Spartans' WR depth to be tested in bowl

When I ranked Michigan State's receivers/tight ends as the Big Ten's best group entering the season, I did so largely because of the Spartans' depth.

Although the Spartans were more balanced on offense and not quite as dynamic in the pass game during the regular season, they still boast quite a few players capable of catching the football. Nine Michigan State players recorded 11 or more receptions in the regular season, and four players had 22 or more catches.

Unfortunately for the Spartans, the man at the top of the list, junior receiver B.J. Cunningham, will miss the upcoming Capital One Bowl against Alabama because of a broken foot. Cunningham suffered the injury Saturday during bowl practice and underwent surgery Sunday.

The 6-2, 220-pound junior leads Michigan State in both receptions (50) and receiving touchdowns (9), while ranking second in receiving yards (611). He's expected to make a full recovery for the start of spring practice.

"B.J. Cunningham is a great competitor and he's extremely disappointed to be out for the Capital One Bowl game against Alabama," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said in a prepared statement. "B.J. had another outstanding season, and I know that he'll work hard during his rehab and set himself up for a big senior year. Fortunately, wide receiver is a position of strength for this football team, so B.J.'s injury will provide opportunities for others to step forward and make plays for us offensively."

Dantonio mentioned depth in his statement, and the Spartans' depth must now show up in the bowl game.

Mark Dell is a good No. 1 option for quarterback Kirk Cousins, and Keshawn Martin has big-play ability every time he touches the ball. But Michigan State really needs more from receivers like Keith Nichol and redshirt freshman Bennie Fowler, who came on strong during Big Ten play.

Tight ends Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum also likely will see their roles increase against Alabama.

This is a tough situation for Cunningham, who missed the Alamo Bowl last year because of a suspension. It's good to hear he'll be back this spring as he moves into the No. 1 role for the Spartans.