Coach: Mark Dantonio (75-31, entering ninth season; 93-48 overall record)
2014 record: 11-2, 7-1 Big Ten, second in East Division
Look back: Since 2010, Michigan State has won close to 80 percent of its games (53-14) – the most in the Big Ten. But the Spartans have only won one conference title (2013) during that stretch. Last season’s team has the distinction of being the only team to face both Ohio State and Oregon, suffering losses to the two teams that played for the national title.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: WR Tony Lippett, WR Keith Mumphrey, RB Jeremy Langford, OL Connor Kruse, OL Travis Jackson, FS Kurtis Drummond, LB Taiwan Jones, DE Marcus Rush, CB Trae Waynes
Top returnees: QB Connor Cook, OL Jack Allen, OL Donavon Clark, OL Jack Conklin, OL Kodi Kieler, TE Josiah Price, DE Shilique Calhoun, LB Darien Harris, CB Darian Hicks, DT Joel Heath, DT Lawrence Thomas, SS RJ Williamson
Strengths: Michigan State featured the second-best offense in the Big Ten right behind conference champion Ohio State last season. The Spartans featured the best pass offense in the league after averaging close to 270 yards per game through the air. Quarterback Connor Cook returns after starting the past 26 games for Michigan State. Last season, he threw for a career-high 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns. During 30 career games, Cook has only thrown 15 interceptions, making him one of the more dependable quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
Cook will have help, with Michigan State’s offensive line featuring five players who saw action last season, led by All-American center Jack Allen.
Michigan State ranked among the top defensive teams in the Big Ten the past few seasons thanks, in part, to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. During the offseason, Narduzzi left to take the head coaching job at Pittsburgh. Dantonio named Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel co-defensive coordinators. They’ll have the luxury of having one of the deepest defensive lines in the country, anchored by All-American defensive end Shilique Calhoun (8 sacks). The group accounted for 13.5 of the team’s 42 total sacks last season.
Weaknesses: Jeremy Langford rushed for 40 touchdowns and 2,944 yards during the past two seasons for the Spartans and his departure leaves the program looking for its next featured rusher. Redshirt freshman Madre London and sophomore Gerald Holmes excelled during spring ball and will compete for the starting job in training camp while junior Delton Williams rejoins the team after being suspended for an offseason arrest.
Tony Lippett was a three-year starter who earned Big Ten receiver of the year last season after leading the team with 65 catches for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was one of Cook’s favorite targets and his exit leaves Michigan State without much experience at receiver.
Linebacker Ed Davis was expected to solidify the middle of the defense, but a devastating season-ending injury during training camp will leave Michigan State without one of its defensive leaders in 2015. The team must also make up for the departure of safety Kurtis Drummond, who the led the team with 72 total tackles and four interceptions last season.
Outlook: The clock is ticking for Michigan State. Ohio State’s ascension back to the top of the Big Ten and national prominence means the Spartans must continue to work hard or be left behind. It won’t be an easy feat in the tough East Division that features Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
Sept. 4 at Western Michigan
Sept. 12 Oregon
Sept. 19 Air Force
Sept. 26 Central Michigan
Oct. 3 Purdue
Oct. 10 at Rutgers
Oct. 17 at Michigan
Oct. 24 Indiana
Nov. 7 at Nebraska
Nov. 14 Maryland
Nov. 21 at Ohio State
Nov. 28 Penn State
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com