MARK DANTONIO ISN'T INTERESTED IN RESTING ON LAURELS. The Spartans are coming off consecutive 11-win seasons and will enter 2012 as a preseason top 10 team, but their coach isn't satisfied.
"None of us can be complacent," Dantonio says. "Last year is the past. We need to move forward."
Michigan State will be taking those steps without Kirk Cousins, the winningest quarterback in program history. He'll be replaced by two-year backup Andrew Maxwell, who impressed his coaches and teammates even after spraining his right knee in mid-April. "He was basically another coach," said backup QB Connor Cook after the spring game. "He was giving signals, and he would help me with my reads." Maxwell, a junior, has seen action in only nine career games, completing 29 of 51 passes for 294 yards and one touchdown, but Dantonio isn't worried. "He's a student of the game, has attention to detail, great leadership qualities—much like Kirk Cousins," says the coach.
Maxwell may have to study up to compensate for the team's lack of experience at receiver, as the Spartans have lost standouts Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham. The team has high hopes for corner turned receiver Tony Lippett and got a boost when the NCAA granted Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett a residence waiver to play in 2012. But while Arnett adds depth, he's still just a sophomore. "We've got to find guys who are going to mature rapidly," Dantonio says.
Maturity isn't an issue on the offensive line, where four starters return to form the most experienced unit of Dantonio's tenure. MSU is also well-seasoned on defense. All-America candidate William Gholston replaces NFL second-round draft pick Jerel Worthy as the face of the D, but Gholston is hardly the Spartans' only playmaker. Denicos Allen, Max Bullough and Chris Norman form one of the nation's top linebacker corps, while corners Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard and strong safety Isaiah Lewis are the heart of a technically sound, hard-hitting secondary.
That skill level, of course, does nothing to erase those fears of complacency. "We have to guard against that issue when the expectations are there but the work ethic isn't," Dantonio says. "We're going to make sure we're all in, that we address one game at a time and build from there."
COACH Mark Dantonio (6th year) 44--22 (27--13 in Big Ten)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Dan Roushar