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LATE LAST YEAR MICHIGAN STATE LOOKED LIKE A PROGRAM ON the move, a Big Ten power in the making. After a disappointing 6--7 record in 2009, the Spartans had marched to an 11--1 regular season and a share of the conference title. They whipped Wisconsin in East Lansing, steamrolled Michigan in Ann Arbor and flattened Penn State in University Park. The Spartans were seemingly not only a Big Ten power but also a national power. Then they met Alabama in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando.
"That game showed us that we're not an elite program," says Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio of his team's devastating 49--7 loss to the Crimson Tide. "There's still a lot of work to be done."
Now, after having turned around a floundering program, can Dantonio help the Spartans rise to another level? The team has the talent to win another conference championship, but its brutal road schedule will be a tough hurdle. Michigan State has a potentially explosive offense led by quarterback Kirk Cousins and running back Edwin Baker, as well as a deep and talented crop of receivers including seniors B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol. The offense's success, however, will rest on an inexperienced offensive line that will have two returning players who started last year ... on the defensive line.
"People look at the line as a question mark, but in reality we have more depth there than we've had in the past," says Dantonio. "I really like the experience of our offense."
A defense that was exposed in blowout defeats to Iowa and Alabama will have to overcome the loss of all-conference linebacker Greg Jones, but the unit has potential stars in cornerback Johnny Adams (second-team All--Big Ten in 2010), tackle Jerel Worthy (honorable mention) and end William Gholston. One of the strengths of the defense will be its big, intimidating line led by Worthy, who at 6' 3", 305 pounds is a force both at run stopping and pass rushing.
"There are a lot of good things happening with the program; we just need to keep building from each year," says Dantonio, in his fifth season at Michigan State. "There's reason for a lot of excitement around this team."
COACH Mark Dantonio (5th year) 33--19 (20--12 in Big Ten)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Dan Roushar