ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 09: Steve Nichol #7 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates a 42 yard pass compleation from Kirk Cousins #8 during the third quarter of the game against the Michigan Wolverines on October 9, 2010 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Michigan Spartans defeated the Michigan Wolverines 34-17 (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
2010 record: 11-2 (7-1), lost to Alabama in Capital One Bowl
Coach: Mark Dantonio (5th season, 33-19)
Series: Michigan State leads 40-15-2
Blogs: The Only Colors
At long last, the Big Ten's least distinguished trophy game will become an annual event, at least until the Big Ten becomes a 24-team mega-conference. Indiana and Michigan State have played for the Old Brass Spittoon since 1950, a couple of years before Michigan State became a full member of the Big Ten, and for the first time, the series will be a guaranteed annual event, because the Big Ten has made IU-MSU one of six protected cross-division games. IU was won the Spittoon only eleven times, although the 1994 loss was forfeited to IU because of NCAA violations. It is a bit strange as far as trophy games go; the teams played only a handful of times before MSU joined the Big Ten, and it hasn't been a terribly competitive series. Still, hopefully IU can find a way to win the Bucket and the Spittoon in the same season for the first time since 2001.
Unfortunately for IU, the renewal of the IU-MSU series (the teams last played in 2008) comes when the Spartan program finally seems to be living up to its potential. Last year, MSU won a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990, although the three-way tie among MSU, Ohio State, and Wisconsin meant that one of the champs would be outside the BCS. The Spartans drew the short straw and the difficult task of playing defending national champion Alabama in the Capital One Bowl, and the Spartans lost badly.
Kirk Cousins returns for his senior year after a proficient junior season. Cousins completed 66 percent of his passes, and threw for 217 yards per game 20 TDs, and 10 INTs. They also return Edwin Baker, last year's leading rusher with 1156 yards, 5.6 per carry, and 13 touchdowns. LeVeon Bell was a freshman last year and complemented Baker by running for 567 yards, 5.3 per carry, and 8 touchdowns. At receiver, although the Spartans lose leading receiver Mark Dell, they return BJ Cunningham (50 receptions/607 yards/9 TD) and Keshawn Martin, who gained 394 yards as a receiver and ran for 145 yards. Keith Nichol, who gained 262 yards last season, also is back. On defense, the Spartans return 6 starters on defense, including last year's sack leaders Jerrel Worthy and Jonathan Strayhorn. FS Trenton Robinson, who led the team in interceptions last year, also returns.
After taking a look at what MSU returns, I am a bit surprised that so many prognosticators are handing the Legends Division to Nebraska. The Spartans have a history of squandering such opportunity, but they seem to be in a good position to contend. IU's and MSU's programs are in very different places right now, and the venue (Spartan Stadium) and time of year (11th game) all suggest that this will be a tough game for the Hoosiers.