If the Spartans can forget the last time out -- a 49-7 blowout loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl -- they can look back on 2010 as a breakthrough season for the program, which claimed its first share of a Big Ten championship in 20 years. And they can look forward to serious contention in 2011 for a place in the Big Ten's first conference championship game.
"We had a great year, but we have bigger expectations for next year," free safety Trenton Robinson said.
"We'll recollect ourselves," coach Mark Dantonio said. "We've got an outstanding quarterback back. We've got a nucleus of great players back, and that will do very well for us here in 2011."
The offseason has seen changes, and spring ball will see some key position battles at offensive line and linebacker. Offensive line coach Dan Roushar takes over the offense, with coordinator Don Treadwell leaving for the head coaching job at Miami (Ohio). The Spartans signed a 21-man class ranked No. 31 in the nation by Rivals.com -- a solid effort, if not the eye-popping result some fans wanted to see in the wake of a championship season.
Michigan State will start play next season in the Big Ten's new Legends Division, which will include new league member Nebraska. Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern and Minnesota round out the division. Michigan State and Nebraska are the early favorites for the division title and the chance to take on the Leaders Division champ in Indianapolis. The Spartans and Cornhuskers will meet in Lincoln.
With quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Edwin Baker, defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, kicker Dan Conroy, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, guard Joel Foreman and several other key contributors back, the Spartans believe they can build off last season's surprise title run.
"Can we be as good as last season?" linebacker Chris Norman said. "It can be done, but we have to work for it."
TOP OF THE CLASS
LB Lawrence Thomas (Detroit Renaissance, Detroit) -- For the second straight year, Michigan State nabbed the top-rated in-state player -- another defensive player from Detroit, following 2010 DE Will Gholston. Thomas is a solid 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, and he joins a team that loses four-year starters Greg Jones and Eric Gordon at linebacker. It's also possible he could end up putting his hand on the ground and rushing the passer as a defensive end.
OT Fou Fonoti (Cerritos Community College, Norwalk, Calif.) -- With OT Henry Conway's future uncertain because of a lingering neck injury, Mark Dantonio opted for a rare junior college recruit. The 6-5, 295-pound Fonoti will have a chance to contribute immediately.
WR Juwan Caesar (Coral Park High, Miami, Fla.) -- The Spartans have a lot of talent at the position, but coaches believe the 6-4 Caesar could see the field quickly. He was a late addition to the class, one of 16 players from out of state, the most of Dantonio's tenure.
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