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2009 CFN Michigan State Preview
Michigan State LB Greg Jones
Michigan State LB Greg Jones
Posted Jul 19, 2009 2009 Preview - Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2009

By Pete Fiutak

- 2009 CFN Michigan State Preview | 2009 MSU Offense
- 2009 MSU Defense | 2009 MSU Depth Chart
- 2008 MSU Preview | 2007 MSU Preview | 2006 MSU Preview

Head coach: Mark Dantonio
3rd year: 16-10
6th year overall: 35-27
Returning Lettermen
Off. 18, Dec. 24, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 15
Ten Best MSU Players
LB Greg Jones, Jr.
2. DE Trevor Anderson, Sr.
3. LB Eric Gordon, Jr.
4. WR Mark Dell, Jr.
5. C Joel Nitchman, Sr.
6. CB Chris Rucker, Jr.
7. WR Blair White, Sr.
8. WR B.J. Cunningham, Soph.
9. FS Danny Fortener, Sr.
10. TE Charlie Gantt, Jr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 10-2
2009 Results: 0-0

9/5 Montana State
9/12 Central Michigan
9/19 at Notre Dame
9/26 at Wisconsin
10/3 Michigan
10/10 at Illinois
10/17 Northwestern
10/24 Iowa
10/31 at Minnesota
11/7 Western Michigan
11/14 at Purdue
11/21 Penn State
11/28 OPEN DATE 

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 7-5

2008 Results: 9-4

8/30 at California L 38-31
9/6 Eastern Mich W 42-10
9/13 Florida Atlantic W 17-0
9/20 Notre Dame W 23-7
9/27 at Indiana W 42-29
10/4 Iowa W 16-13
10/11 at Nwestern W 37-20
10/18 Ohio State L 45-7
10/25 at Michigan W 35-21
11/1 Wisconsin W 25-24
11/8 Purdue W 21-7
11/15 OPEN DATE 
11/22 at Penn State L 49-18
Capital One Bowl
1/1 Georgia L 24-12

Is Michigan State going to become another Wisconsin, and be good enough to hover around the top of the Big Ten from time to time, without being a consistent top two team, or is Mark Dantonio building a potential superpower?

Getting great athletes and good talents to East Lansing has rarely been a problem for any Michigan State head coach, but finding any semblance of consistency has been an issue. Dantonio, in his third year, appears to have established a nice base of players and a good system that doesn’t take a whole slew of risks, and after last year, beats the teams that are supposed to be beaten.

It might seem like a simple concept to go out and take care of business when you’re the favorite, but Michigan State used to always have a problem with that and it always had a problem playing up to its talent level. Last year, despite not being all that great in any one area, the Spartans were able to win nine games against the inferior opponents, and teams like Iowa and Wisconsin who were on the same level, but they lost to the four better teams (California, Ohio State, Penn State and Georgia) on the slate. That’s fine. Step one is to establish a winning tradition in the games you’re supposed to win, and step two is to come up with a win here and there against one of the bigger boys. To do the latter, MSU has to find something it can do really, really well.

It might seem like MSU was a great running team last season because of Javon Ringer’s monster year, but the running game was ninth in the Big Ten and averaged a mere 130 yards per game. The defense was great at times, but it allowed 156 points in the four losses and 131 in the nine wins. The passing game only came up with 11 touchdown passes, the pass rush was average, and the return game was lousy. But MSU was more than stats; it was about finding ways to win, like it did with a clutch comeback against Wisconsin.

This year’s team has the make-up to take the next step up. While there was an outside chance of a Big Ten title going into the final weekend of last season, this year’s team could actually get the job done thanks to a dangerous and veteran receiving corps, a strong defensive back seven, and a quarterback situation that could be better despite the loss of solid starter Brian Hoyer.

There will still be holes, like the right side of the offensive line, the defensive tackles, and inexperience in the offensive backfield, but these are tweaks that can be quickly taken care of. Dantonio has the program more than headed in the right direction. It might have arrived.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. It’s not that Brian Hoyer was bad, he was a solid Big Ten quarterback, but he didn’t make the team better in a disappointing senior season. Sophomore Kirk Cousins is the type of passer who could make the offense more explosive, while Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol has an all-around game that could give defenses fits. The coaching staff is toying around with the idea of a QB rotation, and in this case, it might not be a bad thing.

What to watch for on defense: The emergence of the linebacking corps. A bit underappreciated last season, this undersized, overactive group did a nice job of cleaning things up against the run. Greg Jones deserves to be an All-American, while Eric Gordon is a strong running mate. There will be some adjusting throughout the season with Jones likely to see time in the middle and on the strongside, but there are good players to toy around with to find the right combination.

The team will be far better if … it’s better on third downs on both sides of the ball. Florida State led the nation by allowing offenses to convert on 25% of their third down chances. SMU was dead last allowing teams convert 56% of the time. Michigan State wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great allowing teams to convert 41.1% of the time, 71st in the nation. Meanwhile, the Spartans were abysmal on third downs finishing 98th in the nation by converting just 35% of the time.

The Schedule: The non-conference slate is sneaky-tough considering Central Michigan and Western Michigan might be the two best teams in the MAC, and going to Notre Dame isn't like going to Notre Dame last year. It'll be an emotionally charged start to the Big Ten season with a trip to Wisconsin, Michigan, and a date at Illinois to start, but things ease up a bit. Penn State could be in for a tremendous season, but it could all unravel in the regular season finale in East Lansing on November 21st. It's a nice trade-off when it comes to the teams MSU misses. Not getting Indiana hurts, but not having to play Ohio State more than makes up for it Roman.

Best Offensive Player: Junior WR Mark Dell, but … this will be up for debate throughout the season. Dell has the pro skills. He’s 6-2, 196 pounds, and fast. However, he has to secure a starting spot over Blair White on the X. Meanwhile, the quarterbacks, Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, will likely be the stars of the show. If one takes the job by the horns and keeps the other on the bench, he’ll be the team’s main offensive playmaker. And then there’s the all-star recognition. Center Joel Nitchman is likely to be the team’s surest bet for post-season honors.

Best Defensive Player: Junior LB Greg Jones. Moved around where needed, Jones is a major-league tackler inside and out. He followed up a breakout freshman year with a 127-stop, 14-tackle-for-loss sophomore campaign, and now he’s on the verge of being a national star. While he’s not all that big at 6-1 and 222 pounds, he has unlimited range and is a peerless open-field tackler.

Key player to a successful season: Junior OT J’Michael Deane. The left side of the line is set, and Nitchman is a rock at center. The right side needs some work with defensive tackle Antonio Jeremiah being brought over to be tested out at tackle and Deane needing to go from a reserve to a consistent blocker right away. He’s replacing Jesse Miller, who finished with second-team All-Big Ten honors, and he’ll have to show he can be a solid pass protector from day one.

The season will be a success if ... the Spartans win the Big Ten title. With no Ohio State on the schedule and Penn State coming to East Lansing, now it the time to get the job done and win at least a share of the crown. MSU won’t be the best team in the league, but it’ll be experienced, athletic, and it has all the scheduling breaks.

Key game: November 21st vs. Penn State. The Big Ten opener at Wisconsin will be a tough one and the mid-October trip to Illinois will be a battle, but if Michigan State really does think it has a shot at the Big Ten title it needs to at least split those two games, hold serve at home, and be in a position to go to Pasadena (assuming no one in the conference is unbeaten) going into the regular season finale. The Penn State game, at the very least, should be for a New Year’s Day bowl appearance.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Michigan State in 2007: 40 for 302 yards – Michigan State in 2008: 26 for 191 yards
- Penalties: Opponents 82 for 705 yards – Michigan State 55 for 600
- Fourth down conversions: Michigan State 9-for-15 (60%) – Opponents 3-for-17 (18%)

2009 CFN Michigan State Preview |
2009 MSU Offense
- 2009 MSU Defense | 2009 MSU Depth Chart
- 2008 MSU Preview | 2007 MSU Preview | 2006 MSU Preview


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2009 Michigan State Preview - Offense
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2009 Michigan State Preview - Defense
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2009 Michigan State Preview – Depth Chart
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