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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Midseason report: Michigan State Spartans


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MICHIGAN STATE (6-1, 3-0 Big Ten)

The Spartans were the chic pick to be this year's surprise team in the Big Ten, but their track record of failing to meet expectations generated some justifiable skepticism. A six-game winning streak, disciplined performances and a newfound mental toughness has made Michigan State a team to trust. The team reflects the no-nonsense personality of second-year coach Mark Dantonio, who has instilled greater toughness on defense and reaffirmed a run-first offensive philosophy based around star Javon Ringer. The Spartans find themselves in the thick of the league title mix with Ohio State coming to town this weekend.

Offensive MVP -- Few non-quarterbacks have meant more to their team than Ringer, who exploded onto the Heisman radar with 897 rushing yards in his first five games. Ringer's workload is unmatched in college football -- he has 68 more carries than any other FBS back -- and his humility and leadership make him a favorite among his teammates. The senior's ability to take punishment and wear down defenses in the fourth quarter make him arguably the nation's best running back.

Defensive MVP -- After a disappointing junior season, safety Otis Wiley has regained the form he showcased as a sophomore, when he led Michigan State in tackles (94) and pass breakups (10). Wiley leads the Big Ten and ties for 14th nationally in interceptions (4), and he also has a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and seven pass breakups. Other defensive notables include linebacker Greg Jones and safety Dan Fortener, who has stepped in nicely for Roderick Jenrette.

What's next -- The national spotlight will be on the Spartans this weekend, and a win against Ohio State would further validate the program's rise under Dantonio. Michigan State is on track for a New Year's Day bowl at the very least, but it must avoid the losing streaks that have plagued the program since Nick Saban left. Another important step is beating Michigan, something the Spartans haven't done since 2001. They have an excellent opportunity to do so Oct. 25 in Ann Arbor.