July 27, 2009
CHICAGO - Michigan State has been picked to finish third in the 2009 Big Ten football race, behind Ohio State and Penn State, according to the conference's preseason media poll released Monday, July 27. In addition, the media panel has selected Michigan State junior linebacker Greg Jones as the Big Ten Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Third-year MSU head coach Mark Dantonio welcomes back 45 lettermen, including 18 starters (seven offense, eight defense and three specialists), from last year's 9-4 team that played in the Capital One Bowl and finished No. 24 in final Associated Press and USA TODAY Polls.
"On offense, we've lost a lot of star power, especially at the running back and quarterback positions," Dantonio said. "Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer combined to account for 3,900 total yards and 32 touchdowns last year. So the third-place selection is really a tribute to our returning personnel on defense and our kicking game. Twenty-four of our 45 lettermen return on the defensive side of the football, including at least a dozen players with some starting experience. In addition, we have one of the nation's top kicking tandems in placekicker Brett Swenson and punter Aaron Bates.
"The preseason poll is really for the fans and media. The games will be played one at a time, and we're only interested in results. So we'll measure our success against the final league standings."
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Jones led the team in tackles for the second straight season with 127 (80 solos, 47 assists) in 2008. He led the team in tackles in 11 of 13 games, becoming the first Spartan to record 100 tackles in a season since Eric Smith (101) in 2005. Jones ranked third in the Big Ten and 17th nationally in tackles, averaging 9.8 per game. He led the Big Ten in tackles (89) in conference games, averaging 11.1 per game. The Cincinnati, Ohio, native also led the Spartans in tackles for loss (14 for 38 yards) and production points (299).
A first-team All-Big Ten selection by the league's head coaches and second-team pick by the media, Jones produced double-figure tackles in each of the last seven games, becoming the first Spartan to record double-digit tackles in seven straight games since Thomas Wright in 2002. He posted double-figure tackles against Northwestern (11), Ohio State (13), Michigan (10), Wisconsin (13), Purdue (12), Penn State (career high 15) and Georgia (12). Jones set career highs for tackles, tackles for loss (3.5 for 9 yards) and production points (47) against the Nittany Lions.
"Greg Jones is certainly deserving of this preseason honor," Dantonio said. "Greg has a great motor, plays with a relentless attitude and has the unique ability to make the guys around him play better. He has been our leading tackler for the last two years, but the most impressive thing about Greg is that he consistently plays at a high level. Greg is beginning to establish himself as one of the top linebackers, not only in this league but in the entire nation."
Jones has been named to 2009 preseason watch lists for three national awards: Butkus Award (top collegiate linebacker), Lombardi Award (college lineman of the year) and the Lott Trophy (defensive player of the year).