TBA, Oct. 1 TV: TBA Ohio Stadium (102,329)

Coach: Mark Dantonio, fifth season (33-19 at school, 51-36 overall in seven seasons)

Last season: 11-2 overall, 7-1 Big Ten (tie, first); lost to Alabama 49-7 in Capital One Bowl

Returning stars

Edwin Baker rushed for 1,201 yards as a sophomore and was first-team All-Big Ten. Kirk Cousins passed for 2,825 yards and 20 touchdowns with 10 interceptions and was at his best in the second half of big wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern. B.J. Cunningham of Westerville South is 10 catches from becoming the Spartans' all-time leader in receptions. Disruptive defensive tackle Jerel Worthy is a top 10 pick in some 2012 NFL mock drafts.

Newcomers to watch

Michigan State is so stocked from Dantonio's first four recruiting classes, it's possible that no first-year player will crack the lineup. Two who have a chance: linebacker Lawrence Thomas, the No. 1 high-school player in Michigan last year, and redshirt freshman offensive tackle Skyler Burkland of Big Walnut.

Keys to the offense

If Cousins can improve some bad technique and eliminate some of the throws that resulted in a rout by Iowa, he could emerge as the Big Ten's best quarterback. He has plenty of support, from a three-deep tailback rotation (that also includes Le'Veon Bell of Groveport) to plenty of receivers to spread the ball to.

Keys to the defense

Worthy anchors what could be a dominant line, and coordinator Pat Narduzzi thinks it will be the strongest he has coached at Michigan State. He also has plenty of depth in the secondary. The area to watch is in between, at linebacker, where departed All-American Greg Jones and Eric Gordon started next to each other for four years.

Special teams standouts

Keshawn Martin has scored via punt return, kick return, passing, rushing and receiving during his career, but he might not be as active on special teams if he nails down a starting receiver spot. Former walk-on Dan Conroy beat out a scholarship kicker in camp last year, made 14 of 15 field-goal attempts and was voted first-team All-Big Ten.

Question marks

The offense looks every bit as balanced and potentially productive as it was last year, when it rushed for 25 touchdowns and passed for 23. The only question is how well the offensive line replaces three departed starters. Likewise, how well the Spartans restock the linebacking corps could determine whether the defense makes as many big plays as it did a year ago, when it had 24 takeaways and the second-best red-zone defense in the Big Ten.

Outlook

Dantonio has steadily built the Spartans into a solid program that last season shared, with Wisconsin and Ohio State, the school's first Big Ten title since 1990. His next goal is to get Michigan State back to the Rose Bowl. Everything is in place for the Spartans to challenge Nebraska for the Legends Division spot in the first Big Ten championship game - everything, that is, except the schedule. The Spartans' four road tests are Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa and Northwestern. They get Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana at home.