Michigan State is extremely dangerous despite its 2-3 season record. After stumbling at home against Central Michigan, a two point loss, they lost at Notre Dame by 3 points and at Wisconsin by 8 before conquering Michigan in overtime, 26-20. They built a 20-6 lead on the favored Wolverines before allowing them back into the game late in the fourth quarter.
MSU leads the Big Ten in both passing offense and total offense. They average 434.2 yards per game with 300.6 coming via the pass. In addition, they rank third in the league in rushing defense. They held Michigan to a mere 28 yards last week.
The Spartans have a two-headed monster at quarterback, and both are highly efficient. Kirk Cousins (6'-3", 202) gets more playing time than Keith Nichol (6'-2", 215), but they share time at the position. Cousins completes 62.4% of his passes and is third in the Big 10 in passing efficiency, while Nichol is considered a better runner. But both sophomores can run and pass.
Sophomore B.J. Cunningham (6'-2", 212) and junior Mark Dell (6'-2", 197) share time at one receiver spot, while senior Blair White (6'-2", 200), a former walkon, splits duties with sophomore Keshawn Martin (5'-11", 185) and redshirt freshman Myles White (6'-1", 170) at the other position. White leads the team with 29 receptions for 399 yards.
Tight ends Charlie Gantt (6'-5", 248) and Brian Linthicum (6'-5", 245) have 9 and 8 receptions respectively. They also have an important role to play in the MSU power running game. MSU employs a fullback regularly, with seniors Andrew Hawken (6'-2", 248) and Andrew Pendy (6'-2", 240) serving as battering rams on running plays.
The Spartans have long been known for a strong running game. After losing their superstar Javon Ringer to graduation, three ball carriers share the load.
Freshman Larry Caper (5'-11", 215), a high school All-American, leads the team with 180 yards in five games. He has four touchdowns including the game winner last week. Glenn Winston, a 6'-1", 224 pound sophomore, is listed ahead of redshirt freshman Caulton Ray (5'-9", 195), but Ray has a better yards per carry average.
The offensive line boasts upperclassmen at four of the five positions. Rocco Cironi (6'-6", 309) is a fifth year senior at left tackle. Seniors Joel Nitchman (6'-4", 296) and Brendon Moss (6'-7", 284) start at center and right guard respectively. Junior D.J. Young (6'-5", 310) is the right tackle, while sophomore Joel Foreman (6'-4", 306) mans the left guard spot.
The star of the MSU defense is junior middle linebacker Greg Jones (6'-1", 228). His 12 tackle per game average ranks first in the Big 10 and second in the NCAA. He also leads the team in tackles for loss. Junior SAM backer Eric Gordon (6'-0", 228) starred in the UM win. Brandon Denson, a 5'-11", 230 pound senior, shares the WILL spot with true freshman and consensus high school All-American Chris Norman (6'-1", 215).
Setting these linebackers up to make tackles is a solid group along the defensive line. Ends Trevor Anderson, a 6'-2", 260 pound senior, and junior Colin Neely (6'-1", 248), are joined by tackles Oren Wilson (6'-3", 294), a junior, and redshirt freshman Jerel Worthy (6'-3", 292). They have solid backups as well.
There is also a great deal of experience in the secondary. Senior Jeremy Ware (5'-11", 185) and junior Chris L. Rucker (6'-2", 195) handle the cornerback spots. Sophomore Trenton Robinson (5'-10", 190) shares time with senior Danny Fortener (6'-1", 205) at free safety, while the strong safety is manned by junior Marcus Hyde (6'-0", 206).
Senior Brett Swenson handles the placekicking assignments. He is 8 of 9 on field goals for the season and has missed only one of 17 extra points. Junior Aaron Bates is the punter. Bates is quite a weapon, averaging 45.1 yards per punt. Martin is an exciting punt returner.
Illinois will have it's hands full Saturday.