin L 37-34
Oct. 6
Nwestern L 48-41 OT
Oct. 13 Indiana W 52-27
Oct. 20 at Ohio State L 24-17
Oct. 27
at Iowa L 34-27 2OT
Nov. 3 Michigan L 28-24
Nov. 10 at Purdue W 48-31
Nov. 17 Penn State W 35-31
Champs Sports Bowl
Dec. 28 Boston College L 24-21

Just enough key cogs are gone to prevent a major improvement in Dantonio's year two. RB Javon Ringer and QB Brian Hoyer are back to work around but there are several huge losses like DEs Jonal Saint-Dic & Ervin Baldwin, WR Devin Thomas, and RB Jahuu Caulcrick. And then there’s the schedule with a brutal back half of the season to deal with.

Not like Dantonio will worry about any apparent obstacles. His style is to go full-steam forward and power through, and that's what his offense is going to do.

The line is huge, Ringer is special, and Hoyer is a good veteran who won't get much publicity because he isn't fancy. The defense has the potential to be fantastic with Cincinnati transfer Trevor Anderson likely to be as good as, or better, than Saint-Dic, and future NFL millionaire Otis Wiley appearing to be home at strong safety after struggling the first part of last year at free safety. The defensive front seven, led by LB Greg Jones, is fast, the receivers, while inexperienced, are fast, and the backs are fast. Dantonio has the blend of speed and power that he needs, and now the close wins have to start going MSU's way.

Talk about a team that can't come through in the clutch, all six of Michigan State's losses came by seven points or fewer. All six. Over the last four years, MSU is 5-17 in games decided by eight points or fewer. Veteran, confident teams win more of those, and this year's Spartan team is more experienced, and more confident. And better.

It might take one more year to be a Big Ten championship contender, but there are just enough good pieces in place to come a lot closer than the program has been in a long time.

What to watch for on offense: Can Mark Dell become a star receiver? He was a great recruit last year, and he came up with a decent 20-catch true freshman season, but now he has to become a special, No. 1 type of target at the X. Tight end is going to be the bigger issue, replacing Kellen Davis, and Hoyer will make everyone better, but if Dell isn't great right away, the Spartans could quickly become more one-dimensional.

What to watch for on defense: Stars to build around. James Laurinaitis has already been handed the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year trophy, and there are good defensive players throughout the league, but MSU DE Trevor Anderson, LB Greg Jones, and SS Otis Wiley are as talented as any three at their positions. Anderson is going to be a one-man wrecking crew into the backfield, Jones was a freshman sensation who'll do even more now that he's in the middle, and Wiley should be a top NFL prospect again at strong safety.

The team will be far better if … it
can return a punt. The Spartans were third in the nation in kickoff returns last season, thanks to Devin Thomas, averaging 25.68 yards per return, but only Iowa State was worse at returning punts. The Spartans averaged 4.06 yards per return. The longest return was just 18 yards.

The Schedule: No one's going to expect the Spartans to win the opener at California, so it's sort of a no-lose situation. An upset could set the tone for a huge first half of the year getting expected home wins over Eastern Michigan and Florida Atlantic before dealing with an improved Notre Dame, who MSU should beat. If you're going to go on the road for two Big Ten road dates in three weeks, there's worse than playing at Indiana and Northwestern. The key to the season is the mid-season three-game stretch against Ohio State, at Michigan and Wisconsin before closing out against Purdue, but those are three home games in a four-game stretch before getting a week off. While MSU will be rested for the regular season finale against Penn State, the Nittany Lions will be coming off a game against Indiana. The Spartans catch a huge break missing Illinois, but it all evens out with Minnesota off the schedule.

Best Offensive Player: Senior RB Javon Ringer. The only question is whether or not he can stay healthy. He has had problems with his knees and a shoulder, but he still tore off 1,447 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and he would've put up ridiculous scoring numbers if Jehuu Caulcrick didn't take away 21 scores.

Best Defensive Player: Sophomore LB Greg Jones. Anderson is going to be the new pass rushing star, Wiley will be the top NFL prospect, and there are others, like LB Eric Gordon and DT Justin Kershaw, in the running for All-Big Ten honors, but Jones will be the leader of the defense. With unlimited range and great pass rushing ability, he was a breakout star on the outside as a freshman. Now he's being moved to the middle where he should be among the Big Ten's best for the next three years.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore WR Mark Dell. There are plenty of decent wide receiver options ready to shine, but Dell needs to show he can build on the big spring and the good promise of last year and be the new Devin Thomas. He has the next-level talent to quickly become one of the league's most dangerous receivers.

The season will be a success if ... the Spartans win nine games. It'll require an upset or two against someone like Cal or Penn State on the road, or Ohio State or Wisconsin at home, but this team should be good enough to pull it off. A nine-win season would be the best since the 10-2 1999 campaign, and it would be the stepping-stone to show that MSU is on the verge of really big things under Dantonio.

Key game: August 30th vs. California. On name recognition alone, and because the game is in Berkeley, just about everyone will chalk up a Cal win without giving it much thought. If the MSU running game controls the tempo, and if the pass rush gets in the backfield on a regular basis, this could be a win. The Bears are breaking in several new skill players and will hardly be jelled in game one. The Spartans have to take advantage. Win this one, and 7-0 is possible before facing Ohio State.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Michigan State 40 for 302 yards – Opponents 30 for 193 yards
- Rushing yards per game: Michigan State 198.2 – Opponents 125.8
- Opponents scoring: 1st quarter: 68 – 2nd quarter 116