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Big Ten preview: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State's Connor Cook runs past Michigan's Joe Bolden during first quarter action on Saturday, Oct. 25,2014 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 35-11. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Michigan State’s Connor Cook runs past Michigan’s Joe Bolden during first quarter action on Saturday, Oct. 25,2014 at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State won 35-11. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Location: East Lansing, Michigan

2014 record: 11-2

Head coach: Mark Dantonio (ninth year, 79-31)

2015 record so far: 4-0, No. 2 in AP Poll

Record vs. OSU since 2005: 2-6

What has happened so far in 2015: The Spartans open their season with a victory over Western Michigan 37-24. They followed that up with an impressive 31-28 win over then-No. 7 Oregon at home. MSU continued its winning ways over Air Force, 35-21, and Central Michigan, 30-10. The Spartans have outscored their opponents 133-83 with an offense that has averaged 33.25 points per game this season.

Key offensive player: On the quest of becoming the winningest quarterback in school history, redshirt senior quarterback Connor Cook has been stellar for the Spartans this season. Cook has thrown nine touchdowns compared to just one interception and averages 209.5 passing yards per game this season. Although the young Spartan rushing attack between redshirt freshman Madre London and freshman L.J. Scott is important to the success of this offense, averaging 133 yards rushing between the two of them per game, Cook is the veteran playmaker that glues the Spartan offense together.

Key defensive player: The Spartans’ run defense is very good, with opposing offenses averaging only 3.32 yards per rush. A key part of the defensive presence is junior linebacker Riley Bullough. Brother of MSU alumnus Max Bullough, who now plays for the Houston Texans, Riley is now the focal point of the MSU defense. He averages 11.5 tackles a game and has a total of 3.5 tackles for loss, which includes three sacks against Western Michigan. Bullough also recovered a fumble for 13 yards in the game against Central Michigan.

Weaknesses:  The Spartan defense ranks 77th in the NCAA in total defense, which is worse than seven of their Big Ten counterparts. The Spartan secondary is giving up 277 passing yards per game and has given up five passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks, which ranks 107th in the nation. For MSU to continue making its case as one of the nation’s top teams, the defense will need to tighten up.

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