NCF Nation: Darien Harris

No team in the Big Ten entered the offseason on a bigger high than Michigan State. That's understandable, given that the Spartans won the league championship, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl and finished No. 3 in the nation.

It was the program's best season in decades. But as Michigan State prepares to open spring practice on Tuesday, coach Mark Dantonio wants to make sure the team isn't still busy patting itself on the back for 2013.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesAfter going 13-1 in 2013, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio must replace a few key pieces on defense.
"This spring, the message to our players equates pretty simple, really," Dantonio told reporters Monday. "It's handled success. We have to be able to handle success as we move forward and everything that we are doing. There's no question that this year will be our greatest challenge in that area."

This most pressing on-field challenge this spring in East Lansing will largely be about finding replacements for the valuable seniors who contributed to last year's special season, especially on defense.

In that regard, the initial depth chart lists Taiwan Jones as the starting middle linebacker, in Max Bullough's old position. Jones played the weakside linebacker position last season, but now Darien Harris is listed there.

"He's become a thumper a little bit and he's a big, physical guy," Dantonio said of Jones. "We are going to have to see how he transitions in terms of the knowledge there, but again they are all linebackers and he can play outside, he can play Sam as well and we are going find out if we can play the Mike."

Ed Davis begins the spring No. 1 at the strongside spot, but Davis will be limited this spring because of a shoulder injury. Dantonio said the linebacker spots will continue to be evaluated this spring.

Sophomore Darian Hicks will get the first crack at replacing Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard at cornerback, with Trae Waynes locked into the other starting corner spot. Joel Heath and Damon Knox are penciled in as the starting defensive tackles, moving in for Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover.

Dantonio said the depth at defensive tackle and how Michigan State rebuilds its offensive line after losing three starters from last season are his biggest concerns right now. But the team has an experienced offense, led by Connor Cook, and a strong nucleus of talent to build around on defense.

The good times could keep rolling for the Spartans if they don't get caught up in their past success.

"We can't feel like we are entitled," Dantonio said. "We have to make it happen and we have to be mature enough to be able to handle success and that's part of it.

"One out of every 10 teams that has had great success, there's a 10 percent chance of that team doing it again. So we need to be that one in 10 that's able to handle it."
A man wearing a newsboy cap approached Kirk Cousins and offered congratulations to the former Michigan State quarterback, who held court with reporters in the Rose Bowl tunnel moments after the Spartans beat Stanford.

Jim Delany wasn't easy to spot in the headgear, and one could argue that the Big Ten commissioner wisely disguised himself on a day that hasn't been kind to his league in recent years. But for the first time in four years, and for just the second time in 14 years, Delany walked out of the Rose Bowl with a smile on his face.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesConnor Cook and Michigan State gave the Big Ten plenty to celebrate.
For Delany and the Big Ten, the Rose Bowl sits on a pedestal. And after just one Big Ten win in the previous 10 tries, Michigan State's 24-20 triumph in the game's 100th edition was cause for celebration. MSU's victory doesn't dull the pain of the Big Ten's second consecutive 2-5 bowl season, but it certainly helps to prevail in the most important postseason game on the biggest stage against the best opponent.

The Spartans won a team-record 13 games and completed the best season for a Big Ten team in recent memory, finishing No. 3 in the final polls. Nebraska provided the other bright spot, upsetting Georgia in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl thanks to a stingy red-zone defense and several standout performances from seniors.

Elsewhere, the Big Ten felt the familiar postseason sting of what might have been. The league easily could have had a better record in the Florida bowls, but Wisconsin and Ohio State had sloppy performances and Iowa's offense never got on track against LSU.

Wisconsin never punted in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina and had two 100-yard rushers in Melvin Gordon and James White, but the Badgers committed four turnovers and scored just 17 offensive points. A team that had been so solid through the first 11 games unraveled in the regular-season finale against Penn State and in the bowl, failing to capitalize on a great chance to build on a 17-13 third-quarter lead. Dave Aranda's defense was shredded for the second straight game as South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw accounted for five touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush, 1 receiving). A decorated Wisconsin senior classes ended 0-4 in Jan. 1 bowls.

Ohio State also finished the season on a surprising losing streak, squandering two second-half leads in a 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. Like Wisconsin, the Buckeyes also were doomed by turnovers, particularly a muffed punt by Corey Brown in the third quarter with a nine-point lead. A depleted Ohio State defense couldn't stop Clemson's big-play receivers, the coaches once again avoided running back Carlos Hyde in crunch time, and a banged-up Braxton Miller committed turnovers on Ohio State's final two possessions.

Injuries and personnel issues were a theme throughout the Big Ten during the bowl season. Wisconsin and Iowa saw their starting quarterbacks hurt during games, while Michigan's top signal-caller, Devin Gardner, showed up in Arizona on crutches and didn't play in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Michigan State overcame the loss of starting middle linebacker and co-captain Max Bullough, as Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris filled in well. Ohio State played without top cornerback Bradley Roby (injury) and top pass-rusher Noah Spence (suspension).

A little more offense could have put Iowa and Minnesota over the top in their bowl games. Minnesota didn't reach the end zone for three quarters in the Texas Bowl, eventually falling 21-17 to a mediocre Syracuse team. Iowa's only touchdowns came on drives of 1 and 4 yards, as the Hawkeyes had just 11 first downs and 233 total yards against LSU.

It wouldn't have taken much for the Big Ten to post a winning record in the bowls. The league had only one non-competitive performance, coming from Michigan in the Wings Bowl, as the Wolverines ended a disappointing season on a down note. The defense never gave first-time starting quarterback Shane Morris much of a chance, allowing touchdowns on Kansas State's first three possessions. Morris held his own but Michigan didn't reach the end zone until the 58th minute in what proved to be the final game for beleaguered offensive coordinator Al Borges.

Nebraska started New Year's Day on a good note as wide receiver Quincy Enunwa triggered the win with a 99-yard touchdown reception, while defensive linemen Jason Ankrah, Randy Gregory and Thad Randle limited Georgia's offense. Michigan State capped the afternoon by rallying past Stanford behind a suffocating defense and quarterback Connor Cook, who collected another postseason MVP honor and his second straight 300-yard passing performance.

The Spartans boost hope for the future after another Big Ten postseason rife with missed opportunities. The league has another team capable of competing for a national championship.

The playoff arrives in 2014, along with a more palatable Big Ten bowl lineup and most likely more bowl-eligible teams. The Big Ten took a small step in the postseason after a historically bad 2012 campaign, but more progress must be made for the rest of college football to start tipping its cap.
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PASADENA, Calif. -- For a year, Mark Dantonio challenged his Michigan State team to find the inches that separate good from great and great from special.

Plenty of programs ascend, but most reach a point and then stall. They just can't push through.

Sometimes it's because of talent or coaching or tradition. Maybe it's a penalty in the closing moments of the 2011 Big Ten championship game, or five Big Ten losses by a total of 13 points in 2012. Maybe it's an off-field situation like a campus fight before the 2009 Alamo Bowl or the shocking suspension of a star player a week before the Rose Bowl. Any of these things can leave a program just short of its goals.

But when the inches are located and traversed, it's obvious. You can see it on the faces of current players and coaches, former players, family members, fans and everyone connected to the program.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsMark Dantonio and Michigan State proved that the Spartans can run with any program in the country.
It happened for Michigan State early Wednesday night at the most historic setting in college football. MSU's 24-20 win against Stanford in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO marked a final step, a ceiling shattered and a confirmation that the Spartans indeed belonged.

"You've got to find the inches, and more importantly, you've got to believe that you belong there, too," Dantonio said. "You can't second-guess yourself. You have to dream big."

The Spartans can dream bigger than they have in nearly 50 years after recording a team-record 13 wins, including status-affirming triumphs against Ohio State and then Stanford. Fittingly, MSU found the final inches by stuffing Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt on a fourth-and-1 attempt with 1:46 to play.

Middle linebacker Kyler Elsworth, replacing suspended co-captain and All-Big Ten selection Max Bullough, made the initial hit while leaping over a mass of massive Stanford linemen. Darien Harris, Bullough's other understudy, and end Shilique Calhoun also converged on Hewitt, stopping him inches shy of the marker.

"It's like a movie," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "You couldn't put in a better story. We had our leader out and he stepped up, just like I thought."

Elsworth, a senior who had played mostly special teams, started his first game in his final game and earned defensive player of the game honors. He triggered a defense that didn't allow a touchdown after the game's first drive and held Stanford to 71 yards on 27 carries in the final three quarters.

Narduzzi counted only one "misfire" in communication, a major concern without Bullough.

"I couldn't imagine a better stage to play on, a better stage to start my first game in five years," Elsworth said. "This is the way everybody wants to end their career."

That Bullough's absence didn't matter epitomized a Michigan State team unfazed by adversity. The Spartans didn't have a quarterback, a running back or an offensive identity in September. They found one in October. Several questionable pass-interference penalties helped doom them at Notre Dame. The no-fly zone secondary went on to rank second nationally in pass defense efficiency.

When Ohio State erased a 17-0 lead in the Big Ten title game with 24 consecutive points, MSU responded by scoring the final 17. And when Stanford surged to a 10-0 lead Wednesday, the Spartans cleaned up their play and dominated the final three quarters.

"I told our guys, 'This is your legacy right here,'" Narduzzi said. "I think we'll go down as the greatest team ever to play Michigan State football."

No player symbolizes the Spartans' resilience like quarterback Connor Cook. He made some bad throws Wednesday, none worse than an ill-advised screen that Stanford's Kevin Anderson returned to the end zone late in the second quarter. After the pick-six, Cook approached Dantonio.

"Hey, you good?" Dantonio asked.

"I'm fine," Cook responded.

They exchanged a fist bump. On the ensuing series, Cook led MSU downfield for a touchdown 28 seconds before halftime.

"Any time you can end the half on a touchdown, that gives you so much momentum," said Cook, who passed for a career-high 332 yards. "That was like the turning point of the game."

MSU became the first team to rally from a halftime deficit to win the Rose Bowl since Wisconsin in the 2000 game. Back then, the Big Ten more than held its own here, but the league since had gone 1-9 in its most celebrated game.

A system that often didn't place the Big Ten champion in the Rose could be blamed, but the league also lacked teams that proved they belonged. MSU has added its name to a very short list.

"Not only did they get here, but they won," said former Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins, the team's honorary captain. "They beat a good Ohio State team and an outstanding Stanford team to make this happen. They didn't back into it."

CalhounThe national championship, that's the next step for us. The Rose Bowl was this year, but the national championship is definitely next year.

-- Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun
The Spartans are assured of their first top-five finish since 1966. The playoff era dawns next fall, and MSU suddenly can target the Final Four not only in basketball.

Cook and most of the offense returns. The defense should be strong again.

"One of the elite teams throughout college football," wide receiver Macgarrett Kings said. "We've got players, we've got talent, we have the coaches."

MSU plans to keep its coach for the foreseeable future, despite potential overtures from Texas. The Detroit Free Press reports Dantonio soon will be awarded a raise that will put him among the top three Big Ten coaches in salary.

It's big-boy money for the leader of a big-boy program.

"The national championship, that's the next step for us," said Calhoun, who plans to return for his junior season. "The Rose Bowl was this year, but the national championship is definitely next year."

No one put MSU in the national title talk when Dantonio arrived. Former linebacker Greg Jones described a "loose" culture that Dantonio had to rein in.

It was a gradual climb. First bowl appearances, then bowl wins, then a Big Ten title and finally a Rose Bowl championship.

"They made me a believer," Jones said. "They made everybody a believer."

The Spartans found the inches and broke through ceiling. They've reached the next floor.

They don't plan on leaving.
LOS ANGELES -- The 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO is finally here, as No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) takes on No. 5 Stanford (11-2).

Let's dive in ...

WHO TO WATCH: Michigan State linebackers Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris. The biggest personnel issue entering the game is how the Spartans replace All-Big Ten middle linebacker and co-captain Max Bullough, who was suspended last week and didn't travel with the team. Elsworth, a senior used mostly on special teams, likely will get the start, although Harris also will play. Bullough brilliantly handled the play calls and much of the communication on defense, so his leadership will be missed. Stanford presents a lot of different looks with its offensive line groupings, so Elsworth and Harris will need to make sure their teammates are in the right places. There are plenty of veteran, multiyear starters throughout Michigan State's defense who also need to step up in Bullough's absence.

WHAT TO WATCH: The quarterbacks. Both defenses are extremely sound and both teams love to run the ball, but quarterback play often makes the difference in a game that looks pretty close on paper. Stanford's Kevin Hogan has been here before, helping the Cardinal to a win in the 2013 Rose Bowl. He had some ups and downs this season but comes off of a strong performance (277 pass yards on just 12 completions, 1 TD) in the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona State. Michigan State's Connor Cook is a stranger to the Rose Bowl stage but looked comfortable in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State, recording a career-high 304 pass yards and three touchdowns and winning MVP honors. Both defenses can take away the opposing run games, so which quarterback makes clutch throws and limits mistakes?

WHY TO WATCH: If you really need a reason, pick another sport. It's the 100th Rose Bowl featuring two top-five teams with similar hard-hitting styles, excellent coaches and tremendous defenses. Stanford entered the season with national championship aspirations and can reaffirm what might have been with a second consecutive Rose Bowl win in its fourth straight BCS bowl appearance. Michigan State makes its first trip to Pasadena in 26 years and carries the banner of a beleaguered Big Ten Conference that has dropped nine of the past 10 Rose Bowls. A victory would cap Michigan State's most successful season since the back-to-back national title teams in 1965-66. The Rose Bowl enters the playoff rotation next fall, so the traditional Pac-12 versus Big Ten matchup won't be guaranteed.

PREDICTION: Stanford 21, Michigan State 17. Stanford's BCS bowl experience pays off as the Cardinal limit mistakes and force some Michigan State turnovers to win a hard-hitting nail-biter.
Spring practice is a time when coaches install new schemes or just instill the fundamentals. The most exciting part of spring practice is potential new stars emerge, with newcomers or former reserves turning heads with their performances.

Some of these guys will fade back into the shadows come fall. But others will be making major contributions on a field near you. Here's a list of some players who had breakout springs:

Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois: Redshirted last year after a hamstring injury, Ferguson blew up for 130 yards and caught six passes in the Illini spring game. He flashed his speed and versatility for an offense that desperately needs playmakers in its new spread attack. Ferguson should be in line to get a lot of touches in 2012.

Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State: A true freshman who enrolled in January after spending a year in prep school, Thomas suddenly became Braxton Miller's favorite target in the spring game, hauling in 12 catches for 131 yards. Like Ferguson, he gave a glimmer of hope to a position that was sorely in need of a boost for the Buckeyes, and he'll get a shot at plenty of playing time right away.

Darien Harris, LB, Michigan State: Few people were talking about Harris at the start of spring, especially since the Spartans return all three starting linebackers. But with Chris Norman out this spring with an injury, Harris got a bunch of reps and ran with it. Mark Dantonio called the redshirt freshman "one of the exciting surprises of the spring." He'll play this fall, but the question is how much?

[+] EnlargeBill Belton
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicBill Belton had a nice performance during Penn State's Blue-White spring game, rushing for 53 yards and a TD.
Joey Burzinski, OL, Michigan: Even most Wolverines fans had probably not heard of Buzinski, a walk-on freshman, before this spring. But a strong work ethic and a lack of depth on the Michigan O-line helped him make a move until he found himself working with the first string. Burzinski is no lock to start but should see minutes somewhere on the line and is a great story.

Bill Belton, RB, Penn State: Belton was a highly-regard recruit who started to make an impact at the end of last season. Moved to full-time running back this spring, he responded by making a lot of plays and adding depth to a spot that was extremely thin behind Silas Redd. Belton's versatility should help him become a useful weapon in Bill O'Brien's offense.

David Cooper, LB, Indiana: There's no question that the Hoosiers desperately needed some help on defense, and head coach Kevin Wilson scoured the junior college ranks for a talent injection. Cooper, along with Jacarri Alexander, proved he could run and tackle this spring, and he also brought a high energy level that rubbed off on his teammates. He's slated to start at middle linebacker and hopefully bring some improvement to the overall defensive effort.

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa: He was a hyped recruit, and now Fiedorowicz might be about to show why. A matchup nightmare at 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, the junior is expected to play a major role in new offensive coordinator Greg Davis's offense, and James Vandenberg has to love having such a big target.

Frankie Williams, S, Purdue: By the end of last season, Danny Hope regretted his decision to redshirt Williams because he felt he could have contributed at cornerback. Williams moved to safety this spring and got the start there in the spring game. The Boilers are deep at corner but could use a little help at safety, and Williams looks ready to fill that need.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan has garnered a lot of positive attention this offseason thanks to its Sugar Bowl victory and success in attracting highly-ranked recruits to Ann Arbor.

Up the road in East Lansing, however, Michigan State shrugs off talk about the Wolverines regaining their superpower status under Brady Hoke. The Spartans are confident of their own standing and future prospects.

"We're laying in the weeds," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio says with a half smile. "We've beat Michigan the last four years. So where's the threat?"

Truth is, the rest of the Big Ten had better be on high alert for these Spartans in 2012. There's a quiet sense of self-assurance around the team this spring, borne of recent success, coaching cohesion and a deep well of talent.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Andrew Weber/US Presswire"We're laying in the weeds," Mark Dantonio said with a half smile. "We've beat Michigan the last four years. So where's the threat?"
Dantonio's team has gone 22-5 over the past two seasons, winning a share of the Big Ten title in 2010 and claiming the first Legends Division championship a year ago. The program finally got over the postseason hump in January, beating Georgia in the Outback Bowl for the school's first bowl win since 2001.

It's the best two-year run by the Spartans in nearly half a century, and only six other FBS teams have won more games since the start of the 2010 season. Of course, one elusive goal remains: Michigan State's first trip to Pasadena since 1988. Rose Bowl logos are plastered all over the team's football facility, serving as a constant reminder.

Even with a small senior class and the losses of three-year starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, all-time leading receiver B.J. Cunningham and All-America defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, this year's team believes the Rose is within reach.

"Our goals keep climbing every year, and I think they're very attainable," new starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell said. "I feel like we have all the pieces in place."

That's a tribute to both the building job and the stability Dantonio has carefully constructed.

While other Big Ten staffs have undergone tumultuous turnover the past couple of years, the Spartans coaches have mostly stayed intact. Dantonio, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and several key assistants are entering their ninth straight season together, dating back to their time at Cincinnati. The benefits of that constancy can really be seen on defense, where Dantonio and Narduzzi have been able to reinforce their philosophy year after year without changing terminology or schemes. The Spartans finished No. 6 nationally in total defense in 2011.

"That helps a lot," junior middle linebacker Max Bullough said. "So much of the game is mental, and having [the same coaches] allows you to just focus on getting better as a football player and not having to learn new things every year or two."

Dantonio said the continuity means that if he turns to, say, a redshirt sophomore, that player has received the same teaching in the same system for three years. And few teams in the Big Ten have redshirted as many players as Michigan State, which put only two of its 2011 signees on the field last season.

That patience, along with very few recruiting mistakes, has led to a situation that every other Big Team would envy: terrific depth, especially in the trenches. The Spartans have eight starters back on defense, plus Anthony Rashad White, who started the bowl game at nose tackle. The talk of the spring has been about young guys making a move behind the starters, like linebacker Darien Harris, defensive end Joel Heath and cornerback Trae Waynes -- all redshirt freshmen.

"When we go against the twos [the second string defense], I feel like those guys would start at a lot of places in the Big Ten," offensive tackle Dan France said. "We definitely have a lot of depth on both sides of the ball."

Defense has been a hallmark under Dantonio, but he may now have the deepest and best offensive line of his tenure. After a season of shuffling and injuries, that unit returns six players who have started, along with some promising newcomers. Ask Dantonio about either line, and he says what every coach would love to say about those positions: "We've got numbers."

Like every team in the spring, Michigan State has its questions, too. Maxwell is well-groomed to take over at quarterback after three years in the system, but he'll have to prove he's as unflappable under adversity as Cousins was. The receiver position is barren tract for experience, though there are plenty of athletes trying to emerge. And while the Spartans feel they can go seven- or eight-deep at defensive tackle, they have yet to discover someone there who can take over a game the way Worthy could when he was switched on.

"I didn't realize what a difference he made until he left," defensive end William Gholston said. "The first couple of practices I was like, 'Man, it's not the same.'"

Still, this is a team that's loaded at the most important positions and with a strong sense of its identity. Michigan's rise may be a fact; the Spartans don't plan on going away any time soon.

"People should be looking forward to Michigan State being one of the top teams every year," safety Isaiah Lewis said.

Notes from Michigan State

April, 12, 2012
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EAST LANSING, Mich. -- I'll have much more from Michigan State in the days and weeks to come, but here are a few notes of interest:
  • Wide receiver Tony Lippett suffered an ankle injury and "could be out for a while," offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said. Roushar said Lippett had been playing very well and losing him hurts a very inexperienced group.
  • The Spartans moved Jeremy Langford from running back to wideout earlier this week to give him a look. "On his first day, he was pretty darn productive," Roushar said. "We were impressed with him."
  • Coaches have singled out linebacker Darien Harris, defensive end Joel Heath and center Jack Allen as young players who are emerging. Harris is playing with the first team at linebacker with starter Chris Norman out this spring with an injury. Head coach Mark Dantonio called him "one of the exciting surprises of the spring." Heath is backing up William Gholston and is impressive looking at 6-foot-6, 277 pounds. Allen is a redshirt freshman who's pushing for time at center and at guard.
  • Defensive end Shilique Calhoun drew some advance praise to start the spring based on his work with the scout team last year. But defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said he told Calhoun he's been disappointed with his play this spring and hopes he isn't just a scout-team wonder. Narduzzi hopes that will motivate Calhoun, who's very athletic.
  • Lead tailback Le'Veon Bell is up to 242 pounds, Roushar said. Tackling him in the open field won't be fun.
  • Dantonio said the petition for DeAnthony Arnett to become immediately eligible has been sent to the NCAA. The Spartans are hopeful they'll get a ruling on the Tennessee transfer by the end of the month. Dantonio said Arnett still needs to be viewed like a freshman since this is his first spring ball.
  • Narduzzi said Kurtis Drummond has a solid lead on redshirt freshman RJ Williamson in the battle to replace Trenton Robinson at safety. Narduzzi described Williamson's inexperience as someone "eating baby food right now who's not ready for whole food."

Michigan State recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
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MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

The class

Recruits: 21 (20 high school seniors, one junior college transfer, one player enrolled early)

Top prospects: For the second consecutive year, Michigan State's top recruit is a defender from Detroit. ESPNU 150 linebacker Lawrence Thomas headlines the 2011 class, following William Gholston in 2010. The Spartans added to an already deep receiving corps with Juwan Caesar, rated as the nation's No. 37 receiver by ESPN Recruiting. Center Jack Allen leads a promising group of offensive linemen in the class.

Needs met: Michigan State likely will be a consistent Big Ten title contender it if upgrades its line play, and this year's class should help with players like Allen and defensive linemen Brandon Clemons and Damon Knox. The Spartans lose two multiyear starters at linebacker (Greg Jones and Eric Gordon), and they addressed the area with players like Thomas and Darien Harris, rated as the nation's No. 32 outside linebacker by ESPN Recruiting. Joe Boisture's departure creates a need for a quarterback, and Michigan State adds one in Connor Cook.

Analysis: Mark Dantonio and his staff have made Michigan State a consistent upper-tier recruiting presence in the Big Ten. This year's class not only includes strong in-state prospects like Thomas, but nice additions from other regions like Caesar (Florida) and Harris (Maryland). There aren't as many big names this year as there were in 2010, but if the Spartans continue to build on their on-field success, their recruiting profile will continue to grow.

ESPN Recruiting grade: B-

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