Four lists in one
All of them related to ... sports. MSU football, even!
The reason? I'm taking a mini-vacation from Wednesday through the weekend. But the June-July Top Ten Promise can't be broken. First, take a look at ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg's top 25 players in the Big Ten. I'm guessing some of you will disagree, but I think he has it right at the top.
To piggyback and using the same criteria (past performance and 2010 potential), here are my Top Ten MSU Football Players entering 2010.
(Actually, first here's my top-10 list from a year ago, a list that was all kinds of mistaken and somehow didn't include Blair White:)
1. Greg Jones
2. Chris L. Rucker
3. Charlie Gantt
4. Trevor Anderson
5. Kirk Cousins/Keith Nichol
6. Oren Wilson
7. Brett Swenson
8. Keshawn Martin
9. Eric Gordon
10. Rocco Cironi
Wish I could have that one back. Let's see if we can be a bit better this time around. As with last season, incoming freshmen and redshirt freshmen aren't in the mix.
1. Greg Jones.
2. Kirk Cousins. If he's working with a better running game this season, watch out.
3. Jerel Worthy. Was embarrassing people before he got banged up late in his redshirt freshman season. Barring more injury, will be in anyone's postseason top-25 Big Ten players.
4. Eric Gordon. Jones' silent partner.
5. Keshawn Martin. A special teams demon who is picking up the little things needed to be a great receiver -- and he can throw it.
6. Charlie Gantt. A complete tight end.
7. Chris L. Rucker. He's had a pretty rough year, but Rucker is still a very talented corner who has played a lot of winning football for MSU.
8. Keith Nichol. If we're going strictly on athleticism, Nichol is higher. Considering that he's played well at quarterback, he'll be utilized this season at receiver and perhaps special teams, and he could be a killer safety, he can't go lower than this.
9. Edwin Baker/Larry Caper. Cop-out time. Too close to call between these two. Should be a very interesting fall camp.
10. Joel Foreman. Technically the 11th player on the list, in honor of the Big Ten's former incorrect number of teams. MSU needs Foreman to set the tone for the offensive line as a junior.
MSU's Top Ten Position Groups
1. Tight end. Gantt, Brian Linthicum, Dion Sims, Garrett Celek. And Derek Hoebing is a prospect.
2. Linebacker. Jones and Gordon are proven, while Chris Norman and Denicos Allen figure to stage quite a showdown for the other starting spot in the fall. Jon Misch and Steve Gardiner are right there for playing time, and then you have true freshmen Max Bullough and LB/DE hybrid Will Gholston. That's excellent depth.
3. Wide receiver. Nichol bolsters a unit that already has three proven playmakers in Martin, Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham. Dell is the guy with something to prove as a senior, and certainly the talent to do it. Keep an eye on Bennie Fowler.
4. Quarterback. Yes, the Spartans should be able to throw the ball. Cousins, Andrew Maxwell, true freshman Joe Boisture -- and Nichol always there if the Spartans need him.
5. Running back. There's a big dropoff from 4 to 5, with running back getting the edge because it consists of four young but exciting players. Baker and Caper both have star talent. Le'Veon Bell was one of the stories of the spring and Nick Hill is a dynamic runner.
6. Defensive line. The interior could be very strong, despite the loss of Oren Wilson and because Worthy is joined by Blake Treadwell, Kevin Pickelman and spring riser Dan France. Colin Neely is solid if healthy at one end spot. Tyler Hoover is one of the players to watch in 2010 on the other side. MSU needs to sort through a host of other contenders to find reliable depth.
7. Specialists. Lumping the kickers and returners together, MSU has an excellent punter in Aaron Bates, a major, major question mark at placekicker and a game-changing return man in Keshawn Martin. Two out of three.
8. Offensive line. Definitely the best depth of Mark Dantonio's tenure at this position, with a lot of young guys apparently on the verge of being ready. But the starting five was still up in the air as spring ball concluded. Lots of questions, including Antonio Jeremiah's physical condition and Henry Conway's injured neck.
9. Defensive backfield. There's reason for hope at corner, where Chris L. Rucker and Johnny Adams figure to get most of the snaps as long as they're healthy. Those two are good, maybe very good, but there are a lot of unknowns behind them. And safeties Trenton Robinson and Marcus Hyde need to improve significantly on last season's performance.
10. Fullback. Once again, MSU has a reliable senior set to start at fullback. Josh Rouse was hurt last season but showed in 2008 that he can play. Will Fred Smith find a way to contribute here?
Top Ten Spartans Who Could Surprise in 2010:
1. Johnathan Strayhorn. While young defensive ends battle for snaps, this junior walk-on may end up getting quite a few of them.
2. Jesse Johnson. Always a solid special teams guy, here's a wild guess that Johnson earns the chance to help some on defense.
3. Patrick White. Again, that defensive backfield is ripe for a surprise or two. This redshirt freshman looked during spring ball like a guy who can make some plays.
4. Garrett Celek. He's the fourth and somewhat forgotten guy at tight end. But if he avoids the nagging injuries, Celek should find a role as MSU goes with multiple tight-end sets on multiple occasions.
5. J'Michael Deane. It's hard to tell how the right side of that offensive line will shake out, but Deane has a lot of physical talent and shouldn't be counted out as a possible starter.
6. Mark Dell. If he can keep his knees and shoulders strong and healthy all season, he can lead this team in receiving as a senior.
7. Nick Hill. He seems like the logical redshirt candidate, with Bell providing short-yardage punch. But Hill might be too good to put on the shelf this season.
8. Trenton Robinson. He can run and hit. When he gets better at diagnosing, he'll be tough.
9. Antonio Jeremiah. Hard to know what to expect with him, but it'll be interesting to watch. If nothing else, give him at least one carry at the goal line.
10. John Stipek. Much of the surprise took place in the spring, when he won the starting center job from the player many assumed would secure it, redshirt freshman Nate Klatt. The way coaches are talking about him, it sounds like Stipek could be a plus player there as a fifth-year senior.
Top Ten Most Interesting MSU Games of 2010 (Spoiler: Northern Colorado won't make the cut):
1. Wisconsin at MSU, Oct. 2: The Big Ten opener will have much to say about MSU's season. This should be a tight game in Spartan Stadium, and if the Spartans can pull the upset against what I think is the second-best team in the Big Ten in 2010, they're set up to contend.
2. MSU at Michigan, Oct. 9: Rich Rodriguez really, really needs this one.
3. MSU at Iowa, Oct. 30. People love Iowa, but the Hawkeyes lost a lot of quality players from last season's team. After a pair of thrillers between these teams at Spartan Stadium the past two seasons, I expect another one in Iowa City.
4. Notre Dame at MSU, Sept. 18. MSU-ND under the lights is always an event, and the Brian Kelly-Mark Dantonio chatter will make for quite a week of hype.
5. MSU at Northwestern, Oct. 23. The Spartans have won convincingly the past two seasons, but this has been a very good series over the past 15 years.
6. MSU at Penn State, Nov. 27. Does MSU have a chance to win in State College for the first time since the Duffy Daugherty era? Not a great one, but this is a rebuilding season for the Nittany Lions. So there's a chance for a competitive game. Maybe.
7. Purdue at MSU, Nov. 20. Another 2009 classic that changes venues. Purdue could be pretty solid this season.
8. Minnesota at MSU, Nov. 6. See No. 7. The Spartans will want to atone for last season's lost opportunity in Minneapolis.
9. Illinois at MSU, Oct. 16. Ron Zook should still be coaching Illinois at this point.
10. MSU vs. Florida Atlantic at Ford Field, Sept. 11. You never know what Howard Schnellenberger might have in store for the Spartans in Detroit.