Skill Position StartersMichigan State has been without its top tailback, sophomore Larry Caper, who scored two touchdowns vs. the Irish in last year's matchup. Caper fractured his hand but is expected to return for Saturday's contest. Caper was listed as the team's starter for both of the first two Spartans games but didn't appear in either contest.
"It was a game time decision, and no respect to them, but why would you play me against Western Michigan and Florida Atlantic," Caper told the Battle Creek Press. "But we have Notre Dame this week and when they call my name I'll be ready."
Right tackle J‘Michael Deane is the only member of the Spartans starting lineup that didn't play high school ball in either Michigan or Ohio (Deane's from nearby Toronto).
- Quarterback – #8 Junior Kirk Cousins: The 6'3" 202-pound respected leader has been quiet early, completing 22 of 38 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns vs. one interception during the Spartans 2-0 start vs. lesser competition. Cousins finished 23 of 35 for 302 yards with a touchdown and an interception last season vs. the Irish. His final two completions were the most costly: a poorly thrown pass out of the corner of the end zone intended for a completely uncovered Larry Caper for what would have been the game-winning and touchdown. One play later, a pass intercepted by Irish safety Kyle McCarthy at the ND 4-yard line to seal the contest for the Irish.
Cousins ranks as the program's all-time leader in pass efficiency entering his second season as a starter.
- Running Back – #4 Sophomore Edwin Baker: The 5'9" 208-pound shifty runner has been dominant early, rushing for 300 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries in relief of expected starter Larry Caper. Baker takes short, almost choppy steps, but will consistently make defenders miss in traffic, bounce off tacklers, and wait for a patiently for a crease behind a veteran offensive front.
- X Wide Receiver – #2 Senior Mark Dell 6'2" 199-pound senior started three games last season, finishing third on the squad in receptions (26) and yards (449). Dell recorded nine grabs in excess of 20 yards including two vs. the Irish, the latter a 57-yard slant and run that set up MSU's go-ahead touchdown early in the 4th Quarter. Dell finished with six receptions for 121 yards in the contest; he also burned the Irish in 2008 with four receptions for 80 yards. Dell leads the Spartans with 7 receptions for 100 yards over the first two games.
- Z Wide Receiver – #3 Junior B.J. Cunningham 6'2" 220-pound target snared seven passes for 74 yards in last season's matchup. Cunningham has three receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown through the first two contests and ranks as a powerful blocker at his position. The junior can get down the field and is a weapon on the deep post.
- Wide Receiver – #82 Junior Keshawn Martin: Burned the Irish with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Blair White on a fake reverse last season. A weapon as a punt returner, after the short catch and as a misdirection runner out of the backfield, the 5'11" 185-pound versatile target has carried twice for 43 yards; caught two passes for 53 yards and piled up a combined 151 yards on 9 punt and kick-off returns, with a long punt return of 47 yards to set up the Spartans first touchdown last week.
Martin finished with a team-best 1,451 all-purpose yards last season, averaging 18.1 yards per touch (80 total). He led the Big 10 with a 33.1 average on kick returns during conference action and totaled a team-high26 plays that resulted in gains of 20 or more yards. Martin was the only player to record 80-yard scoring plays in three different ways last season: an 84-yard run and a 93-yard kickoff return vs. Minnesota and a 91-yard reception from vs. Wisconsin.
- Tight End – #83 5th-Year Senior Charlie Gantt: Effective as a blocker in-line and in space, the 6'5" 260-pound veteran burned the Irish for a 25-yard gain last season to set-up a late 3rd Quarter touchdown. Gantt was honorable mention All-Big Ten last season, catching 22 passes for 348 yards with two scores. The three-year starter has made 26 consecutive starts at tight end and is a mainstay in the Spartans multiple offensive sets. Fearless over the middle, Gantt is ranked as the nation's No. 8 draft-eligible tight end by Phil Steele.
Offensive LinemenThe Spartans feature three 5th-year seniors along the offensive front and return three linemen that started vs. the Irish last September in Foreman, Young and Stipek.
- Left Tackle – #59 5th-Year Senior D.J. Young: The 6'5" 298-pounder started 11 games at right tackle last season, earning his first start in South Bend. Young switched to the left side following the graduation of two-year starter Rocco Cironi.
- Left Guard – #67 Junior Joel Foreman: The most experienced, strongest, and decorated Spartans lineman, the 6'4" 310-pound Foreman has 25 starts to his credit and was named first-team All-Sophomore by CollegeFootballNews.com; third-team All-Big Ten by Phil Steele; and an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection by coaches and media.
- Center – #66 5th-Year Senior John Stipek: At 6'5" 285 pounds, Stipek has started five games over his 5-year career, including last year's contest in South Bend. A former defensive lineman, Stipek replaces three-year starter Joel Nitchman this fall.
- Right Guard – #82 Sophomore Chris McDonald: Made his debut as a starter in the season-opening win vs. Western Michigan. The 6'5" 295-pound McDonald played in four games last season after serving on the Scout team in 2008.
- Right Tackle – #77 5th-Year Senior J'Michael Deane: Played in three games last season, starting one, after appearing in just one contest during both the 2007 and 2008 season. A former nose tackle, the 6'5" 312-pund Deane beat out Jared McGaha for the starting spot entering 2010. Deane does not have great feet in pass protection and could struggle vs. Kapron Lewis-Moore in one-on-one situations.
- Running Back – #22 Sophomore Larry Caper: Edwin Baker will likely draw the start, but Caper should see extensive action vs. the Irish. The 5'11" 220-pound Caper ran for 51 yards on 12 carries last season with two touchdowns in a 33-30 loss to the Irish in South Bend. He finished with 468 yards and 6 touchdowns as a true freshman last fall.
- Running Back – #24 Freshman Le'Veon Bell: Has rushed 20 times for 190 yards and three touchdowns in his first pair of contests. The 6'2" 230-pound true freshman debuted in style, finishing with 141 yards on just 10 carries in the opener vs. Western Michigan. Possesses a brutal stiff-arm as a young runner and has quick feet, bouncing off would-be tacklers runner on the team but won't take a feature role in the near future.
- Fullback – #42 5th-Year Senior Nick Bendzuck: Plays the role of 6'2" 240-pound battering ram when the Spartans feature their Power-I running game. Bendzuck's a four-year walk-on who contributed in 10 games last season as a member of the Spartan's special teams, earning a monogram.
- Wide Receiver – #7 Junior Keith Nichol: Often spelled quarterback Kirk Cousins last season but switched to wide receiver in the spring. The Oklahoma transfer completed two of four passes vs. the Irish last season and rushed for 14 yards on two carries. Bulked up at 6'2" 222, Nichol caught two balls for 32 yards and a touchdown in the season opener.
- Wide Receiver – #13 Redshirt-Freshman Bennie Fowler: Provides an extra weapon for Cousins and can fill-in for Martin as a change of pace, misdirection runner on Spartans end around plays designed to keep the weak side of a defense honest. At 6'1" 206, Fowler is viewed as the next in a line of Spartans playmakers at the position.
- Tight End – #88 Junior Brian Linthicum: 6'5" 238-pound target started seven games last season, finishing with 20 receptions for 266 yards and two touchdowns as the team's second tight end. Caught three passes vs. the Irish for 33 yards including two first downs in last year's matchup.
- Tight End – #80 Sophomore Dion Sims: The massive 6'5" 280-pound prospect was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team by the Sporting News last season, appearing in each of the team's 13 contests. Sims caught one pass for a 5-yard first down vs. the Irish in 2009 and three of his 11 receptions last year resulted in touchdowns.
- Tight End – #85 Junior Garret Celek: The 6'5" 245-pound backup caught two passes for 17 yards last week vs. Florida Atlantic. Celek played in 10 games last season as a first-year contributor, catching three passes for a touchdown. Injured his shoulder early in the second quarter last week.
- Right Tackle– #75 Junior Jared McGaha: Started the season-opener last season but the 6'6" 300-pounder spent the majority of the season as a member of the Spartans special teams. McGaha competed with Deane for the starting job in August camp.
- Quarterback – #10 Redshirt-Freshman Andrew Maxwell: Sat out last season but the 6'3" 200-pounder from Midland, Michigan was named the Spartans Scout team offensive player of the year. Ranked as the No. 18 QB by Scout.com in the class of 2009.