Michigan State Football: Subtle Changes Make This Year's Team Different

Nick MordowanecCorrespondent IApril 18, 2010

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Michigan State Spartans looks to pass the ball against the Wisconsin Badgers on September 26, 2009 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With spring practices taking place around the country, it’s not too early to look at the Big Ten—and the Michigan State Spartans in particular—when it comes down to football.

The Spartans have progressed under Mark Dantonio, who is coming into his fourth year behind the helm in East Lansing.

The team has gone to three consecutive bowl games, although each has resulted in a loss. There have also been a few highly publicized incidents involving big-time players on the team, but all that finally seems like a thing of the past.

It’s time to focus on football and legitimately contending in the Big Ten against powerhouses like Penn State, Iowa, and Ohio State.

Looking at the Spartans offense this upcoming season, there are many familiar faces.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who led the conference in passing efficiency, is once again running an offense with explosive capabilities. Sophomore running backs Edwin Baker and Larry Caper are a year older, and they may turn into a formidable duo as they practice together more often and exchange snaps.

In terms of Cousins’ favorite aerial threat, Blair White, he is no longer on the team after graduating last year. White—considered a possible gem in NFL draft pools—was a huge part of the offense, but Dantonio seems to have found a different type of weapon to replace him.

That player is none other than Keith Nichol, the Spartans’ former second-string QB who split snaps last season with Cousins. Nichol shined in team scrimmages and is quite agile and fast for a former quarterback prospect. The team hopes he will step up and fill some of the void left by White.

On the other side the ball, things definitely need to improve if Michigan State wants to be a real contender in the conference. The defense gave up an inordinate amount of big plays last season while making big stops at opportune times was missing too.

Relieving some of that defensive pressure is All-American linebacker Greg Jones. Returning for his senior season, Jones wants to go out with a bowl victory and the best season East Lansing has seen in years.

He will have some help this year as freshmen—such as five-star linebacker William Gholston and four-star Max Bullough—will fill some much-needed holes. Those players could make immediate impacts, as could other talented freshmen. It all depends who red-shirts and whatnot, but with the quality in the linebacking corps, the team may end up using a 3-4 defense (three linemen, four linebackers) more often in 2010.

These changes may seem subtle at the moment, but they will surely have impacts on the final makeup of this football team. Luckily, there is still plenty of room for improvement until the season actually begins.