This picture best tells the story of how the season went.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

This picture best tells the story of how the season went. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

 

            The 2010 season will go down as the year that Head Coach Mark Dantonio and his Spartans turned the program around. With the first eleven-win season in the school’s history, Michigan State has cemented itself as a contender in the Big Ten. Players like Kirk Cousins, Edwin Baker, and Greg Jones helped the team get over the hump and win a share of the Big Ten Championship. Though the Spartans will lose stalwarts such as Greg Jones and Eric Gordon to the draft, the squad still has great players and something it has been craving for a long time: depth.

 

On Offense:

 

  • Kirk Cousins had a great season at quarterback this year. While at the helm, he compiled 2,705 yards and 20 touchdowns. He helped the offense score 33 points per game in a tough schedule that included the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Captain Kirk showed much improvement this season. The best part of it all? He still has a year of eligibility.
  • Weapons such as B.J. Cunningham, Keyshawn Martin, Mark Dell, Keith Nichol, and Charlie Gantt made Cousins’ job much easier. With the exception of Dell and Gantt, all of these players are juniors. Throw in up-and-coming freshman, Bennie Fowler, and you have a dangerous offense next year.
  • K-Mart had somewhat of a disappointing year. Maybe it was due to injury. Maybe it was defenses preparing extra for him. Maybe the expectations of him were too great. Whatever the case, Martin is a key part of this offense. He will play a big role in the bowl game as well as next season.
  • This year, we saw three talented and young backs tear up opposing defenses on the ground. Sophomore Edwin Baker established himself as the starter, with 1,187 yards and 13 touchdowns. Freshman LeVeon Bell morphed into the role of a change of pace back. Bell, though he did not see as many carries as Baker, managed to rack up 592 yards and 8 touchdowns.
  • Right now, the man left out seems to be Larry Caper. The sophomore saw limited time, but gained solid yardage when given the opportunity. Where he fits into the offensive picture remains to be seen. Heaven forbid, if Baker or Bell gets hurt, Caper adds useful depth at running back.

 

On Defense:

 

  • Losing star linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon will be tough. These two seniors helped the Spartan defense hold opposing teams to an average of 20 points per game this year. Despite this, the unit has many promising young players to look to.
  • Sophomore Johnny Adams has played some outstanding games at cornerback, and will start next year. At linebacker, freshman Will Gholston has drawn much hype. Though he will be recovering from shoulder surgery, he should provide ample run support to a defensive line that is shaping up well.
  • Defensive tackles Blake Treadwell and Jerel Worthy add some beef to a defensive line that includes starting end Tyler Hoover. These stout sophomores provide hope for a defense that is losing key starters in the front seven. Stopping the run is absolutely critical in the Big Ten. This will be especially true next year, when the Spartans will face Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska in a span of five weeks. All of these teams are famous for their great rushing attacks.
  • In the upcoming bowl game, the Spartan defense’s performance is critical. As of late, Michigan State has struggled in bowl games. The team needs to allow the slow-starting offense to get going by containing the opposing offense early.

 

On Special Teams:

 

  • The upcoming bowl game is the last time Spartans fans will see punter Aaron Bates. The four-year starter has helped pin down opponents time after time, affording Michigan State a key advantage in field position.
  • Sophomore Dan Conroy quelled doubts about the kicking game after a perfect start to the season. Having him at kicker for two more years is comforting.
  • Fans have one more season to enjoy the electrifying Keyshawn Martin’s kickoff and punt returns. He makes all the difference on special teams.
  • We saw special teams make key plays that boosted the team when it needed it most. The unit, as a whole, is what has gotten the Spartans to its present spot in the Big Ten standings. Its performance next year will play a big role in the team’s overall position.

 

Although it has not been decided whom the Spartans will play in the upcoming bowl season, it is clear that Michigan State will be in a January 1st bowl. A BCS bid is not likely, so it looks like a Capital One Bowl appearance is likely. No matter the bowl, this Michigan State team showed tremendous improvement. A Big Ten Co-Championship is something to be celebrated; even if does not bring a BCS Bowl bid with it. Only one thing matters: the Spartans have arrived.