* Date, Time: Sat., Oct. 14, time TBA (likely at 3:30 p.m. on ABC with Penn State-Michigan at 8 p.m. on ABC).
* Location: Spartan Stadium; East Lansing, Mich.
* Last Year, Bowl: 5-6. Big Ten: 2-6/ninth.
* Coach: John L. Smith (fourth year at MSU, 18-18; 18th year overall, 128-78).
* Returning Starters: 13. Offense (6): LG Kyle Cook, RT Mike Gyetvai, WR Matt Trannon, WR Jerramy Scott, TE Kellen Davis, QB Drew Stanton. Defense (6): DE Clifton Ryan, WLB David Herron Jr., BLB SirDarean Adams, MLB Kaleb Thornhill, FS Greg Cooper, CB Demond Williams. Specialists (1): P Brandon Fields.
* Big Ten Championships: 6, last shared title in 1990.
* Rose Bowls: 4, last appearance in 1987.
* BCS Bids: None.
* National Championships (Rissman/Rockne, 1924-35; Associated Press, 1936-2005): 1 (1952).
* Series Vs. Ohio State: OSU leads the all-time series 24-12, including 11-5 in East Lansing. The Buckeyes have won four straight and nine of the last 11 in the series against MSU. That includes a 32-19 win at East Lansing in 2004 and a 35-24 win for the Buckeyes last year in Columbus.
* Schedule: Sept. 2, Idaho; Sept. 9, Eastern Michigan; Sept. 16, at Pittsburgh; Sept. 23, Notre Dame; Sept. 30, Illinois; Oct. 7, at Michigan; Oct. 14, Ohio State; Oct. 21, at Northwestern; Oct. 28, at Indiana; Nov. 4, Purdue; Nov. 11, Minnesota; Nov. 18, at Penn State.
* Outlook: Smith's three years at the helm in East Lansing have netted a bunch of near-misses and a grand total of one bowl berth, leaving him squarely on the hot seat as 2006 approaches.
MSU's late-season struggles have been well documented. The Spartans lost six of their last seven games last year and four of their last five in 2004. But Smith said he is ready to see what happens this season.
"This is probably the most excited I've been for a season since taking the job at Michigan State," Smith said. "We had one of the best springs that I've ever been a part of both on and off the field. The kids have been working very hard and I'm looking forward to seeing what we can get accomplished this season."
Smith does have the luxury of turning to Stanton, a strong-armed QB who threw for 3,077 and 22 TDs against 12 interceptions a year ago.
"One of the things we worked on with Drew during the spring was him learning to rely on the football team a little bit more and relying on the offense a little bit more," Smith said. "Going into spring ball, I made a little bet with him that he couldn't go through the spring without throwing an interception, which he did (successfully).
"We're trying to have Drew get a little more confidence in the offense and a little lower interception ratio."
Tailback Javon Ringer (817 yards rushing, 5 TDs) had a nice freshman year, while 245-pound junior Jehuu Caulcrick will be the change-up back. Scott (49 catches) and the 6-6, 227-pound Trannon provide nice targets for Stanton.
"I believe we're going to be exciting on the offensive side," Smith said. "I believe we are going to be able to score. We've always been able to do that. It's going to be fun. It's going to be a circus. We're going to enjoy it and we'll put points on the board. But for us to be where we want to be, our defense has to step up. We're going to be exciting to watch offensively, but we better be exciting to watch defensively as well."
Like a number of teams hoping to improve on 2005, MSU must also make some strides defensively. The linebacker corps seems solid with Thornhill, Herron and Adams, but they will need some help from an inexperienced front.
"In order for us to have a chance, we have to be good on the defensive side of the ball," Smith said. "Our ability to be successful on that side of the ball is mostly dependent on our secondary. Our coverage in the secondary will allow us to do a lot more up front. It was important that (the secondary) had a different mentality this spring."
* Jerry Rudzinski Says: MSU paid a premium to get Smith and all they have is the one Alamo Bowl to show for it and that was a loss to a Nebraska team that was operating without its fired head coach, Frank Solich. The fans in East Lansing want more. It's now Smith's fourth season and they need to get the ball rolling.
I think with MSU you can be guaranteed that they will win a game somewhere along the way they shouldn't win and they will also lose a game or two that they shouldn't lose. That's not going to change in 2006.
Drew Stanton gives you a chance. He completed 66 percent of his passes last year. He just needs to stay away from the costly picks.
If you can give me three tailbacks better in the Big Ten than Javon Ringer, I want to see him. He's an Ohio guy and he's a stud. He keeps those legs going. Not a big guy, but he packs a punch.
Jerramy Scott can move past Andre Rison and be MSU's leading receiver. That says a lot. I think the running game will help Stanton and Scott open up the passing game.
The defensive line was a weakness last year. That line will be improved. They have a JUCO guy, Ervin Baldwin, coming in who could help them.
Their kicking game has to improve as well. They were just 5 of 16 on field goals last year.
* Steve Helwagen Says: Smith arrived at Michigan State amid much fanfare after doing a nice job offensively at Louisville. But after three years, his record is dead even at 18-18 and the Spartans just can't seem to get over the hump to respectability.
Yes, they pulled off the upset at Notre Dame last year. But they still haven't gotten it done against Ohio State or Michigan in this regime, despite coming close several times. And, at the end of the year when the Spartans have needed one or two key wins to get a bowl bid, they haven't gotten those, either, the last couple of years.
OSU has struggled against MSU the last three years, but has found a way to pull it out each time. They have to be frustrated that they have not finished the Buckeyes off yet.
I like the one-two punch of Ringer and Caulcrick. Ringer can run around people; Caulcrick will be running over people. I also like Trannon as a big receiver and huge target for Stanton. MSU is getting the money's worth out of his scholarship.
The big question here remains the defense. They couldn't get people stopped down the stretch. They have Herron and Thornhill back at linebacker, but they must do better as a unit.
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