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Kirk Cousins drew plenty of criticism in Michigan State's two losses last season — at Iowa, and vs. Alabama in the Capital One Bowl — and rightly so.
But Cousins also had his share of big performances in big games. In the OT win over Notre Dame, he threw for 245 yards and engineered a fourth-quarter drive that tied the game on a TD pass to B.J. Cunningham. He was 20-for-29 against Wisconsin and put the game away on fourth down when he hit Cunningham for the clinching score with 2:43 to play. And in the comeback at Northwestern, he threw for 331 yards and three TDs, with the winner to Cunningham.
The Hill question
It was hard enough for the Spartans to divide the carries between three backs a year ago, so it should be more difficult to do it with four. But considering the way redshirt freshman Nick Hill played in camp, the coaching staff will try to find a way.
Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper combined for 352 carries in 2010 and barring injury, they should expect the same. With that logjam, expect Hill to get plenty of chances returning kicks and in special formations.
The fight up front
It might seem odd, but even though the Spartans are replacing three starters on the O-line, they might be more
talented than they were a year ago. Except for two starts by Jared McGaha (one at LT, one at RG), MSU had the same starting front five all season.
That changes now, but the unit will be counted on as MSU has some of the best running backs in the country and one of the top quarterbacks.
Blake Treadwell may have taken the lead at center while Skyler Burkland and Fou Fonoti fight at right tackle. Dan France has led the way at left tackle, but moving Fonoti to the left side wouldn't be a shock.
The X factor, Part I
Tony Lippett shined on offense in the spring and while he has been working on defense in the fall, expect the dynamic play-maker to end up on both sides.
Lippett was a quarterback in high school but has transitioned well, even playing QB on the scout team during U-M week.
His role still is developing, but odds are he will have his hands on the ball on a fairly regular basis for the Spartans.
B.J. Cunningham has been the favorite receiver for QB Kirk Cousins since both arrived in 2007. It shows in the numbers.
Cunningham needs 10 more catches to become MSU's all-time leader, a record that should fall early in the year. After that, expect Cunningham to be in Cousins' sights every time he needs a big play. For proof, see last year against Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Northwestern.
Kicking it up a notch
Dan Conroy surprised everyone last year by finishing 14-for-15 on field goals and being named first team All-Big Ten. But that didn't stop kickoff specialist Kevin Muma from working on his field goals, and late in camp the two were dead even.
If Conroy struggles or suffers an injury, the Spartans may see little drop-off in going with the former Troy High standout.