Spring football is already peeking around the corner, but the Big Ten blog just doesn't have the patience to wait for teams to get back on the practice field. To help pass the time, we're looking across the league at the top position battles that could help shape the season by September and some candidates to take over those jobs.
Next up: Michigan State.
1. Running back: With the frighteningly consistent production of Jeremy Langford now gone, the Spartans have a big hole to fill to keep their high-scoring offense rolling in the fall. There's no shortage of options on the roster to carry the load, starting with Delton Williams. The junior figures to have the first crack at the gig, but redshirt freshman Madre London and sophomore Gerald Holmes could apply pressure and develop into appealing options for coach Mark Dantonio. This might even be a derby that extends into training camp in August, when touted recruit LJ Scott arrives and throws his name in the hat. The Spartans know how valuable a workhorse like Langford was for the offense, and they'll be paying close attention to his potential replacements.
2. Wide receiver: There's no way to understate the importance of Connor Cook's decision to return to the program for another season, but keeping the passing attack at a high level won't be solely up to him. The Spartans are going to have to bring along new targets after losing Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery after last season. While Cook might help ease the transition with his arm strength and accuracy, he can't run the routes for the fresh faces on the perimeter. Macgarrett Kings and Aaron Burbridge offer experience and have proven they can be legitimate weapons for the Spartans, but are they ready to be primary, go-to options for Cook? Spring should provide answers about them and perhaps R.J. Shelton or AJ Troup, a walk-on who chipped in seven catches and a pair of touchdowns last fall.
3. Cornerback: The Spartans have earned the benefit of the doubt with their system in the secondary, the eye for talent in the back end and the ability to develop players when they arrive on campus, so there's not much reason to worry about a decline with another couple veterans heading out the door. But Dantonio is going to need to identify playmakers to shut down opposing passing games without Trae Waynes around to lead that effort. Can a versatile defender like Demetrious Cox be an option at cornerback down the road? Is Darian Hicks ready for a full-time role for a unit that has recently established a tradition of being among the best in the nation every year? The Spartans are going to find out soon enough.