With the 2011 season officially in the books after tonight's national championship game, it's time to take a look at what MSU's biggest issues are going to be heading into spring ball.
1. How will Andrew Maxwell transition into the starting role?
I wrote about Maxwell last week. He has all the physical tools to succeed Kirk Cousins, the winningest quarterback in school history. Maxwell also has one of the Big Ten's best running backs, one of the best defenses and one of the most-experienced offensive lines to help him. The only things Maxwell doesn't have are experience and wide receivers. Maxwell knows the offense, as he will be a fourth-year junior next year. He just needs to take everything and show it on on the field.
2. Who will be the new defensive tackles?
With Kevin Pickelman gone due to gradution and Jerel Worthy having left for the NFL draft, the Spartans have a lot of space to fill in the middle of the defensive line. Anthony Rashad White heads into his final season and filled in admirably for Pickelman in the Outback Bowl, with three tackles for loss and the blocked field goal to secure the win. Along with him, Micajah Reynolds drew a lot of praise from the coaches during the Outback Bowl practices. Other players to watch include Mark Scarpinato, Brandon Clemons, James Kittredge, among others. Tyler Hoover and Denzel Drone may get some time at tackle as well.
3. Will DeAnthony Arnett get a medical hardship?
The former Tennessee wide receiver has already enrolled at MSU. Arnett caught 24 passes for 242 yards for the Volunteers last season. If the NCAA grants him a medical hardship because of his sick father, he would be able to play this upcoming season. Based on past cases, it appears Arnett is likely to get that waiver. Arnett would be a huge help, as MSU graduated its top three receivers, plus two tight ends, from this past season. Along with Arnett, Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett appear to be the top receivers. Add in Keith Mumphrey, Andre Sims Jr. and Juwan Caesar, and MSU has a lot of unproven talent at receiver.
4. Who will win the battle at the other safety spot?
Isaiah Lewis garnered All-Big Ten recognition as a sophomore this season, but with captain Trenton Robinson graduating, who will take the free safety spot? It's a three-way battle between Kurtis Drummond, Jarius Jones and RJ Williamson. Drummond played in 12 games this year, recording 17 tackles and two interceptions as a redshirt freshman. Drummond mostly played in MSU's third-and-long situations and played well. Jones was recovering from an Achilles injury and made 13 tackles in six games as a sophomore, playing mostly on special teams. Williamson redshirted this year, but got rave reviews from coaches. It appears Drummond is in the early lead.
5. How will the Spartans respond to the hype?
As good of a season 2010 was, MSU didn't get much respect heading into 2011. With a tough schedule and the addition of Nebraska, few people, if any, picked MSU to win the inaugural Legends division title. MSU likely will be a top-10 team to finish 2011 and will be picked by some to win the Legends next year, along with Michigan and possibly Nebraska. Given the fact the Spartans have earned the respect they always play for, will that chip on the shoulder still be there in spring preparation? The defense returns nine of 11 bowl starters from a group that was the Big Ten's best. Will they assume success will come next year, or will they work even harder? I think the latter will happen, but Mark Dantonio's teams have embraced the underdog role for five years. It likely won't be there next season.