2015 Season Outlook
Position-by-position breakdown of the Spartans entering preseason camp.
With preseason camp underway, msuspartans.com takes a position-by-position look at the 2015 Spartans.
SPARTAN FOOTBALL NOTES
• Michigan State, which capped off an 11-2 season in 2014 with a dramatic 20-point comeback win over No. 4 Baylor in the 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic, enters the ninth season of the head coach Mark Dantonio era in 2015 primed to make a run for a spot in the College Football Playoff after finishing last season with a No. 5 ranking in both of the national polls. The Spartans will face nine teams on their 2015 schedule that appeared in postseason bowl games last season, including all four of their non-conference games (Sept. 4 at Western Michigan, Sept. 12 vs. Oregon, Sept. 19 vs. Air Force, Sept. 26 vs. Central Michigan). Spartan Big Ten opponents Rutgers, Nebraska, Maryland, Ohio State and Penn State also played in bowl games last season.
• Michigan State returns a total of 50 letterwinners and 17 starters in 2015. The Spartans welcome back 25 letterwinners and seven starters from last season’s record-breaking offense that set school single-season marks for points (559), scoring average (43.0 ppg.), offensive touchdowns (70), total offense (6,510 yards), rushing touchdowns (44), rushing yards (3,057) and first downs (321). MSU brings back fifth-year senior Connor Cook, who enters his third year as the starting quarterback, to lead the offense. A second-team All-Big Ten selection, Cook led the Big Ten in passing as a junior in 2014 (3,214 yards; 247.2 ypg.) and ranked second in touchdown passes (24). On defense, the Spartans return 22 letterwinners and seven starters from a unit that ranked in the NCAA FBS Top 10 in total defense (No. 8 at 315.8 ypg.) for the fourth consecutive year. Three of the four starters on the defensive line are back, including two-time second-team All-American Shilique Calhoun at defensive end.
• Michigan State, which has posted a 24-3 record since 2013, is the only school in the nation to win a Bowl Championship Series game during the 2013 season (24-20 over Stanford in 2014 Rose Bowl Game) and a New Year’s Six bowl game (42-41 over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl Classic) last season.
• MSU was ranked No. 5 in the final 2014 Associated Press and USA TODAY/Amway Coaches Polls. The Spartans finished ranked among the nation’s top five for the second year in a row (No. 3 in both polls in 2013) – a program first since 1965-66. It also marked MSU’s 14th Top 10 finish in the history of the AP Poll. Michigan State has been ranked in the AP Poll for 25 consecutive weeks, including 17 weeks in the Top 10. It marked MSU’s fifth Top 10 finish in the history of the USA TODAY Coaches Poll (began administering the poll in 1991), including its third under Dantonio. Dantonio has led Michigan State to Top 25 finishes in five of the last seven seasons (2008: No. 24 in both polls; 2010: No. 14 in both polls; 2011: No. 10 USA TODAY/No. 11 AP; 2013: No. 3 in both polls; and 2014: No. 5 in both polls).
• Michigan State has recorded four double-digit win seasons in the past five years (11 in 2010, 11 in 2011, school-record 13 in 2013, 11 in 2014). MSU is just the third Big Ten program, along with Michigan and Ohio State, to win at least 11 games four times in a five-year span as a conference member. Michigan State has won at least 10 games in a season six times (10 in 1965, 10 in 1999, 11 in 2010, 11 in 2011, 13 in 2013, 11 in 2014), including four (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014) under head coach Mark Dantonio.
• Michigan State has appeared in a school-record eight consecutive bowl games (2007 Champs Sports, 2009 Capital One, 2010 Alamo, 2011 Capital One, 2012 Outback, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings, 2014 Rose, 2015 Cotton). The eight-year bowl streak is currently the second longest in the Big Ten and 13th longest in the NCAA FBS.
• With its 42-41 Cotton Bowl Classic victory over Baylor, MSU extended its school-record bowl winning streak to four games, tied for the longest in Big Ten history (2012 Outback over No. 18 Georgia, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings over TCU, 2014 Rose Bowl over No. 5 Stanford, 2015 Cotton Bowl over No. 4 Baylor). It also equals the longest active bowl winning streak in the FBS. Michigan State is one of just five schools in the NCAA FBS to win bowl games in each of the last four seasons (Louisiana-Lafayette, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas A&M).
• Michigan State has recorded 53 wins since 2010 – the most in the Big Ten over the last five seasons and seventh most in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision. The Spartans have posted five consecutive winning seasons, a first for the program since recording six in a row from 1985-90. MSU has won 24 games the past two seasons (24-3 record), the most in back-to-back seasons in school history (previous: 22 in 2010-11) and tied for third most in the FBS (Florida State: 27; Ohio State: 26; MSU/Oregon: 24).
• Since 2011, Michigan State’s defense has been one of the most consistent in the NCAA FBS. The Spartans are the only team to rank in the FBS Top 10 in total defense the past four seasons (No. 6 in 2011, No. 4 in 2012, No. 2 in 2013, No. 8 in 2014).
• The Spartans are the only team in the FBS to rank in the Top 10 in both total defense and rushing defense the past four seasons. MSU ranked No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense (88.5 ypg.) and No. 8 in total defense (315.8 ypg.) in 2014.
• Since the Big Ten began awarding stat champions in all games in 1985, Michigan State is only the second team in conference history to lead the league in rushing defense four years in a row (Michigan, 1990-93). MSU’s 88.5 rushing yards allowed was the eighth-lowest total in school history.
• Michigan State led the NCAA FBS in rushing defense in 2014, allowing just 88.5 ypg. It marked the fourth time MSU has led the NCAA in rushing defense (1952: 83.9 ypg.; 1965: school-record 47.3 ypg.; 1987: 69.8 ypg.). MSU ranked No. 2 in the FBS in rushing defense in 2013 (86.6 ypg.). Alabama, MSU and Stanford are the only three schools in the FBS to rank in the Top 10 in rushing defense the past four seasons.
Mark Dantonio NOTES
• Ninth-year Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio owns a 75-31 (.708) record as head coach of the Spartans. His .708 winning percentage currently ranks fourth best at MSU. He won his 71st game at MSU on Oct. 25 against Michigan to move into second place all-time in victories in school history (record: Duffy Daugherty, 109). Dantonio’s .703 winning percentage (45-19) in Big Ten games ranks first at MSU (minimum 10 Big Ten games).
• Dantonio is one of just four coaches in Big Ten history to win 11 games four times (Fielding Yost, Michigan; Joe Paterno, Penn State; Jim Tressel, Ohio State). He’s also just the third to do so in a five-year span (Yost, Michigan, 1901-05; Tressel, Ohio State, 2006-10*). [*wins vacated in 2010.] Dantonio is the third-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten (Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: 17th season; Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern, 10th season) and the 16th longest in the FBS.
PERSONNEL BRIEFING: OFFENSE
Letterwinners returning (3):
Connor Cook (Sr.-5, 6-4, 220, 13 games, 212-of-365 passing (.581), 3,214 yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs)
Tyler O’Connor (Jr., 6-3, 222, 5 games, 12-of-16 passing (.750), 151 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT)
Damion Terry (So., 6-3, 235, 5 games, 12-of-19 passing (.632), 88 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs)
Letterwinners lost (0)
Outlook: Fifth-year senior Connor Cook returns for his third season as the starting quarterback in 2015 after leading the Spartans to a 23-3 record as a starter in 2013 and 2014. In addition, Cook owns a 16-1 record against Big Ten opponents and is one of just two starting Spartan quarterbacks to win two bowl games (2014 Rose Bowl, 2015 Cotton Bowl). In 30 career games, he has completed 58 percent of his passes (444-of-762) for 6,063 yards, 47 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Cook was a second-team All-Big Ten selection for the second year in a row as a junior in 2014 after leading the Big Ten in passing (3,214 yards; 247.2 ypg.) and ranking second in touchdown passes (24). Those numbers were also some of the best in MSU single-season history (second in TDs, third in passing yards). Named to watch lists for the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien Awards, he enters his final season in East Lansing ranked among MSU’s all-time leaders in passing efficiency (third with 141.5 rating), 300-yard passing games (third with six), 200-yard passing games (tied for third with 18), touchdown passes (third with 47), total offense (fourth with 6,216 yards), passing yards (fifth with 6,063), pass completions (seventh with 444), pass attempts (eighth with 762) and pass completion percentage (ninth at .583). Cook will also have an opportunity to become the winningest quarterback in school history (record currently held by Kirk Cousins, who had 27 wins from 2009-11) . . . junior Tyler O’Connor and sophomore Damion Terry will compete for the back-up position. O’Connor saw action in five games last year as the back-up, completing 75 percent of his passes (12-of-16) for 151 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Terry also played in five contests; he completed 12-of-19 passes (.632) for 88 yards and had 62 rushing yards on 12 attempts (5.2 avg.) . . . fifth-year senior Tommy Vento (6-1, 192) also provides depth at the position.
Outlook: The race for the starting tailback will be one of the key position battles to watch in preseason camp following the departure of Jeremy Langford, who rushed for more touchdowns (40) and the second-most yards (2,944) in a two-season span in Michigan State history. Langford tied an MSU single-season record with 22 rushing TDs last season as a senior and also rushed for a career-high 1,522 yards . . . sophomore Gerald Holmes (6-0, 216) and promising red-shirt freshman Madre London (6-1, 216) both took reps with the first team in the spring and enter preseason camp as co-starters. Holmes saw limited action in three games as a red-shirt freshman in 2014, collecting 44 yards on 15 carries (2.9 avg.). He rushed for 48 yards on 11 attempts in the Green-White spring game, while London collected 70 yards on nine carries, including a 50-yard gain . . . incoming freshman LJ Scott (6-0, 233) is also expected to compete for immediate playing time . . . Delton Williams, who ranked third on the team as a sophomore in rushing yards (316), carries (54) and rushing TDs (5), is also back in 2015 for the Spartans . . . at fullback, Trevon Pendleton is back for his third year in the starting lineup. Primarily used as a blocker, Pendleton has started 19 games the past two seasons for MSU.
Letterwinners returning (8):
DeAnthony Arnett (Sr.-5, 5-11, 184, 4 games, 2 catches, 11 yards, 5.5 avg.)
Edward Barksdale III (Jr., 6-2, 199, 7 games, 2 catches, 16 yards, 8.0 avg.)
Aaron Burbridge (Sr., 6-1, 208, 13 games, 29 catches, 358 yards, 12.3 avg., 1 TD)
Macgarrett Kings Jr. (Sr., 5-10, 192, 13 games, 29 catches, 404 yards, 12.3 avg., 1 TD)
Matt Macksood (Jr., 5-11, 195, 7 games)
Monty Madaris (Jr., 6-1, 202, 12 games, 5 catches, 56 yards, 11.2 avg.)
R.J. Shelton (Jr., 5-11, 195, 13 games, 16 catches, 173 yards, 10.8 avg., 2 TDs)
AJ Troup (Sr.-5, 6-2, 218, 10 games, 7 catches, 113 yards, 16.1 avg., 2 TDs)
Letterwinners lost (4):
John Jakubik (4 games)
Tony Lippett (13 games, 65 catches, 1,198 yards, 18.4 avg., 11 TDs)
Keith Mumphery (13 games, 26 catches, 495 yards, 19.0 avg., 3 TDs)
Andre Sims Jr. (7 games, Sr.-5, 5-9, 190, 3 catches, 26 yards, 8.7 avg.)
Outlook: Michigan State lost two of its top receivers to graduation, including 2014 Big Ten Receiver of the Year Tony Lippett, who led the team in receptions (65), receiving yards (1,198) and touchdown catches (11). Keith Mumphery, who caught the game-winning TD pass in the Cotton Bowl Classic victory over Baylor, is also gone after recording 26 catches for 495 yards and three TDs his senior season . . . the Spartans will be looking for seniors Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr. to have big seasons to replace some of the production lost. Burbridge (358 receiving yards) and Kings (404 yards) each tied for second on the team in 2014 with 29 receptions and have a combined 156 receptions, 1,858 receiving yards and seven TD catches in their careers . . . versatile junior R.J. Shelton has six career starts under his belt and will likely have an expanded role in the offense in 2015. Shelton ranked fourth on the team in rushing with 148 yards on 21 carries (7.0 avg.) and two TDs as a sophomore and was sixth with 16 receptions for 173 yards (10.8 avg.) and two TDs . . . senior AJ Troup had seven catches for 113 yards and two TDs in his first full healthy season for the Spartans in 2014 and should only see his playing time increase in 2015 . . . the coaches have cited significant improvement from fifth-year senior DeAnthony Arnett, who could contribute at a much higher level this season. Arnett has six catches for 87 yards during his career in East Lansing after transferring from Tennessee his freshman season, but led the Spartans with five catches for 51 yards in the spring game . . . junior Monty Madaris (five catches for 56 yards in 2014) is also expected to see his production increase in 2015 . . . returning letterwinners Edward Barksdale III and Matt Macksood will also compete for playing time.
Letterwinners returning (8):
C Jack Allen (Sr.-5, 6-2, 296), OG Brian Allen (So., 6-2, 298), OL Donavon Clark (Sr.-5, 6-4, 325), OG Brandon Clemons (Sr.-5, 6-3, 302), OT Jack Conklin (Jr., 6-6, 325), OT Dennis Finley (So., 6-6, 305), OT Kodi Kieler (Jr., 6-6, 315), OG Benny McGowan (Jr., 6-3, 325)
* counting six offensive linemen as starters
Outlook: Michigan State fielded the strongest offensive line of the head coach Mark Dantonio era during MSU’s record-breaking offensive season in 2014 and returns four players with starting experience in 2015. Among the numerous records set last season, the Spartans rushed for the most yards (3,057) and touchdowns (44) in program history, and averaged 235.2 rushing yards per game, MSU’s highest single-game average since 2005 (238.5 ypg.). MSU also allowed just 11 sacks, fewest in the Big Ten and tied for third fewest in the FBS . . . the line is anchored by fourth-year starting center Jack Allen, who became just the fourth Spartan center in school history to earn first-team All-America honors in 2014. A Rimington Trophy finalist last season for the nation’s top center, Allen enters his final season with 35 career starts (30 at center, five at left guard). He is on watch lists for the Rimington Trophy, Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award . . . heralded junior Jack Conklin graded out the highest among Spartan offensive linemen during the regular season and returns for his third year as the starting left tackle. Named to watch lists for the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, Conklin led the team with 113.5 knockdowns in 2014 . . . the right side of the offensive line shuffled a bit during the regular season due to injuries, but Donavon Clark was a mainstay the entire year. Clark started all 13 games (eight at right guard; five at right tackle) but will likely stay inside at guard his senior season in 2015; he recorded a career-best 67.5 knockdowns as a junior in 2014 . . . Kodi Kieler began last season as the starting right tackle until Connor Kruse re-entered the lineup midway through the season. Kieler was a regular in the rotation, however, and returned to the starting lineup for the final two games of the season. He is now fully entrenched as the starting right tackle entering 2015 . . . although the Spartans will miss co-captain Travis Jackson at left guard, sophomore Brian Allen will slide into a starting role after earning Freshman All-America honors as a true freshman in 2014 . . . fifth-year senior Brandon Clemons will provide support at guard as he focuses solely on offense in his final season; Clemons shifted between the offensive and defensive lines the past two years . . . returning letterwinners Dennis Finley (tackle) and Benny McGowan (guard) also will provide depth on the line for the Spartans, along with junior college transfer Miguel Machado (tackle).
Letterwinners returning (4):
Dylan Chmura (So., 6-4, 258, 13 games)
Paul Lang (Sr.-5, 6-5, 260, 13 games)
Jamal Lyles (Jr., 6-3, 260, 13 games, 5 catches, 74 yards, 14.8 avg.)
Josiah Price (Jr., 6-4, 252, 13 games, 26 catches, 374 yards, 14.4 avg., 6 TDs)
Letterwinners lost (1):
Andrew Gleichert (8 games, 1 catch, 12 yards)
Outlook: Four of the five tight ends that earned letters last season are back in 2015 as the position continues to be a strength for the Spartans. The returning group combined for 32 catches, 447 yards and six TDs in 2014 . . . Josiah Price led the unit for the second straight season with 26 receptions for 374 yards, and tied a school record for most touchdown catches by a Spartan tight end with six. He enters the 2015 season on the Mackey Award Watch List (nation’s most outstanding tight end) . . . Jamal Lyles, a former defensive lineman, had five catches for 74 yards (14.8 avg.) and should see his production increase in 2015 . . . fifth-year senior Paul Lang provided key blocking support and played in all 13 games, including four starts . . . sophomore Dylan Chmura saw action on special teams his first season but could have an expanded role this fall . . . red-shirt freshman Matt Sokol (6-5, 250), who enrolled early in 2014, will also compete for playing time in the rotation . . . Andrew Gleichert, who also saw action as a fullback, is the only letterwinner not returning in 2015.
PERSONNEL BRIEFING: DEFENSE
Letterwinners returning (7):
DE Shilique Calhoun (Sr.-5, 6-5, 250, 13 games, 39 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 8 sacks)
DE Demetrius Cooper (So., 6-5, 245, 13 games, 10 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack)
DT Joel Heath (Sr.-5, 6-6, 293, 13 games, 29 tackles, 5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks)
DE Evan Jones (Jr., 6-5, 248, 12 games, 1 tackle)
DT Damon Knox (Sr.-5, 6-5, 276, 8 games, 3 tackles)
NT Malik McDowell (So., 6-6, 275, 13 games, 15 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks)
DL Lawrence Thomas (Sr.-5, 6-4, 305, 13 games, 30 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 3 sacks)
Letterwinners lost (1):
DE Marcus Rush (13 games, 37 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 7.5 sacks)
Outlook: Michigan State has featured one of the top defensive lines in the nation the past few seasons, and 2015 should be no different, as the Spartans return three starters and five players with starting experience from last year’s unit that helped the team rank No. 1 in the NCAA FBS in rushing defense (88.5 ypg.) . . . fifth-year senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun will anchor the line in his third year as a starter. Calhoun, a two-time second-team All-American and two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection (2013, 2014), has 82 tackles, including 29 for losses (186 yards) with 16.5 sacks (137 yards), in his career. The disruptive playmaker already ranks among MSU’s all-time leaders in tackles for loss yardage (sixth with 186), sack yardage (seventh with 137), sacks (tied for eighth with 16.5), fumble recoveries (tied for 10th with five) and tackles for loss (tied for 14th with 29) . . . opposite of Calhoun, the Spartans must replace Marcus Rush, who set the school record for most starts (53) in program history. Rush finished his career ranked among MSU’s all-time Top 10 leaders in tackles for loss (seventh with 37.5) and sacks (seventh with 18.5) . . . fifth-year senior Lawrence Thomas, who had a breakout junior season in 2014 in his first year as a starter at nose tackle with a career-high 30 tackles, enters preseason camp as the other starter at defensive end and also could see time inside as well. He also posted career highs in tackles for loss (4.5 for 19 yards) and sacks (three for 16 yards) last season. Thomas began his career at linebacker, moved to fullback as a red-shirt freshman in 2012, and rotated from defensive end and defensive tackle upon returning to the defense in 2013 before becoming a full-time starter at nose tackle in 2014 . . . sophomore Demetrius Cooper, junior Evan Jones and red-shirt freshman Montez Sweat (6-6, 230) will also compete for playing time at defensive end . . . on the interior, fifth-year senior Joel Heath started 12 games at defensive tackle as a junior last season and also had a career year with 29 tackles, including five for losses (22 yards) and 2.5 sacks (19 yards) . . . talented sophomore Malik McDowell, who earned Freshman All-America honors in 2014 from the Football Writers Association of America, came on strong toward the end of his first season and earned the starting nod at nose tackle in the Cotton Bowl Classic. He finished his true freshman year with 15 tackles, including 4.5 for losses (21 yards) and 1.5 sacks (15 yards), and enters preseason camp as the starter at nose tackle . . . fifth-year senior Damon Knox, who battled a back injury the first half of last season, will also see playing time inside, and a pair of red-shirt freshmen (Craig Evans, Enoch Smith) will also compete for time in the rotation.
Letterwinners returning (7):
Riley Bullough (Jr., 6-2, 230, 13 games, 29 tackles, 4 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 2 INTs)
Ed Davis (Sr.-5, 6-3, 230, 13 games, 58 tackles, 12 TFLs, 7 sacks, 2 PBUs, 1 FF)
Chris Frey (So., 6-2, 235, 13 games, 19 tackles)
Darien Harris (Sr.-5, 6-0, 220, 13 games, 48 tackles, 3.5 TFLs)
Sean Harrington (So., 6-3, 210, 3 games, 1 tackle)
Shane Jones (So., 6-1, 234, 8 games, 4 tackles)
Jon Reschke (So., 6-2, 228, 8 games, 13 tackles)
Outlook: The Spartans return two of their three starters from a year ago in Sam (strongside) linebacker Ed Davis and Star (weakside) linebacker Darien Harris . . . in his first year as a starter, Davis led the team during the regular season in production points and finished the year ranked fourth on the team with a career-high 58 tackles. He also ranked third on the team in tackles for loss (12 for 48 yards) and sacks (seven for 33 yards) and had at least a half tackle for loss in 10 of 13 games. Davis enters the season on the Nagurski Award Watch List . . . sophomore Chris Frey, who played in all 13 games as a true freshman, will also see time at Sam . . . Harris, who was named to the Butkus Award Watch List, started 11 games and ranked fifth on the team with a career-high 48 tackles . . . in the middle, Michigan State is looking to replace second-team All-Big Ten selection Taiwan Jones, who played his senior season at Mike in 2014 after playing his first three years at Star . . . junior Riley Bullough enters preseason camp as the starter, following in the footsteps of his older brother Max, who was a three-year starter at Mike from 2011-13. Bullough spent a majority of his sophomore year in 2014 as the back-up Sam linebacker, but did move inside the final four games of the season following a shoulder injury to Jon Reschke. Bullough, who spent 2013 on offense as a running back and then fullback due to a need at the position, collected a career-high 29 tackles in 2014 and was impressive during spring practice to earn the starting role . . . Reschke will be a sophomore in 2015 and will compete for playing time at Mike after serving as Jones’ backup a majority of last season. In eight games of action as a red-shirt freshman, Reschke registered 13 tackles and forced two fumbles; he missed the final four games of the season due to a shoulder injury . . . returning letterwinners Shane Jones (Mike) and Sean Harrington (Sam), along with red-shirt freshman Byron Bullough (Mike, 6-1, 228) and T.J. Harrell (Star, 6-1, 209), will also provide depth at linebacker.
Letterwinners returning (8):
CB Arjen Colquhoun (Sr.-5, 6-1, 202, 11 games, 12 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBUs)
CB/S Demetrious Cox (Jr., 6-1, 200, 13 games, 26 tackles, 2 TFLs)
CB Jermaine Edmondson (Jr., 6-0, 182, 13 games, 8 tackles)
CB Darian Hicks (Jr., 5-10, 180, 13 games, 28 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs)
S Chris Laneaux (Sr.-5, 5-11, 208, 7 games, 1 tackle)
S Mark Meyers (Jr., 6-0, 186, 13 games, 8 tackles)
S Montae Nicholson (So., 6-2, 220, 13 games, 31 tackles, 2 FR)
S RJ Williamson (Sr.-5, 6-0, 216, 13 games, 59 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 3 INTs, 5 PBUs)
Letterwinners lost (2):
S Kurtis Drummond (13 games, 72 tackles, 5 TFLs, 4 INTs, 11 PBUs, 1 FR)
WR/CB Tony Lippett* (13 games; 3 at cornerback, 4 tackles, 4 PBUs)
CB Trae Waynes (13 games, 46 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 3 INTs, 8 PBUs, 1 FR)
* Counting toward offense as letterwinner/starter lost
Outlook: For the second year in a row, the Spartans must find a replacement following the departure of an elite cornerback. In 2013, unanimous All-American Darqueze Dennard won the Jim Thorpe Award and was a 2014 first-round NFL Draft pick, while Trae Waynes, a second-team All-American last season, was the No. 11 overall selection in 2015 by Minnesota after declaring early for the draft . . . junior Darian Hicks started the first 10 games at cornerback last season before wide receiver Tony Lippett was moved back to defense late in the season. Hicks had 28 tackles and five passes defended as a sophomore, including two interceptions. He was listed as a co-starter on the preseason depth chart, however, he is currently not participating in preseason camp due to mono and his timetable for return is uncertain. Fifth-year senior Arjen Colquhoun, who elevated his play during spring practice and appears ready to be a regular in the playing rotation, is the other co-starter at field corner on the preseason depth chart . . . junior Demetrious Cox, a converted safety who played cornerback at the end of last season, enters preseason camp as the starter at boundary corner after spending a majority of his time there during spring practice. Now in his fourth year in the program, Cox should have a breakout season in a starting role . . . junior Jermaine Edmondson and talented red-shirt freshman Vayante Copeland (6-0, 195) will also compete for playing time at cornerback . . . at strong safety, fifth-year senior RJ Williamson is back for his second season in the starting lineup. Williamson ranked third on the team with a career-high 59 tackles as a junior in 2014 and ranked tied for second on the team with three interceptions (60 yards), including two interception returns for touchdowns (29 yards vs. Michigan; 22 yards vs. Maryland) . . . sophomore Montae Nicholson, a 2014 All-Big Ten Freshman selection who led all first-year Spartans with 31 tackles, will move into a starting role at free safety, replacing 2014 first-team All-American Kurtis Drummond. Drummond was named the 2014 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year after leading the Spartans in tackles (72), interceptions (4) and pass break-ups (11) last season. Nicholson started three games at strong safety as a true freshman in 2014 . . . returning letterwinners Mark Meyers and Chris Laneaux add depth at cornerback, along with red-shirt freshmen Matt Morrissey (6-2, 203) and Jalen Watts-Jackson (5-11, 192).
PERSONNEL BRIEFING: SPECIAL TEAMS
• Placekicker: Junior Michael Geiger (5-8, 186) set an MSU single-season record for PATs with 72 in 2014, breaking the previous record by 19 (Brent Swenson with 53 in 2007). Following his Freshman All-America year in 2013 in which he set an MSU single-season record for field-goal percentage (.938; 15-of-16), Geiger was 14-of-22 on field-goal attempts as a sophomore. He enters his third season as the starting placekicker ranked fourth in MSU history in field-goal percentage (.763), fourth in point-after attempt percentage (.982), seventh in extra-points made (108), 10th in field goals made (29) and 16th in points (195). Geiger did not participate in spring practice (hip), but will be fully healthy entering preseason camp. • Punter: The Spartans must replace four-year starting punter Mike Sadler, who proved to be a valuable weapon on special teams throughout his career and earned first-team All-America honors as a junior in 2013. He finished his career ranked among MSU’s all-time leaders in punts (second with 268), punting yards (second with 11,307) and punting average (sixth at 42.2), and placed 39 percent of his career punts inside the 20 (104-of-268) . . . red-shirt freshman Jake Hartbarger (6-4, 210) will step into the starting role for the Spartans in 2015 . . . since Dantonio’s arrival in 2007, MSU has had just two starting punters (Aaron Bates from 2007-10; Sadler from 2011-14), both of whom earned first-team All-Big Ten accolades during their careers.
• Long Snapper: Senior Taybor Pepper (6-5, 230) returns for his fourth season as the starting long snapper. He was named a second-team preseason All-American by Phil Steele.
• Kickoff Specialist: Junior Kevin Cronin (6-1, 225) won the starting kickoff specialist spot last season and went on to lead the Big Ten in touchbacks with 46. Cronin ranked among the NCAA FBS leaders in kickoffs (third with 99), kickoff yards (third with 6,279), kickoff average (10th at 63.4) and touchbacks (tied for 13th with 46).
• Kick Returner: Junior R.J. Shelton, who was named a second-team All-Big Ten kick returner by Athlon Sports and Phil Steele as a sophomore in 2014, ranked sixth in MSU single-season history in kick returns (793 yards on 31 attempts; 25.6 avg.). Shelton was named the College Football Performance Awards National Kick Returner of the Week and Big Ten Co-Special Teams Player of the Week after returning three kickoffs for a career-high 135 yards (45.0 avg.) and one touchdown in Michigan State’s 34-10 win at Penn State; he returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a score against the Nittany Lions for his first career kickoff return for a touchdown.
• Punt Returner: Senior Macgarrett Kings Jr. has been the team’s starting punt returner the last two seasons; he ranks 14th in MSU history with 40 punt returns and 17th with 328 punt return yards (8.2 avg.). He ranked seventh in the Big Ten in punt returns (20 for 122 yards; 6.1 avg.) as a junior in 2014.