The will be coming a little more quickly as I try to get them all done in short order. As always, let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed.
Michigan State Offense
The Spartans lose 2-year starter Brian Hoyer to graduation, so his backup, redshirt sophomore Kirk Cousins, will compete with fellow redshirt sophomore (and Oklahoma transfer) Keith Nichol. The loser of the QB battle will likely still see some playing time as there was no apparent separation in spring, and the Spartans also brought in Andrew Maxwell in the class of 2009.
|Michigan State QBs Passing 2008|
|Michigan State QBs Rushing 2008|
If I were Adam Rittenberg, I’d be saying things like “Hoyer wasn’t even that good last year, so losing him means nothing.” I am not Adam Rittenberg, and therefore have a functioning brain. This leads me to posit that, if the Spartans had a better option than Hoyer (Nichol excluded, since he wasn’t eligible in his transfer year), that better option would have, like, played. Since Nichol wasn’t head-and-shoulders better than Cousins in spring, maybe the Spartans just don’t have anyone good at QB? I’m not saying they’ll be bad, but a step back from Hoyer is likely in the cards.
Javon Ringer, one of last year’s Doak Walker finalists, is off to the NFL, with a slew of younger players left to fill the void. Redshirt sophomore Andre Anderson is a little guy, senior AJ Jimmerson is bigger, and redshirt sophomore Ashton Leggett is bigger still for the Spartans. Incoming freshmen Larry Caper and Edwin Baker are also expected to tote the rock some for MSU.
|Michigan State RBs Rushing 2008|
|Michigan State RBs Receiving 2008|
|Andrew Hawken (FB)||11||81||1||7.36|
|Jeff McPherson (FB)||4||47||0||11.75|
|Josh Rouse (FB)||3||24||1||8.00|
Ringer got a ton of work last year, which led to several notable events: 1) He was vastly overrated by the season-ending awards (he was one of 3 players in the top 100 rushers with lower than 4.21 ypc, and the other two were Juice Williams and a player at the offensive trainwreck called Auburn) 2) He wore down over the course of the year 3) Nobody else on the MSU depth chart got any serious work. The next-closest Spartan only got 7% of the carries that Ringer had(!). The coaching staff will likely go slightly towards a platoon-style workload this year, unless someone proves worthy of getting all those carries. There are possible thunder-and-lightning combos in there, but I suspect steadiness might be the preferred trait following Ringer’s exit.
The Spartans had a very young receiving corps last year, and they’ll be able to return everyone of note except Keshawn Martin. White Receiver Named White will be one of the starters in his senior year, with redshirt sophomore BJ Cunningham likely to be alongside him. Mark Dell was the breakout performer for State last year as a freshman, and he’ll probably get even more action in ’09.
|Michigan State Receivers Receiving 2008|
|Charlie Gantt (TE)||19||302||4||15.89|
|Garrett Celek (TE)||6||50||1||8.33|
|David Duran (TE)||1||4||0||4.00|
|Michigan State Receivers Rushing 2008|
Michigan State will be very deep at receiver, which should help out one of their young QBs. Dell became a star during last year’s run for MSU, though he was overshadowed by the exceptional year Javon Ringer had rushing the ball. Michigan State may see less spreading of the ball with a younger quarterback, but Cousins and Nichol shouldn’t be short on options for throwing the ball.
Seniors right guard Roland Martin and right tackle Jesse Miller depart, both of whom were multi-year starters. Backup left guard Mike Bacon also departs, after joining the program as a walkon. Senior Rocco Cironi will start at left tackle, redshirt sophomore Joel Foreman will play left guard, senior Joel Nitchman will play center, and the other two positions are very much up for grabs. Senior Brendan Moss will probably fill the hole at tackle, and senior John Stipek will try to hold off junior J’Michael Deane at guard.
A very odd thing I noticed about the Spartans’ offensive linemen is that fewer of them have redshirted than you’d expect at a BCS-level school. I’m not sure if that will be a factor of any sort, just an oddity. Losing two offensive linemen off a run-centric team isn’t great, but it isn’t crippling. Of course, considering that the top run threat and QB are gone as well, and it becomes a bit more troubling. Still, neither departed player got a serious sniff in the NFL draft, so the backups should be able to fill in, especially with their seniority.
The Spartans are due for a down year offensively. It’s simply impossible to lose the two most important players, along with 2 of the best 3 offensive linemen, and not see a step back. There are plenty of players there, of course, they just need to prove they can get it done when they’re the focus in gametime. If the QB play is adequate, the Spartans should be able to get the ball to playmakers on the edges.
Michigan State Defense
The Spartans lose two of their best defensive linemen in DE Brandon Long and DT Justin Kershaw. Redshirt senior Trevor Anderson, who followed Mark Dantonio to East Lansing from Cincinnati, will continue being a huge terror off the edge for opponents, and junior Oren Wilson will play a big role at defensive tackle for the third year in a row. The other two starting positions will likely be filled by Colin Neely, a slightly undersized junior at defensive end, and mondo junior Antonio Jeremiah at tackle.
|Michigan State Defensive Line 2008|
The Spartans lose a couple important pieces up front, but return perhaps the best player in Trevor Anderson. Still, he’ll have to hope that the opposition’s offensive lines have to focus on his new linemates Neely and Jeremiah as much as they did the departed ones, or he’ll be facing plenty of double teams, and won’t be able to get into the opponents’ backfields as much as he’s accustomed to.
Junior Greg Jones is a freakin’ stud, and he’ll return to roam the middle for MSU. Fellow junior Eric Gordon and senior Adam Decker complete the trifecta of returning linebackers for a very strong squad in 2009. Brandon Denson will be a key backup as a senior.
|Michigan State Linebackers 2008|
The Spartans return all three starters from a group that was pretty good to start with. This should probably be the strongest unit on the team (maybe behind receivers?), though the depth isn’t great. If more young players, including incoming freshman Chris Norman, can get involved, it should be a very good year. Will Jones have a good enough year to go early to the NFL? It’s a possibility.
Safety Otis Wiley departs, but the Spartans have a fairly strong secondary coming back. Senior Dan Fortener will return at the other safety position, junior Chris L. Rucker returns at corner, and senior Jeremy Ware returns as the other starting corner. Marcus Hyde will step into Wiley’s role as a starting safety. Ross Weaver will be the first corner off the bench.
|Chris L. Rucker||45||4||1||2|
Wiley was good enough to get some NFL looks, so losing him is definitely going to affect MSU, especially since he was a leader in the secondary. Other than that, MSU returns their most important players, so the secondary should be a strength. Of course, some of the players have been sketchy, so they had better hope for continued improvement in the offseason.
Mark Dantonio is known as a defensively-focused coach, and he’ll have a lot to work with this season. The defensive line will be the biggest weakness, and if the Spartans can’t get to the QB, it will hurt them in the stronger areas of the defense. The linebacking corps should be excellent, so the Spartans will be able to stop teams from both running and passing.
The spartans return both kicking specialists. Brett Swenson will return for placekcking duties, and Aaron Bates will take care of punting.
|Michigan State Kicking 2008|
|Michigan State Punting 2008|
Both specialists for MSU were pretty good last year, so expect more of the same this year, if not a slight improvement. Bates might get a bit more work with the offensive production likely to decrease.
The Spartans will be very green (no pun intended) on offense this year, and very experienced on defense. Considering Mark Dantonio’s background, that probably means they’ll try to grind out wins this year. The problem, of course, is that they don’t have a Javon Ringer. If they don’t have someone step up, there could be trouble on offense. Trouble on offense could lead to trouble for defense, as the Wolverines learned last year. I don’t think the Spartan offense will be quite as bad as Michigan’s was last year, though (of course). Considering MSU was mostly outplayed for much of last year, even in some of their wins, and without Ringer to rely on, they’ll take a slight step back, unless the defense just dominates.