Michigan State University's Spartans are widely known for their highly successful basketball program. When it comes to football, they aren't as known because Ohio State, Michigan (not lately) and Wisconsin are usually the class of the Big Ten.
Led by star quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Spartans finished last season 11-1 and won a share of the Big Ten championship with Ohio State and Wisconsin for the first time in 20 years.
Michigan State was highly successful last season, even when coach Mark Dantonio was hospitalized due to a heart attack and missed games vs. Northern Colorado and Wisconsin.
Michigan State enters the 2011 college football season ranked on some early polls as high as No. 15 and with good reason.
Here are five of the best and worst offseason developments for the Spartans:
David Barrent has decided to give up his final three years of NCAA eligibility and apply for a medical disqualification from the team.
He has cited the reason as chronic back pain. Barrent was an offensive tackle, and his departure leaves a void along the Spartans offensive line.
He was ranked in the top 100 prospects in the country by Rivals.com, and was one of the top recruits in the Spartans' 2009 class. Listed at 6'8" and 290 pounds, Barrent appeared in seven games last season mostly on special teams.
Here is a portion from the press release from the team:
"I'll miss the camaraderie," Barrent said. "I've made lifelong friendships, but I'll definitely miss being on the field competing with my teammates. I'm thankful for the opportunity to remain close to the program while pursuing my bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering."
Michigan State fans and fellow teammates have all wished him well in his recovery and the best of luck in finishing his mechanical engineering degree.
QB Joe Boisture was rated as a 4-star recruit coming into Michigan State after initially committing to Boston College in 2009.
He was touted as an outstanding recruit in Coach Dantonio's program and had the size (6'6", 215 pounds) to excel at the quarterback position.
Boisture's departure leaves the Spartans with quarterbacks Kirk Cousins, Andrew Maxwell, Keith Nichol and incoming freshman Connor Cook as the top three signal-callers.
Michigan State has Cousins entrenched as the starter, and Maxwell and Cook will compete to be the backup and eventual successor after Cousins leaves for the NFL next season.
WR Fred Davis has reportedly left the Spartans, intending to transfer to a yet-to-be-determined destination. The Detroit product currently has two years of NCAA eligibility remaining and has not been reached for comment regarding this decision.
According to Kevin Bull of the Detroit Free Press, Davis is intending to transfer to a program where he can start.
Matt Dorsey of spartanmag.com stated "He definitely has the talent to develop into another great Spartan wide receiver and follow in the footsteps of guys like (Devin) Thomas, Plaxico Burress and Muhsin Muhammad."
Jeremy Crabtree of Rivals.com had this to say about the biggest signing of MSU's 2008 class:
“This is the type of dynamic player who should be able to make an immediate impact.”
This is another disappointment for the Spartans, as they have seen QB Joe Boisture and OT David Barrent leave the program for various reasons.
TE Brian Linthicum and MLB Max Bullough were arrested in Colorado during spring break for eluding police and possession of alcohol.
Bullough is the likely replacement for departed All-American LB Greg Jones and Linthicum is projected as the starter at tight end after posting 18 receptions for 235 yards in his junior season last year.
According to mlive.com, "Linthicum was charged with misdemeanor third-degree assault and eluding police. Bullough was charged with being a minor in possession of alcohol and eluding police."
These charges may or may not result in suspensions, as Coack Dantonio was unavailable to comment at the time of the incidents, and he said that he would evaluate the situation upon his return to East Lansing.
Much has been made over the scandal surrounding Ohio State and its former coach, Jim Tressel.
Tressel voluntarily resigned as the pressure was growing on the program and himself as they were about to go in front of the NCAA infractions committee for possible sanctions.
Coach Dantonio was a former assistant of Tressel's at Youngstown State and Ohio State, and therefore he was mentioned as a possible replacement for the embattled former coach in Columbus.
Dantonio remains committed to building a competitive program in East Lansing.
He has a winning pedigree from his time as the Buckeyes defensive coordinator during their national championship season in 2002. His unit ranked second in the nation in scoring defense and third in rushing defense.
The coach is staying at Michigan State, as it has been speculated that he would not be a good fit in Columbus despite his previous experience with the now-ousted Tressel.
The top offensive line prospect from Ohio, Alliance, Zach Higgins has verbally committed to Michigan State for the class of 2012.
He is listed at 6'5" and 305 pounds and runs a 5.4 in the 40-yard dash. He also has a 350-pound bench press as well.
Michigan State has had David Barrent leave the program due to chronic injuries and has had a host of other prospects leave the program for various reasons.
Higgins should provide some much-needed stability on the Spartans offensive line. Many games are often decided on how well you can protect the quarterback late in games.
Thanks to the mess in Columbus in the wake of the scandal at Ohio State, Michigan State has picked up the pieces and taken advantage of the recruiting uncertainty in the state of Ohio.
The Spartans are set for this season with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, but he will be departing next fall. That leaves Andrew Maxwell, Keith Nichol and Connor Cook to compete for the top job.
Enter Tyler O'Connor.
According to scout.com, "He finished his junior season at Lima Central Catholic High School with 2,516 yards passing with 27 touchdowns. He also rushed for 470 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He says he can bench 245-pounds, squat 440 and has a 28-inch vertical jump."
The Spartans have plenty of competition at quarterback for when Cousins decides to leave. Just who will stand out will be the big question that Coach Dantonio and the coaching staff will decide.
Whenever your inspiration is the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis, that is a goal that makes one reach for the stars. Lawrence Thomas of Detroit Renaissance High School is someone that looks up to the All-Pro linebacker of the Ravens.
According to mlive.com, he is the consensus top choice at linebacker. Michigan State has signed the top in-state prospect for the second year in a row.
Listed at 6'4", 232 pounds, he has the versatility and the athleticism to play any position.
Thomas really liked Michigan State, as he was won over by Coach Dantonio and his staff. Thomas wants to win championships and he believes the Spartans can repeat as Big Ten champions and maybe achieve something significantly more.
The Big Ten co-champions face a drastically changed conference landscape.
With the conference being split into the Leaders and Legends divisions and finally having a conference championship game, the landscape is right for the Spartans to catch Ohio State and Wisconsin and compete with newcomer Nebraska.
Led by Coach Dantonio and quarterback Kirk Cousins, the team is set to build on their first championship in 20 years and set their sights on a BCS national title.
With the talent returning, Dantonio and his coaching staff will have plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball to answer questions raised after last season's debacle against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl, where Michigan State was torched 49-7 by the Tide and dropped to 0-4 in bowl games under the former Cincinnati coach.
The schedule is relatively easy toward the end of the season, and the only tests are at Columbus against Ohio State and at South Bend against Notre Dame. The conference schedule comes with a chance to avenge a blowout loss to Iowa and a setback from last season against Northwestern.