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The 2010 season saw Michigan State do something it hasn't done since 1990: claim at least a share of a Big Ten title.
Twenty years is a long time to wait for anything, much less returned success in football, but that's exactly what Mark Dantonio and Kirk Cousins have done in East Lansing.
Mark Dantonio has established himself as one of the better coaches in the nation by taking a thoroughly bland Michigan State program and turning it into a team capable of winning conference championships. Dantonio has posted a 33-18 record over his four seasons thus far as chief Spartan, and last season's conference championship was due in no small part to the quality, confident play of quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Cousins is an unassuming guy from the town of Holland, on Michigan's west coast. At Holland Christian High School, Cousins was not only a football star, but a baseball and basketball standout, as well. After redshirting in 2007, Cousins served as a backup to Brian Hoyer in 2008 before beating out Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol for the starting job in 2009.
In 2010, Cousins quietly established himself as one of the best pocket passers in the nation, and is perhaps one of the most underrated players in the nation entering 2011.
Cousins has the bulk of his receiving corps returning this season, and Edwin Baker returns in the Spartans backfield. While Baker is certainly a great player in his own right, perhaps the best advantage he gives MSU is his ability to draw off defenders, giving Cousins the chance to shine. Baker is just too good to leave undefended, and Cousins is so good that he'll pick a defense apart if it overprotects against Baker's running abilities.
The biggest question for MSU in 2011 will be whether or not it will be able to capitalize on 2011. The Spartans of the past have had a nasty habit of falling flat on their faces when staring at the prospect of success. That didn't happen last season.
If and when Cousins performs like he can this season, it may signal, once and for all, that Michigan State will no longer be its own worst opponent.