Schedule preview: Michigan State

Defense that held OSU to seven points last year returns almost intact

Updated: July 14, 2012, 12:42 AM ET
By Austin Ward | BuckeyeNation

Ohio State at Michigan State

Sept. 29, At Spartan Stadium (kickoff and TV TBA)

About the Spartans

2011 record: 11-3 (7-1 Big Ten)

Ohio State all-time against MSU: Buckeyes lead series 27-13

Top returners: OL Dan France, C Travis Jackson, OL Chris McDonald, OL Fou Fonoti, RB Le'Veon Bell, DE Marcus Rush, DE William Gholston, LB Chris Norman, LB Max Bullough, LB Denicos Allen, CB Darqueze Dennard, CB Johnny Adams, SS Isaiah Lewis

Key losses: OL Joel Foreman, TE Brian Linthicum, WR B.J. Cunningham, WR Keshawn Martin, QB Kirk Cousins, NT Kevin Pickelman, DT Jerel Worthy, FS Trenton Robinson

2011 statistical leaders (* denotes returners)

Rushing: Bell* (948 yards, 13 touchdowns)

Passing: Cousins (3,316 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions)

Receiving: Cunningham (1,306 yards, 12 touchdowns)

Tackles: Bullough* (89)

Sacks: Allen* (11)

Interceptions: Lewis* and Robinson (4)

What they're saying: "Based on what I know, because of the seniors that we have lost, there is a void in leadership. It's not that we don't have good leaders, [because] we have good leaders. Somebody has to take control of our football team." -- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio after the spring game

Three things to watch

1. Big debut: Michigan State has a chance to establish itself as a conference contender instantly. Ohio State isn't eligible for the postseason or a conference title, but Urban Meyer could make a splash by knocking off a team that played for the Big Ten championship a year ago in his first game in the league. For starters, the pairing of Michigan State and Ohio State right out of the gate with non-conference action out of the way promises to be pretty entertaining -- and the stakes will be high.

2. Change it up: The veteran quarterback and his two top targets in the passing game are gone. And while there could still be some potential hiccups in the offensive transition, Michigan State certainly has enough pieces left over in the right spots to put up some points. Le'Veon Bell returns in the backfield with four experienced starters in front of him on the line, which should definitely take some pressure off new signal-caller Andrew Maxwell.

3. Mean Green: It also helps a retooled offense if there's not all that much required of it, and the Michigan State defense figures to be more than capable of shouldering the load. A unit that ranked sixth in the nation in total defense last season has eight starters back in the fold, including playmaking linebacker Denicos Allen on the heels of a campaign that included 11 sacks among his 18.5 tackles for a loss. After managing just a lone touchdown in a loss at home last year, Ohio State won't need a reminder of how difficult life can be against the Spartans.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter