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Preseason college football rankings: No. 17 Michigan State

The Spartans, coming off an 11-2 season, are poised for another big season, but those two losses raise a few warning flags.

August 14, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins delivers a pass during practice last week in East Lansing, Mich.
Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins delivers a pass during practice… (Al Goldis / Associated Press )

Michigan State was exceptional last year except when it came to Iowa and Alabama, which outscored the Spartans, 86-13, in two lopsided clobber jobs.

Michigan State was 11-0 in its other games and won a share of the Big Ten Conference title.

The Spartans probably deserve a higher ranking entering this season, but they are not to be trusted … yet. You can't lose, 37-6, to Iowa and call yourself a national title contender any more than you can build 2011 momentum by getting blown out Jan. 1 against Alabama.

Michigan State had company that day as Big Ten teams went 0 for 5, but that's no excuse for not showing up.

There is plenty like about Michigan State this season, starting with senior quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose "it's been a privilege" speech at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon drew a standing ovation.

"Privilege should never lead to entitlement," Cousins said.

What a message.

Cousins is all you'd ever want in a college kid. There probably are hundreds of players like him out there the public never gets to know because control-freak coaches keep them away from the real world that all players will one day face.

Cousins, a fifth-year senior, should lead one of the nation's best offenses. He ranks first in school history in completion percentage (64.3) and passing efficiency (146.7)

Edwin Baker is a front-line running back with plenty of depth behind him, and the Spartans are traffic-jammed with talented receivers. B.J. Cunningham needs 10 receptions to become the school's all-time leader.

The offensive line, down three starters, has to coalesce quickly, but isn't that why Youngstown State and Florida Atlanta were built into the home exhibition schedule?

The defensive front should be the strongest fifth-year Coach Mark Dantonio has fielded.

Even if Michigan State is better, it's going to be hard to top last season's 11 wins. It will be tough to duplicate the miracle home win against Notre Dame, which was followed by Dantonio suffering a heart attack. Dantonio's triumphant return was part of the storybook script, but now it's time to turn the page.

Michigan State's third game this season is at Notre Dame, which should be vastly improved. The Spartans also have Big Ten road games against Ohio State and Nebraska.

If Michigan State thought playing in front of Columbus' sea of scarlet was tough, wait until they get a load of Lincoln's sea of red.

Dantonio's Oct. 1 trip to Ohio State won't include Jim Tressel, forced to resign in the spring. Dantonio learned under Tressel at Youngstown and Ohio State. An emotional Dantonio called Tressel a "tragic hero" at Big Ten media day.

Well, Dantonio had it half right.

The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia; 20. Auburn; 19. Ohio State; 18. USC.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes

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