Spartan Nation 2008 Big Ten Football Scouting Report: Michigan State University

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Spartan Nation 2008 scouting report:Â Michigan State University

Biggest Game:Â October 25, 2008 @ UM

Predicted record:Â 8-4 (5-3)

Projected Big Ten standing: 4th    Â

Returning Starters:Â OFFENSE: 7 DEFENSE: 6 Lettermen return:Â 37Â Â Â

Head Coach:Â Mark Dantonio 2nd Season at MSU Last Season 7-6 Lifetime 25-23

Top assistant:Â Don Treadwell OC

Year two in East Lansing for Mark Dantonio comes with heightened expectations. The Spartan Nation got a taste of what he wants to do, and as he continues to add his recruits that fit that system the Spartans will be youthful and much improved.

Leading the way for the Spartans is, of course, Brian Hoyer. Hoyer had an excellent campaign that some chose to fixate on mistakes rather than successes.  By his own admission, he had a terrible Champs Bowl, but those that rip him forget that MSU wouldn’t have been there without him. He is not a decent QB; he is a very good QB. His leadership combined with Javon Ringer at RB will make for one of the best tandems in the Big Ten and the nation.

The RB spot has AJ Jimmerson and Andre Anderson as backups. Anderson has speed to burn, but the Spartan Nation also remembers the great performance of Jimmerson in 2006 when the Spartans had the largest comeback in history. Also, don’t count out Ashton Leggett who reminds a lot of people of recently graduated Jehuu Caulcrick. The Spartans have no issues at this spot and with newcomers added this season (Caulton Ray) and next (Caper and Baker) this spot looks solid for years.

The Spartans are very thin behind Hoyer. The departure of Foles and Dixon (both transferred) has left only RF Kirk Cousins as a viable back up. That only comment is in no way a slight of Cousins. His teammates knew that Foles was injured in the spring and selected him in the spring draft ahead of Foles and he didn’t disappoint. Cousins is an accurate passer and makes good decisions with the ball. He is still adjusting to the speed of the game, but he is good. Dantonio has Keith Nichol in the fold and he will run the scout team this season. Dantonio has privately commented that he would look at a JC QB simply for a third QB of depth who could play in a worst-case scenario, but with each passing day of not adding one those chances dwindle.

Mark Dell had a very good freshman season, but has to work on being able to hold on to the ball. Two names that will make immediate contributions this season are RF B.J. Cunningham and true freshman Fred Smith. Dantonio admitted to me that had they not wanted to waste a year of eligibility he would have played Cunningham a lot last season. Cunningham was not ready to start the season, and when he was ready it would have wasted nearly and entire season of eligibility for a few games. This season he could very easily become Hoyer’s #1 target. Smith who is a true freshman is a man-child. Since he committed to MSU, the coaches have salivated at getting him on campus. He is a star and the combination of he, Dell, Cunningham and Deon Curry make this one of the Big Ten’s best. One name, however, not to overlook is Blair White. He was a little used WR last season. He isn’t the most gifted player, but his heart is huge and he has exceptionally technique. When he gets reps he makes plays. What better compliment can a kid get? Dantonio hates the star system and there are no prima donnas on this team so if he keeps making plays, he will get the PT.

The offensive line is the biggest question mark on the Spartan Offense and it isn’t for a lack of talent. It is experience. That position (along with QB) is the hardest spot to play early and the Spartans are young. Two names that you need to remember are McGaha and Foreman. Those are two young men that Spartan Fans may not know now, but will. Both are RF and both have huge upside and will punish Spartan opponents for years to come. If they can mature and contribute early, the Spartan line will cause Dantonio and Treadwell to sleep much easier. Roland Martin and Rocco Cironi are two big bruisers that will make the left side of the Spartan offensive line the bread and butter safe bet. Both of those young men love to hit, and the more contact they can make the happier they are.

The defensive line for the Spartans losses some key contributors, but they also are a deep and young group. Ted Gill is a great DL coach and this should be the second strongest unit on the 2008 Spartan team behind only the RB’s. Youngster Tyler Hoover will get minutes immediately and Trevor Anderson finally gets to play after having to sit out a season after transferring in to MSU. The Spartans depth and the amount of men that will contribute make this the strongest DL since the Saban years.Â

The Linebacker corps is young, but they are fast. As spring came to an end, Greg Jones had moved to the middle and Allison and Denson flanked him. I am not saying that they are the starters, (Allison and Denson) I am saying how it looked the last of the spring. It is up for a battle.Jones is, by far, the most superior player on this team and all it takes is about 5 minutes of watching him play to know that he is destined to star on Sundays. Let me make this bold declaration: If MSU starts the season with Greg Jones in the middle, the Spartans will NOT face a team this season that is faster than they are at LB.  Even mighty OSU will not be faster. They will face some more talented groups, but none faster. Also keep an eye on incoming freshman Steve Gardiner who reminds Dantonio and many others of AJ Hawk. The former OSU and current Green Bay Packer. 
The DB will be improved. I don’t see this group as improved as the DL and LB positions and that is a testament to the experience that this position takes. Otis “BLING BLING” Wiley is back as the fierce enforcer that he is. He struggled a few games last season and lost some PT, but it wasn’t over off field or talent issues. He was thinking too much rather than reacting and to his credit he hit the film room and the practice field even harder and won back his leadership role by season’s end.Â

There are several young CB’s that will get a chance come fall to separate themselves. It is nice that there are several with experience, and as much as I love watching the lines, I look forward to the CB battles most. Roderick Jenrette is the free safety opposite of Wiley and that young man brutalizes people. He hits with complete disregard to his personal health. He is worth the price of a ticket to watch play. If he can add to his brutalization of opponents, a heads up ability to read and react (understanding the big hit isn’t always possible), he could be the most improved Spartan in 2008.

Special teams were a disappointment in 2007. New punter Aaron Bates proved to be what I said he would on signing day. He made some freshman mistakes, but he is a star in the making. Brett Swenson struggled going only 15 of 22. Swenson is a great kid and I expect a complete rebound and he may very well turn out to be the MSU secret weapon. Look for Dantonio to get him “Back up in the saddle” early and if he can show he has his confidence back then this young man is ready to have a huge season.Â

The Spartans lost Devin Thomas, but stepping into his spot is Johnny Adams. This young man runs like greased lightning. He displayed the WOW factor several times this spring prompting Justin Kershaw to tell me, “He is fun to watch…if your eyes can keep up.”

In all of my biggest game predictions I have listed a game that I thought each team would lose. One that if they won they could parlay that into an even better season. MSU is the only one that I didn’t do that with. I picked the UM game because in total honesty MSU hasn’t made this a rivalry for several years. The tide is turning. MSU has made inroads to the D as far as recruiting and good will, and this is a must win game for the Spartans and Dantonio. Dollars and good will have followed him and he has done a remarkable job at the helm of the Spartans.  Winning that game in Ann Arbor would only continue the momentum into a critical third year.

The Spartans are much improved and this staff is the reason. Technique is not only in style it is taught daily. If you attend an MSU practice in the spring or the week before the UM game, the position portion of practice is exactly the same. They hammer home technique. Last year, the Spartan OL was not great but like most of the other positions leaps and bounds beyond the previous two staffs. That is a hallmark of the Jim Tressel coached teams, and Dantonio is his disciple.

Look for the Spartans to get to 8 wins this regular season and with a home game against Wisconsin the week after Michigan, it could be really special. I say the Spartans will go 8-4 and play in the Outback Bowl in Tampa on January 1. Happy New Year!