Following a season full of injuries in 2015, the Spartans return 12 letterwinners to the defensive backfield with plenty of game experience.
Over the last three seasons, Mark Dantonio has compiled a 36-5 record (.878), including two Big Ten Championships and three Top 10 finishes in the national polls.
Offensive lineman Donavon Clark and linebacker Darien Harris will play for the East, while safety RJ Williamson is on the West team.
Former Michigan State All-America defensive back and seven-year NFL veteran Harlon Barnett is in his first year as the Spartans' assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator.
Fifth-year senior safety RJ Williamson missed the last eight games of the regular season with a torn bicep.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio likes his team's resilience.
Now it's time to develop a knockout punch.
Connor Cook threw three touchdown passes and Nick Hill ran for two scores Saturday, but No. 8 Michigan State still needed a late interception return for a touchdown to hold on 45-31 at Purdue
Barnett mentors one of the top secondaries in the nation, as the Spartans have ranked among the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Top 25 in pass efficiency defense four of the past five seasons (No. 18 in 2011, No. 3 in 2012, No. 1 in 2013, No. 21 in 2014). The Spartans also finished ranked in the NCAA FBS Top 10 in pass defense in 2012 (ninth) and 2013 (third). In addition, MSU ranked second in the Big Ten and tied for 10th in the NCAA FBS with 18 interceptions in 2014, and was second in the Big Ten and tied for 23rd in the FBS last season with 15 picks. From 2011-14, the Spartans were the only program to finish in the NCAA FBS Top 10 in both total defense and rushing defense.
In his first season coordinating the defense, along with Mike Tressel, the Spartans finished ranked among the NCAA FBS leaders in forced turnovers (ninth with 28), rushing defense (11th at 116.0 ypg.), sacks (23rd at 2.64 pg.), scoring defense (25th at 21.7 ppg.) and total defense (26th at 349.9 ypg.). MSU held six opponents under 100 yards rushing and ranked third in the Big Ten and 11th nationally in stopping the run (116.0 ypg.). Barnett was named national coordinator of the week twice during the regular season; he was recognized by CoachingSearch.com after MSU beat No. 7 Oregon on Sept. 12 and held the Ducks to 123 yards on the ground, and was honored by Athlon Sports following the Spartans' 17-14 win at No. 2 Ohio State on Nov. 21 in which the Buckeyes were limited to 132 yards of total offense, the fewest ever by an Urban Meyer-coached team.
Barnett's players have earned All-Big Ten honors 23 times since his arrival as secondary coach at MSU, including seven different first-team players (Otis Wiley in 2008; Trenton Robinson in 2011; Johnny Adams in 2011-12; Darqueze Dennard in 2011-12, Isaiah Lewis in 2013; Kurtis Drummond in 2013-14; Trae Waynes in 2014). All four of MSU's starters in the secondary garnered All-Big Ten recognition during the 2010, 2011 and 2013 seasons, and two of the last three Big Ten Defensive Backs of the Year have come from Michigan State (Dennard in 2013, Drummond in 2014).
Under Barnett, six Spartan defensive backs have been selected in the NFL Draft, including two first-rounders (Dennard, No. 24, Cincinnati Bengals, 2014; Waynes, No. 11, Minnesota Vikings, 2015), and 10 have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. In 2015, Michigan State became just the sixth school to have cornerbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in consecutive years, joining Alabama (2012-13), LSU (2011-12), Miami-Florida (2005-06), Ohio State (1999-2001) and Notre Dame (1993-94). In addition to Dennard and Waynes, Jeremy Ware (2010, Oakland, seventh round), Chris L. Rucker (2011, Indianapolis, sixth round), Robinson (2012, San Francisco, sixth round) and Tony Lippett (2015, Miami, fifth round) have been chosen in the NFL Draft. Five Spartan defensive backs have participated in postseason all-star games under Barnett, including RJ Williamson in the 2016 East-West Shrine Game.
Barnett has coached three All-Americans (Dennard, Drummond, Waynes) and three Thorpe Award semifinalists (Dennard, Waynes, Wiley). A unanimous All-American, Dennard became the first Spartan to win the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's best defensive back, in 2013.
Barnett had to mold a young secondary unit in 2015 that featured seven different starting lineups, including six first-year starters and three true freshmen, due to numerous injuries. But in the last four games against Big Ten opponents, MSU only allowed 185.0 yards per game through the air. Junior Demetrious Cox, who started at both safety and cornerback, earned third-team All-Big Ten honors in his first year as a starter and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. Also in his first year as a starter, senior Arjen Colquhoun ranked seventh in the Big Ten with 12 passes defended (two interceptions, 10 pass break-ups). Sophomore safety Montae Nicholson improved throughout his second season and led the team with 40 tackles during the last five games of the season, while Grayson Miller, who filled a starting role at safety for four games during the middle of the year, was named to the BTN.com Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
Two of MSU's starting defensive backs earned All-America honors in 2014, as Drummond, a senior free safety, garnered first-team accolades from the Football Writers Association of America and Phil Steele, while Waynes, a junior cornerback, picked up second-team laurels from the Walter Camp Foundation, Sporting News and Athlon Sports. Drummond became only the fifth safety in school history to earn first-team All-America distinction.
Waynes became the highest Spartan drafted under MSU head coach Mark Dantonio in 2015 as he was selected in the first round by the Minnesota Vikings at No. 11 overall. Waynes, who also was the highest Spartan cornerback selected in the modern era of the NFL Draft (since 1967), was MSU's 35th first-round selection, including its second straight cornerback, joining Dennard. Named one of 15 semifinalists for the Thorpe Award, Waynes ranked second on the team with a career-best eight pass break-ups and tied for second with three interceptions.
Drummond, who was named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, tied for the Big Ten lead with a career-high 15 passes defended (four interceptions, 11 pass break-ups), which also ranked tied for 21st in the NCAA FBS. Drummond also led the team with 72 tackles, including five for losses (15 yards). He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second straight season, becoming just the fifth safety at MSU to be named to the All-Big Ten First Team twice. Drummond signed a free agent contract with the Houston Texans for the 2015 season.
In his first year as a starting strong safety, Williamson returned two interceptions for touchdowns (vs. Michigan and Maryland) to become one of just three players in the Big Ten in 2014 to score two defensive TDs. His three career defensive TDs (64-yard fumble return vs. Air Force in Week 3 of 2015) are tied for the most in school history.
In addition, Barnett helped Lippett -- the Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year in 2014 -- adjust back to being a starting cornerback late in the year for the first time since 2011. Lippett became the first Spartan to start both on offense and defense in the same game since 1968 and recorded four pass break-ups in just three games on defense. He was chosen in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins as a cornerback.
All four of MSU's starting defensive backs received All-Big Ten recognition in 2013, including three first-team All-Big Ten selections. The group was led by Dennard, the Thorpe Award winner who became the first-ever cornerback at Michigan State to earn unanimous first-team All-America honors. In addition, Dennard was named the winner of the Jack Tatum Award, which is presented to college football's top defensive back by The Touchdown Club of Columbus. The lock-down corner, who was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and named the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, ranked among the Big Ten leaders in interceptions (4), pass break-ups (10) and passes defended (14). Dennard was selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft (No. 24 overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Lewis and Drummond were also selected All-Big Ten First Team by the coaches, while Waynes garnered honorable mention. Lewis played in the 2014 Senior Bowl, was invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, and signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers. For his efforts in leading the Big Ten's top pass defense in 2013, Barnett was named one of three finalists for national defensive back coach of the year by FootballScoop.
In June 2012, Barnett was one of eight football coaches to participate in the Champion Forum, the top tier of the NCAA's coaching academy programs, held in conjunction with the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Convention in Dallas.
The Spartans ranked third in the nation in 2012 with a 98.8 pass efficiency rating, which led the Big Ten. MSU also ranked among the Big Ten leaders in 2012 in interceptions (tied for first with 14), passes defended (second with 77) and pass break-ups (tied for third with 63).
Michigan State's starting cornerback duo of Dennard and Adams both earned first-team All-Big Ten accolades in 2012. Adams garnered first-team honors from the coaches for the second straight year, becoming just the sixth Spartan defensive back to be named first-team All-Big Ten in multiple seasons. He finished his career ranked fourth in school history in interception return yards (230), fifth in passes defended (35), 10th in interceptions (11) and 11th in pass break-ups (24). Dennard tied for the team lead with three interceptions, including two against No. 21 Nebraska, and had 10 passes defended. Lewis, who ranked second on the team with 80 tackles and had eight passes defended, was an honorable mention All-Big Ten choice.
In 2011, MSU led the Big Ten and ranked tied for 12th in the NCAA FBS with 18 interceptions. MSU also ranked among the nation's leaders in pass defense (11th with 176.9 ypg.) and pass efficiency defense (18th with a 113.3 rating). In addition, the Spartans were second in the Big Ten in passes defended (60) and third in pass break-ups (42).
For the second straight year, all four of MSU's starters in the secondary garnered All-Big Ten recognition. Robinson, a second-team all-conference selection in 2010, earned first-team honors from the media in 2011 after tying for second in the Big Ten with four interceptions. Adams, also a second-team pick by the coaches as a sophomore, raised his game even more to garner first-team accolades. Adams led the team with nine passes defended (three interceptions, six pass break-ups) and ranked seventh in the FBS with 141 interception return yards.
The Spartans returned four interceptions for touchdowns in 2011, including two by Lewis, a second-team All-Big Ten selection. Lewis, who also tied for second in the Big Ten with six picks, had a TD return of 37 yards against Central Michigan and sealed the win over Michigan with a 39-yard runback for a score in the fourth quarter. Although he missed three games due to injury, Dennard still garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media. Dennard tied a Spartan bowl record with two interceptions in the 2012 Outback Bowl win over No. 18 Georgia, including a 38-yard return for a touchdown.
During the Spartans' Big Ten Championship season in 2010, Michigan State finished among the national leaders in pass break-ups (16th with 52), passes defended (17th with 69) and interceptions (tied for 23rd with 17), and was one of just two schools in the league (Iowa) to have all four of their starters in the defensive backfield earn postseason recognition from the conference. Adams and Rucker, along with Robinson, made the All-Big Ten second team as selected by the coaches, while strong safety Marcus Hyde was named to the second team by the media.
The unit combined for 17 interceptions, most at MSU since 2004, after collecting just six in 2009. The interceptions helped fuel MSU's positive turnover margin, as the Spartans leaped from 94th in the nation in 2009 to 31st in that department in 2010.
Individually, Robinson tied for second in the Big Ten with four interceptions and also ranked second in the conference with 12 passes defended. Adams and Hyde each had three picks, and Rucker had two.
Two Spartan cornerbacks earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2009, including Ware, who recorded a career-high 52 tackles and five pass break-ups while starting every game. He went on to be selected in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft by Oakland. Rucker was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for the second straight year as he led the team with seventh pass break-ups and compiled a career-high 58 tackles. In a secondary of veterans, Robinson also stood out with his 67 tackles, good for fourth on the team. Barnett had to deal with multiple injuries to his unit for the second straight year in 2009, as he used six different starting lineup combinations throughout the season.
Barnett's secondary unit displayed depth and tenacity during the 2008 season. A rash of injuries forced Barnett to utilize nine different starting lineups, as four players made their first career starts. Week after week, a new player stepped up and produced when given an opportunity. Leading the way was first-team All-Big Ten selection and Thorpe Award finalist Otis Wiley, who ranked among the league leaders in interceptions (4) and passes defended (11). The defensive backfield combined to account for 14 interceptions and 50 pass break-ups, with both totals increasing from the previous season.
In his first season at MSU in 2007, Barnett led a secondary that ranked fourth in the Big Ten in pass defense. Under his direction, former walk-on turned team captain Travis Key earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in his first year as a starter, as Key ranked third on the team in tackles (69) and second in pass break-ups (6) and interceptions (2) in 2007. He also tutored boundary corner Kendell Davis-Clark, who led the team in pass break-ups with eight and ranked second on the team in tackles with 72, and Wiley, who led the team with four interceptions. Seven different players combined for 12 interceptions, the most for a Spartan team since 2003.
Barnett spent three seasons as secondary coach on Dantonio's staff at Cincinnati. In 2006, the Bearcats finished the regular season ranked third in the BIG EAST and No. 23 nationally in pass efficiency defense (109.3 rating). Barnett tutored two players that earned 2006 All-BIG EAST honors, in Dominic Ross (first team) and Mike Mickens (second team). During the regular season, Ross ranked third in the BIG EAST with four interceptions, while Mickens led the league in passes defended (17) and pass break-ups (15). In addition, Barnett worked with cornerback John Bowie, who was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round of the 2007 NFL Draft. In his initial season on the Cincinnati coaching staff in 2004, the Bearcats led Conference USA and ranked No. 26 nationally in pass defense, allowing 194.2 yards per game in 2004. In addition, two members of the secondary, Daven Holly and Doug Monaghan, earned second-team All-Conference USA honors. Holly was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
Barnett landed his first collegiate coaching job as a graduate assistant at LSU in 2003 under Nick Saban, where he was a part of the Tigers' National Championship campaign. He began his coaching career at Princeton High School in Cincinnati, where he spent two seasons as the secondary coach (1998-99) and three years as the defensive coordinator (2000-02).
A native of Cincinnati, Barnett was a three-year starter for Coach George Perles at Michigan State. He was a member of the 1987 Big Ten and 1988 Rose Bowl championship team that went 9-2-1 overall and finished eighth in the final polls. Barnett, who also played in the 1989 Gator Bowl and the 1989 Aloha Bowl during his time as a Spartan player, earned first-team All-America recognition by The Sporting News as a senior in 1989. He was a primary reason that the Green and White ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 11 nationally in both rushing defense (95.4 ypg.) and total defense (280.5 ypg.). He compiled 73 stops, high among Spartan defensive backs, along with three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. He finished his career with 154 tackles, six interceptions and 13 pass break-ups.
Following his impressive career at Michigan State, Barnett was taken in the fourth round of the 1990 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, where he played for three seasons (1990-92). He spent two seasons at New England (1993-94) and two more with Minnesota (1995-96).
Barnett earned his bachelor's degree in communication from Michigan State in 1990. He and his wife Tammy have two children: Todd and Tori.
THE BARNETT FILE
YEARS AT MICHIGAN STATE: 10th. Joined staff on Dec. 1, 2006, from Cincinnati.
PREVIOUS COACHING EXPERIENCE: College - Graduate assistant coach at LSU (2003); secondary coach at Cincinnati (2004-06).
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in communication from Michigan State in 1990.
PLAYING EXPERIENCE: College - Four-year letterwinner as a defensive back at Michigan State (1986-89) and named captain as a senior. Professional - Spent seven seasons in the National Football League, including stints with the Cleveland Browns (1990-92), New England Patriots (1993-94) and Minnesota Vikings (1995-96).
POSTSEASON EXPERIENCE: Player - 1985 All-American Bowl, 1988 Rose Bowl, 1989 Gator Bowl, 1989 Aloha Bowl, 1994 NFL Playoffs, 1996 NFL Playoffs. Coach - 2004 Sugar Bowl, 2004 Fort Worth Bowl, 2007 Champs Sports Bowl, 2009 Capital One Bowl, 2010 Valero Alamo Bowl, 2011 Capital One Bowl, 2012 Outback Bowl, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 2014 Rose Bowl, 2015 Cotton Bowl, 2015 College Football Playoff (Cotton Bowl).