2010 Michigan State Preview
Michigan State LB Greg Jones
Michigan State LB Greg Jones
Posted Jul 27, 2010

While the Spartans might not be perfect, they have the right mix of experience, athleticism, and schedule to turn a corner and come up with a huge year. Led by, arguably, the best defensive player in America, LB Greg Jones, they'll be dangerous. Check out the CFN 2010 Michigan State Preview.

Michigan State Spartans

Preview 2010

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Mark Dantonio
4th year: 22-17
7th year overall: 41-34
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 21, Def. 17, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 28
Ten Best Michigan State Players
1. LB Greg Jones, Sr.
2. QB Kirk Cousins, Jr.
3. OG Joel Foreman, Jr.
4. LB Eric Gordon, Sr.
5. WR/QB Keith Nichol, Jr.
6. TE Charlie Gantt, Sr.
7. DT Jerel Worthy, Soph.
8. CB Chris L. Rucker, Sr.
9. WR Keshawn Martin, Jr.
10. RB Larry Caper, Soph.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 Western Michigan
Sept. 11 Florida Atlantic (in Detroit)
Sept. 18 Notre Dame
Sept. 25 Northern Colorado
Oct. 2 Wisconsin
Oct. 9 at Michigan
Oct. 16 Illinois
Oct. 23 at Northwestern
Oct. 30 at Iowa
Nov. 6 Minnesota
Nov. 20 Purdue
Nov. 27 at Penn State

SEC types talk all the time about taking advantage of the opportunity. Because the league always has superpowers at the top to deal with, those years when everything comes together with the talent, the schedule, and the top teams going through a rebuilding mode, a program like an Ole Miss or a South Carolina has to jump through the window before is slams shut.

Michigan State might be in that sort of do-it-now moment in the Mark Dantonio era. The fourth year head man has done a tremendous job of taking the one-time flakiest of the flaky programs and making it steady and sound, and he did an amazing job of keeping the ship afloat last year when there were some major off-the-field issues and with the suspensions that follow. Now that things have settled down, the program is truly his after taking over for John L. Smith and he has put his stamp on it with a big year. With several big breaks going MSU's way, the opportunity is there to finally get back to Big Ten title status.

Not everything is perfect for this Spartan team. The secondary hasn't stopped a forward pass in years, three starters have to be replaced on the offensive front, and there are road trips over the final quarter of the season to Iowa and Penn State, but for any team that can honestly dream about going to Pasadena, and this one can, all the issues can be overcome.

Schedule-wise, there's no Ohio State, and Wisconsin has to come to East Lansing. The Spartans don't leave the state of Michigan until October 23rd, and the home slate, assuming Notre Dame is rebuilding and counting the game in Detroit against Florida Atlantic as a home date, is terrific facing just two teams, Wisconsin and Minnesota, who went bowling last year.

The team is strong and is still emerging. It's a relatively young group with 2011 likely to be when everything truly jells, but for now, the defense has, arguably, the best defensive player in college football in linebacker Greg Jones, the offense has a high-powered passing game with Kirk Cousins looking like one of the Big Ten's bright new star quarterbacks, and the special teams should be rock-solid as long as the kicking game is consistent.

The schedule isn't bad, the team is talented and on the rise, and Michigan still appears to have its head over its skis. The Maize and Blue aren't going to be this mediocre forever, Penn State has to reload a bit and doesn't appear to be the killer it's been over the past few years, and Iowa, for all the love and affection it'll get, is more beatable than it might appear (as Spartan fans know all too well).

Michigan State is coming up at the exact right time to make a run for the title, and it's all there for the taking. It's time to get back to Pasadena for the first time since 1987. There's no reason to shoot any lower.

What to watch for on offense: Keith Nichol at wide receiver. The biggest question mark early on will be the play of the offensive line that has to replace three starters, but there are plenty of good options to tinker with while D.J. Young and Joel Foreman are good veterans to work around. Several column inches will be written about the running game and how it needs to do more, but the young foursome of Larry Caper, Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Nick Hill are talented and provide several interesting looks for a good rotation. The big key to the season is going to be if Nichol emerges as the deep threat at the X that everyone is hoping for. After getting pushed out of the quarterback discussion, the former OU Sooner who battled with Sam Bradford for the starting job will now be looked at as a dangerous receiver and one of the team's key playmakers. If he shines, he could be a steadying force for a good-looking receiving corps with tremendous upside.

What to watch for on defense: The secondary. Greg Jones and Eric Gordon solidify one of the Big Ten's best linebacking corps that's good enough to allow the D to go to a 3-4 from time to time, while the line is big, athletic, and deep. All the positives on the front seven won't mean too much if the secondary isn't night-and-day better. The speed is in place and the talent is there, especially with Johnny Adams returning from a shoulder injury to join Chris L. Rucker at corner, but the big plays have to come. MSU only picked off six passes on the year, allowed 32 touchdown passes, and gave up 200 yards or more in nine games. If the secondary is great, this could be one of the Big Ten's better statistical defenses which means …

The team will be far better if … the pass defense doesn't allow more than two touchdown throws. To be fair, the Spartan secondary faced some fantastic quarterbacks and several high-octane passing games, but it still has to be stronger. Last year, MSU allowed more than two touchdown passes to Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen, Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, Minnesota's Adam Weber, Penn State's Daryll Clark, and the Texas Tech combination of Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield. The Spartans lost all six games and went 6-1 in games when they allowed two touchdown passes or fewer (and lost both games when allowing three or more in 2008). The one loss? The secondary couldn't hold up against Ricky Stanzi on Iowa's last-gasp drive. MSU has given up three touchdown passes or more in eight of the last 15 games.

The schedule: The front half of the slate isn't all that bad getting Wisconsin and Notre Dame at home with a trip to Michigan the only road date in the first seven games. Missing Ohio State is the biggest break in the Big Ten schedule, but it's offset by also missing Indiana. It doesn't help that the Iowa and Penn State games are on the road, but if the Spartans can be consistent and can avoid the braincramps that choked them last season, the record should be tremendous with very, very winnable home games against Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue to go along with five home games (counting the battle with Florida Atlantic in Detroit) to start the year.

Best offensive player: Junior OG Joel Foreman. QB Kirk Cousins will end up being the star of the show, at least that's the hope, and if all goes to plan, Keith Nichol becomes an All-Big Ten wide receiver, but Foreman is the steadying force on a line that needs to be more physical for the ground game, but is terrific in pass protection. The 6-4, 306-pounder earned all-star honors last year and should be a lock this season with smarts, toughness, and good experience. He's a great all-around blocker who'll get paid a few years from now.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Greg Jones. If he's not the best defensive player in college football, he's in the team photo. The 6-1, 235-pound hitter was a consensus All-America pick and CFN's Top Linebacker of 2009, and now he's poised and ready to do even more with the national spotlight finally on. Even if he's not a 154 tackler performer again, he'll be all over the field and will continue to be used as a pass rusher after leading the team with nine sacks.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore CB Johnny Adams. Chris L. Rucker isn't a lock-down corner, but he's good enough to hold his own on one side of the field with size, speed, and experience. For the pass defense to improve, Rucker needs help and Adams should provide it. The speedy, talented sophomore had a great true freshman season making 21 tackles with two picks, but he missed last year hurt. If he plays up to his talent level, the entire Spartan defense will be far better.

The season will be a success if … the Spartans finish in the Big Ten's top three and goes to a New Year's Day bowl. There are just enough problems to fall short of a conference title, even though there's enough in the bag to be in the mix, but there's no reason to be any lower than the top three. If the Spartans win two of the three games against Wisconsin, Iowa, and Penn State, they'll have a shot at Pasadena. If they win one of the three, they'll be in Florida on New Year's Day for just the second time since 1999.

Key game: Oct. 2 vs. Wisconsin. The Badgers will be battling with Ohio State for the honor of being the Big Ten's best team going into the season, and if the Spartans can win the home battle, they'll have a great chance at running the table at home while also serving notice that they'll be in the hunt for the Rose Bowl. If they lose, then the Michigan game the week later will be that much bigger.

2009 Fun Stats:
- First Half Scoring: Michigan State 182 – Opponents 134
- Interceptions Thrown: Michigan State 12 for 124 yards – Opponents 6 for 65 yards
- Kickoff Return Average: Michigan State 25.9 – Opponents 22.2

2010 Michigan State Preview | 2010 Michigan State Offense
- 2010 Michigan State Defense | 2010 Michigan State Depth Chart
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