With all the 2011 NFL Draft excitement going on there has been little attention paid to the Michigan State Spartans, who wrap up their Spring Football camp this Saturday with the Green and White game in East Lansing. The Spartans are the last of the 2010 trimuvarite that made up the Big Ten Co-Champions(along with Wisconsin and Ohio State) to play their Spring game and they have the most holes to fill as well. Offensively this team could still be very dangerous but question marks abound on the defensive side of the ball and it will be interesting to see how the 2011 version of the Spartans shapes up. Unfortunately the Badgers are stuck having to make a trip back to East Lansing, the site of their only loss in the 2010 Regular Season. Let's hope they can exact some revenge on a team that will be totally different defensively.
2010 Record: 11-2(7-1) tie for 1st(lost tiebreaker to Wisconsin and Ohio State)
Postseason: Capitol One Bowl - L7-49 vs. Alabama
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio(33-19, 4 years at Michigan State)
Spring Game: April 30th @ 1:30pm(ET)
Returning Starters: 14(7 offensive, 6 defensive, and 1 special teams)
Spring Outlook: 2010 was a banner year for the Spartans as they became Big Ten Champions for the 1st time since 1990, sharing the title with Wisconsin and Ohio State. They just missed out an a BCS birth by finishing 1 spot below the Buckeyes in the BCS standings enter Bowl selection. The 2011 team promises to be quite different dispite the fact that nearly the whole offense comes back thanks to the loss of kep players all over the defensive side of the ball.
Offensively this team will be solid again thanks to the return of QB Kirk Cousins(2,825yds and 20TD's in 2010), 2 stud RB's in Edwin Baker(1,201yds and 13TD's) and Le'Veon Bell(605yds and 8TD's). The receiving core should be able to absorb the loss of their 2010 receptions leader Mark Dell because the #2 and 3# options last year weren't far off his production(51rec for 788yds and 6TD's). Leading the core this year will be B.J. Cunningham(50rec, 611yds, and 9TD's in 2010), who has the capability to break out big plays and is a key component of their Red Zone offense, hence the 3TD advantage over Bell last year. Look for him to be more free on the outside this year as he slides into the role that Dell played.
The only question mark offensively comes along the O-Line, where they lost 3 starters from last year. If you are a sports geek like me then the battle to win the starting Center spot could be the most interesting part of the game to watch as all 4 Centers were named "Probable Starters" to open the Spring camp and the format of this game lends itself to helping separate the crowd thanks to "picking" teams via the captains. I am especially intrigued by the prospects of Sophomore Nate Klatt and presumed favorite Ethan Ruhland and it may be a few weeks into fall camp before Spartans fans know who exactly will be taking over that spot.
While the playmakers on the offensive side of th ball are largely intact the defense is a totally different story and may be the reason that Sparty doesn't make a run at another Big Ten title. They must cope with the loss of Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year LB Greg Jones(106tkls in 2010) and fellow LB Eric Gordon(2nd in tackles w/ 92) as well as the loss of 2 key members of the Secondary in SS Marcus Hyde(3rd in tackles w/ 85) and shut down corner Chris Rucker. The player that needs to step up the most has to be FS Trenton Robinson who led the team in INT's w/ 4 last year but was also plagued by poor tackling and miss assignments. He needs to prove he can be a leader in the back as the rest of the team promises to be very young and inexperienced. That youth is exciting though and the biggest buzz coming out of East Lansing surrounds the man that may be replacing Rucker at Corner, one Tony Lippet. Lippet is just a Redshirt Freshman and currently sits behind Sophomore Darqueze Dennard on the 2 deep at BC, but that hasn't stopped him from making plays and getting noticed. In fact he has even been tried at WR some this Spring and may be a valuable 2 way weapon. If you are an MSU fan this kid is going to be fun to watch over the next 4 years, if he even stays that long. Yes, that's how good he's looked in just 14 practices this Spring. Additionally the opposite side appears to be in really good hands with 5'11" Junior Johnny Adams who is looking to emerge from the shadow that Rucker cast and could be set for an explosive season but needs to prove he can be a hitter and not just a cover man this Spring.
Summing things up if you are going to watch this Spring game, which promises to be a bit more exciting than the Wisconsin one(tough to do I know), then I'd be watching the O-Line play on offense and the combo of Robinson and Lippett in the defensive backfield. Saturday promises to be a good weather day and it could be a welcome break from the NFL draft so perhaps check it out? As always... ON WISCONSIN!!