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Monday, December 14, 2009
Best case-worst case rewind: Michigan St.

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

It's time to take a look back at the popular best case-worst case series, which examined the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten team before the 2009 season. Let's see who reached the ceiling and who crashed and burned.

I'll do these in random order, picking Big Ten mini helmets out of a bag, to limit the inevitable claims of favoritism.

Michigan State leads off.

In case you missed it: Michigan State's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: The Spartans start off 5-0, carry a top-20 ranking into November, finish the regular season at 11-1 and beat undefeated Boise State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. ... Kicker Brett Swenson wins the Lou Groza Award. ... Linebacker Greg Jones has a huge junior season and elects to return for 2010. ... The Spartans' secondary emerges as a play-making unit and steps up big in wins against Western Michigan and Boise State.

Worst-case synopsis: Michigan State falls short of expectations, never resolves its quarterback situation, gets very little production from the run game and the defensive line struggles. ... Jones declares for the NFL draft. ... Several top in-state recruits switch their commitments to archrival Michigan. ... The Spartans finish at 5-7 and miss a bowl.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The quarterback competition never truly gets resolved." ... "Despite more bodies in the secondary, the Spartans miss All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley." ... "With back-to-back wins against Michigan, Spartan Nation takes the high road and avoids putting celebratory billboards all over the state." ... "Wins against Western Michigan and Purdue give Michigan State a chance at salvaging a minor bowl game." ... "The Spartans stumble badly against Penn State for the second straight year." ... "Jones wins the league's defensive player of the year award."

Lies, lies, lies: "Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol both perform well in a shared role before one -- we'll go with Nichol -- takes the reins for the Notre Dame game." ... "Redshirt freshman Caulton Ray leads the way at running back and gets plenty of help from true frosh Larry Caper and Edwin "The Rock" Baker." ... "The Spartans actually exceed expectations and take another step in their evolution." ... "After handling Purdue, the Spartans host Penn State with a share of the Big Ten title on the line." ... "High expectations have been the kiss of death before in East Lansing, but Michigan State proves it has turned a corner under head coach Mark Dantonio."

Reality check: Unfortunately for Michigan State, things ended up a lot closer to the worst-case scenario. Inconsistency plagued the team, especially on defense, and Michigan State started 1-3 before stabilizing a bit. Michigan State beat only one FBS team with a winning record (Northwestern) but still got into a bowl game for the third straight year. The biggest blow took place after the regular season as an incident at a residence hall led to two dismissals and 11 suspensions.