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Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Second-half outlook: Michigan State

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan State Spartans

Record: 4-3

Remaining schedule: vs. Iowa, at Minnesota, vs. Western Michigan, at Purdue, vs. Penn State

A three-game win streak has given Michigan State plenty to play for in the second half, but the Spartans can't afford to backslide. Michigan State's veteran-laden defense led by junior linebacker Greg Jones must build on its strong play the last three games, where, aside from a five-minute stretch late in the fourth quarter against Michigan, it has stifled opposing offenses. After being shredded earlier in the year, the Spartans secondary is starting to make game-changing plays, which needs to continue. The bigger questions remain with the offense, which needs continued progress from sophomore Kirk Cousins, the Big Ten's top-rated passer. True freshmen Larry Caper and Edwin Baker will hold down the run game the rest of the way, which is risky but also exciting to watch. Wideout Blair White has been brilliant, but Michigan State could use more production from its tight ends down the stretch. If the Spartans upset No. 6 Iowa on Saturday night, they could make a push for the league title.

Best-case scenario: The Spartans capitalize on their favorable schedule and win out to match last year's record (9-3). They share the league title at 7-1, and while their nonconference struggles keep them out of the Rose Bowl, they return to the Capital One Bowl and win this time. Jones leads the nation in tackles and then returns for his senior season, while Cousins leads the league in pass efficiency.

Worst-case scenario: Better competition once again dooms Michigan State, which gets thumped by both Iowa and Penn State. The Spartans lose their focus in road games against Minnesota and Purdue and win only one more game the rest of the way to finish at a very disappointing 5-7.

Prediction: Bowl game. Michigan State goes 3-2 or possibly 4-1 the rest of the way.