After back-to-back 11-win seasons -- only the fourth and fifth times Michigan State has won double-digit games -- the Spartans slumped precipitously last season, finishing 7-6. The offense was mediocre, putting too much pressure on a defense that still finished fourth in the nation overall. There definitely is talent on defense. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard could give Michigan State its first first-round draft pick since wide receiver Charles Rogers in the 2003 NFL Draft.
Michigan State has had nine players selected in the past two drafts, a huge jump after having had only 13 from 2006-11. The Spartans should be well-represented in the next few drafts -- at least on defense. The offense again looks problematic -- there is no proven playmaker on that side of the ball and the quarterback situation is iffy. That makes it difficult to project anything better than a third-place finish in the Legends Division. If the offense does get fixed, though, this team could win the Legends because the defense will be the best in the division.
Top senior prospects
OLB Denicos Allen: Allen's size (5-foot-11, 215 pounds) is a negative, but the guy makes plays thanks to his instincts and speed. He will be a three-year starter and enters his senior season with 14 sacks (tied for 10th in school history) and 29.5 tackles for loss (11th in school history). He also has held up against power-rushing attacks and might be able to play strong safety in the NFL.
ILB Max Bullough: Bullough (6-3, 242) is one of the more well-rounded inside 'backers in the nation. He is a tough, physical run-stuffer with the ability to drop into coverage; he also has all the needed intangibles. Bullough, who will be a three-year starter, has 21 career tackles for loss to go with 6.5 sacks, three picks and three forced fumbles.
CB Darqueze Dennard: Dennard (5-11, 180) was lightly recruited out of tiny Jeffersonville, Ga., but has been an important player since he arrived on campus in 2010. He is comfortable in press coverage and is a sure tackler with good speed. He had three picks and seven pass breakups last season, and coach Mark Dantonio has praised his ball skills.
OT Fou Fonoti: Fonoti (6-4, 298), who transferred to MSU from junior college in 2011, redshirted with a foot injury last season, and his physical play was missed along the line. Fonoti started at right tackle in 2011, but he will play left tackle this season. His pro future might be better at guard or even center, a position he worked at during the spring.
SS Isaiah Lewis: Lewis (5-10, 210) will be a three-year starter and has a combined 154 tackles, six picks and nine pass breakups the past two seasons. He runs well -- he has returned two interceptions for touchdowns -- but his best asset might be his tackling ability. He packs a wallop and wraps up well.
DE Shilique Calhoun: Calhoun (6-4, 248) made only six tackles as a redshirt freshman last season, but had a strong spring and should slide into William Gholston's vacated end spot. Calhoun is a good athlete who played well against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Coaches are excited about his pass-rush potential, though his lack of bulk is worrisome when it comes to holding up against the run.
FS Kurtis Drummond: Drummond (6-1, 196), a junior, was a part-time starter last season but should have the job at free safety to himself this season. He has good size, but has been bothered by injuries in his career. He has solid ball skills, is willing in run support and has average speed.
C Travis Jackson: Jackson (6-3, 280) had a solid season in 2011, earning some freshman All-American mentions, but played in only five games last season before suffering a broken leg. His return should provide a big boost to the line. He is a good technician and run blocker who could stand to add some weight.
OLB Taiwan Jones: Jones (6-3, 240) certainly looks the part of a big-time linebacker, and he'll get more of a chance to prove he can play this fall. He was the only true freshman to see the field for the Spartans in 2011, then earned more playing time -- including four starts -- last season. He moves well and has been good against the run.
DE Marcus Rush: Rush (6-2, 250) is an undersized junior but has started all 27 games in his career. He has an unreal motor and is tenacious and relentless. Rush has six sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in his career. He also has 10 pass breakups in his career and seems better suited for a 3-4 outside linebacker spot at the next level, as his ability to hold up against the run in the NFL is a question.
P Mike Sadler: After redshirting as a true freshman in 2010, Sadler has handled the punting duties for the Spartans in each of the past two seasons. He owns a career average of 42.4 yards per punt and has dropped 40 percent of his 140 career punts inside the 20-yard line and 20 percent inside the 10. Sadler also is a straight-A student.
CB Trae Waynes: The Spartans should have one of the nation's top 15 secondaries, assuming Waynes (6-1, 178) comes through as a first-time starter. Waynes, a sophomore, saw more playing time as last season progressed and capped the season with a solid performance against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in his most extensive playing time of the year. Waynes has good speed, but he needs to add some bulk and strength.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 21 at Notre Dame: Michigan State's strong back seven will be tested by Notre Dame's spread attack. This will be the fourth game for the Spartans, but the first time they will see a top-notch offensive line.
Nov. 2 vs. Michigan: Michigan's bookend tackle tandem of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield likely will make things difficult for Rush and Calhoun. Bullough, Allen and Jones could have big days, though. This will be a big game in the Legends Division race.
Nov. 16 at Nebraska: Another big one in the Legends Division. Michigan State's linebackers will be on the spot against Nebraska's strong rushing attack.