Michigan State camp preview: Is this group still hungry?

Michigan State is the reigning Big Ten king. Can the Spartans stay on top? This program is rolling as Mark Dantonio enters his eighth year in East Lansing. The last four years, MSU has gone 42-12 overall and 25-7 in the Big Ten. What’s next? A national title? Maybe.

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Here are some questions I have prior to attending Michigan State practice on Tuesday.

1. Is the o-line rolling? It’s the biggest question on an otherwise loaded MSU offense. Left tackle Jack Conklin and center Jack Allen are the lone starters back. Others have experience, including guard Travis Jackson, tackle Kodi Kieler and guard Connor Kruse, but chemistry and cohesion are needed.

2. How do the linebackers look? This unit lost stalwarts in Denicos Allen and Max Bullough. Taiwan Jones is the new man in the middle. Darien Harris and Ed Davis also are being counted on. Replacing Bullough’s savvy will be difficult. He was like a coach on the field. Allen was a primo blitzer.

3. Will CB Darqueze Dennard be missed? He won the Thorpe Award last year. Trae Waynes is the new lynchpin corner. Darian Hicks is supposed to start opposite him. The secondary also lost strong safety Isaiah Lewis, but free safety Kurtis Drummond is back. He’ll be one of the Big Ten’s best. The “No Fly Zone” must continue to soar.

4. Is the interior of the d-line OK? Ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush are back. But guys like Lawrence Thomas, Damon Knox and Joel Heath need to step up on the inside. And I can’t wait to see true freshman Malik McDowell.

5. Can the offense continue to evolve? It made strides in 2013 but still ranked only seventh in the Big Ten in scoring (29.8 ppg) and eighth overall (385.5 ypg). Connor Cook needs to take an even greater command as a passer.We need to see some swagger. The offense may have to carry things early as the defense breaks in six new starters.

6. Is this group still hungry? MSU is coming off a magical 2013 that saw this team go 13-1 and win the Big Ten and Rose Bowl. The Spartans have reached the summit. Can they stay there? Is that classic Mark Dantonio chip on the shoulder still evident in his team?

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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