KIRK COUSINS won more games (27) than any other MSU quarterback, but he never led the Spartans to a Rose Bowl. Now it's Andrew Maxwell's turn to try. The first-time starter has earned his teammates' trust with a cannon arm and attention to detail. He'll benefit from playing behind an experienced offensive line and in front of bulldozer Le'Veon Bell, who will be the feature back this fall after notching 948 rushing yards while splitting carries with Edwin Baker. On defense, Michigan State suits up an SEC-caliber unit, with eight starters back from a group that ranked sixth nationally. Corners Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard anchor a hard-hitting secondary, but freakish athlete William Gholston and the sack-happy line form the heart of the Spartans' D.
DEMETRIOUS COX Coach Mark Dantonio called the 2012 recruiting class the best of his six-year Michigan State tenure, and Cox put it over the top. The four-star safety from Jeannette (Pa.) High picked MSU over a trio of Big Ten rivals and will play early.
DION SIMS Injuries have hampered Sims throughout his career, but Dantonio has identified the junior tight end as a linchpin. At 6'5" and 285 pounds, Sims is the kind of big, dependable target who will prove invaluable for a developing passer like Maxwell.
MICHIGAN STATE is on the cusp of national contention, but like Wisconsin, its likely 2012 path veers closer to Pasadena than its does Miami. Maxwell will need a go-to receiver to emerge from an inexperienced group that includes Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett and converted cornerback Tony Lippett, but the veteran running game and stout defense will give the passing attack time to develop. They have until late October, when the Spartans play back-to-back games at Michigan and Wisconsin that will likely define their season.