Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, February 18, 2015

Michigan State has been arguably the premier program in the Big Ten the past five seasons, winning double-digit games four times in that span with Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl titles. The program is 32-8 in the Big Ten from 2010-14.

And the momentum figures to continue for the Spartans under Mark Dantonio, who is entering his ninth season in East Lansing. But Dantonio must move forward without long-time defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who has left to become head coach at Pitt. How will the defense be impacted? That question will begin to be answered this spring.

But here are the three biggest issues MSU must address.

1. Find a middle linebacker. Since 2009, Michigan State has had just three starting ?mike? linebackers: Greg Jones (2009-10), Max Bullough (2011-13) and Taiwan Jones (2014). Last season, Taiwan Jones moved from ?star? (weak side) to the middle as a senior and was named second-team All-Big Ten, anchoring the nation's No. 1 rushing defense. Top candidates to replace Jones are junior Riley Bullough, who played ?mike? during the final stretch of the 2014 season following a shoulder injury to Jon Reschke. Reschke, a sophomore, is also a candidate to start after serving as Jones' backup a majority of last season; however, Reschke will be limited in spring practice following his recovery from shoulder surgery. Darien Harris-a fifth-year senior in 2015–helped fill in at middle linebacker in the Rose Bowl with the absence of Max Bullough and started 11 games at ?star? linebacker in 2014.

2. Get some corners. For the second year in a row, the Spartans must find a replacement following the departure of an elite cornerback. In 2013, Darqueze Dennard won the Thorpe Award and was a first-round pick. Trae Waynes, a likely first-round pick in 2015, declared early for the draft. Junior Darian Hicks started the first 10 games at cornerback last season before WR Tony Lippett was moved back to defense late in the season. Junior Demetrious Cox, a safety, played some corner at the end of the season, as well. In the bowl game, Arjen Colquhoun saw time at cornerback, and will be a fifth-year senior in 2015. Jermaine Edmondson will be a junior in 2015 and will compete for playing time. Young players also will get a chance, including redshirt freshman Vayonte Copeland. Some incoming freshmen could impact in the fall, too. This is a wide-open spot.

3. Find a running back. Under Mark Dantonio, Michigan State has had a 1,000-yard rusher six of his eight seasons. (Le'Veon Bell had 948 yards in 2011.) The 2009 season is the only time Dantonio has failed to have a back crack the 900-yard mark. (Larry Caper had 468 yards). Ultra-productive Jeremy Langford is gone. Javon Ringer is the only Spartan to rush for more yards in back-to-back seasons (3,059 in 2007-08) than Langford (2,944 in 2013-14). Junior Delton Williams ranked third on the team with 316 rushing yards on 54 carries with five TDs in 2014. Sophomore Gerald Holmes and redshirt freshman Madre London will also get carries during spring practice. In addition, stud incoming freshman LJ Scott will have a chance to get some carries during camp.


Record: 11-2 overall (7-1 Big Ten), beat Baylor in Cotton Bowl.
Spring ball starts: March 24
Spring game: April 25
Key players lost: S Kurtis Drummond; G Travis Jackson; LB Taiwan Jones; RB Jeremy Langford; WR/CB Tony Lippett; DE Marcus Rush; P Mike Sadler; CB Trae Waynes
Key players back: C Jack Allen; LB Riley Bullough; WR Aaron Burbridge; DE Shilique Calhoun; G Donavon Clark; OT Jack Conklin; QB Connor Cook; LB Ed Davis; K Michael Geiger; LB Darien Harris; DT Joel Heath; CB Darian Hicks; OT Kodi Kieler; WR Macgarrett Kings; S Montae Nicholson; TE Josiah Price; NT Lawrence Thomas; S RJ Williamson


About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, 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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