Michigan's Bell leaps for extra yardage between Celek and Georgia's Washington during the Outback Bowl NCAA college football game in Tampa

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 14 Michigan State

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2011 record: 11-3 overall, 7-1 in Big Ten (1st in Legends)

2011 postseason: Big Ten title game (42-39 loss to Wisconsin); Outback Bowl (33-30 win over Georgia in 3 OT)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 11/No. 10

Head coach: Mark Dantonio (62-39 overall, 44-22 in five seasons at Michigan State)

Offensive coordinator: Dan Roushar (six seasons at Michigan State, two as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 78th rushing offense (137.9 ypg); 41st passing offense (252.5 ypg); 56th total offense (390.4 ypg); 37th scoring offense (31 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: four

Defensive coordinator: Pat Narduzzi (six seasons at Michigan State, six as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 9th rushing defense (100.5 ypg); 11th passing defense (176.9 ypg); 6th total defense (277.4 ypg); 10th scoring defense (18.4 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: eight

Location: East Lansing, Mich.

Stadium: Spartan Stadium (75,005; grass)

Last league title: 2010 (co-champs with Ohio State and Penn State)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Eight starters from a defense that finished sixth and 10th nationally in total defense and scoring defense, respectively?  Yeah, that’s pretty good.  The Spartans also return talented experience in the backfield as well as four-fifths of its starting offensive line, which should give first-year quarterback starter Andrew Maxwell time to adjust to his new role as the triggerman of Michigan State’s offense.

The Bad
Despite the returning talent in the backfield and along the line, the Spartans must still find a way to replace four of its top pass catchers in 2011, all of whom combined for a total of 202 of Michigan State’s 288 receptions last season.  One saving grace for the receiving corps is DeAnthony Arnett, the transfer from Tennessee who was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA.  As a true freshman at Tennessee last season, the former four-star recruit caught 24 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns, so he adds some much-needed experience, limited as it is, at the position.

The Unknown
After four years of outstanding leadership off the field and production on it, the Spartans are entering uncharted territory in Year One of the post-Kirk Cousins Era.  Exit Cousins and enter Maxwell, the top-rated quarterback in the Class of 2009 who has played sparingly since coming to East Lansing thanks to the presence of Cousins.  If Maxwell would’ve made it through an entire set of spring practices this wouldn’t be as much of an unknown; unfortunately, a knee issue kept him out the last two weeks of spring and cost him valuable reps.  That bump in the road aside, Maxwell certainly possesses the talent to keep the Spartans in Big Ten contention, especially if it’s in his head that he needs to be Maxwell v1.0 and not Cousins v2.0.

Make-or-break game: vs. Michigan, Oct. 20
This one’s the mother of all no-brainers, or at least an aunt.  Not only are the two schools bitter in-state rivals, but both, along with Nebraska, are expected to serve as the front-runners for the Legends title, which the Spartans captured en route to an appearance in the Big Ten’s inaugural championship game.  Last season at home, the Spartans came out on the winning end of a 28-14 score.  This season, Michigan State must make the trek to Ann Arbor to face a team with even higher expectations, if it is to extend its winning streak to in the series to five games.

Heisman hopeful: running back Le’Veon Bell
Bell has a couple of things going in his favor.  First, after being named starter in the middle of October, Bell ended up leading what up until then was an anemic Spartans’ rushing attack with 948 yards and 13 touchdowns.  Secondly, with a first-year starter under center, Bell should shoulder a hefty portion of the offensive workload, especially early in the season.  Add the two together, and the junior is likely to put up the type of numbers that generally grab the attention of Heisman voters.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil to return for Texas A&M on Oct. 24

Associated Press
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As if this day wasn’t busy enough, Ole Miss announced late Monday evening star-crossed offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil‘s suspension has been capped at seven games, meaning he’ll miss Saturday’s trip to Memphis but return in time for Texas A&M visit to The Grove on Oct. 24.

From the university:

The University initially withheld Tunsil from competition at the start of the season as both the NCAA and the University examined several alleged improper benefits.  During the course of the process, it was determined by the NCAA that Tunsil received impermissible extra benefits that included the use of three separate loaner vehicles over a sixth-month period without payment, a four-month interest-free promissory note on a $3,000 down payment for purchasing a used vehicle, two nights of lodging at a local home, an airline ticket purchased by a friend of a teammate, and one day use of a rental vehicle.  In addition, it was determined that Tunsil was not completely forthcoming when initially questioned by NCAA investigators regarding the loaner vehicles.  He later corrected his account and since apologized. 

As part of his reinstatement conditions, the NCAA imposed a seven-game suspension, ordered Tunsil to pay the value of the extra benefits to a charity, perform community service, and he will also make the vehicle down payment.

Said Tunsil: “I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made and want to thank everyone for their continued support. I want to apologize to my teammates, coaches and the entire Ole Miss family for how my choices affected our program. This was a learning experience, and I’m looking forward to being back on the field with my team and redeeming myself. The last 10 months have been a physical and mental battle for me, but I love playing this game more than anything else. I want to be here for my teammates who are depending on me to finish what we started together.”

The news is, obviously, great for Tunsil and head coach Hugh Freeze personally, as well as the entire Ole Miss football program. It’s also a nice plus for NFL scouts, as it means Tunsil’s first live action of 2015 will come against possible future No. 1 draft pick Myles Garrett.

Hope he’s been practicing.

Report: Steve Spurrier set to retire

Steve Spurrier

Say it ain’t so, Steve.

According to a report from Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated Monday evening, Steve Spurrier is set to retire.

Spurrier, 70, is a legend the likes college football has never seen before and never will again.

He was a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Florida, then returned to his alma mater and turned the program into a juggernaut, leading the Gators to 122-27-1 record from 1990-01 and a national championship in 1996. After a stint with the NFL’s Washington Redskins, Spurrier landed at South Carolina, where since 2005 he’s racked up a school record 86 wins.

But those wins slowed down of late. After an SEC East championship in 2010 and three straight 11-2 seasons from 2011-13, the Gamecocks fell to 7-6 in 2014, and are off to a 2-4 mark this fall. With the possibility of losses to nemeses old and new like Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida and Clemson ahead, Spurrier, it appears, would rather fade away quietly to the putting green.

Perhaps no two sentences summarize Spurrier, then and now, more precisely than this:

Combined with his three years at Duke, Spurrier closes up shop with a 228-89-2 mark, and a bust in the coaches’ wing of the Hall of Fame waiting for him.