2012 OUTLOOK: The Spartans should have a terrific running game and defense in 2012, giving them a shot at their second straight Legends Division title and another crack at the Big Ten Championship Game. MSU needs QB Andrew Maxwell and his young WRs to grow into the job as the season progresses, and a running game and defense always help in that regard. But the season is challenging from the start, with a visit from Boise State to open the year. The Spartans also host Notre Dame, Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa, while traveling to rival Michigan -- looking for a fifth straight win in the series, in the game that could decide the Legends championship. SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Le'Veon Bell should be primed for a big season as a junior RB, helping talented QB Andrew Maxwell ease into the starting spot. The Spartans could have an excellent target in TE Dion Sims if he can get into shape and play consistently. There's a lot of talent and inexperience at WR. The offensive line actually has six starters back, because LG Blake Treadwell and LT Skyler Burkland were lost in the third game last season with injuries. SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Eight starters return, and NT Anthony Rashad White started early last season. The big losses are DTs Jerel Worthy and Kevin Pickelman, along with FS Trenton Robinson. But MSU may have the best DEs, DBs and LBs in the Big Ten. Will Gholston and Marcus Rush are studs coming off the edge. Denicos Allen, Max Bullough and Chris Norman are back after a huge season at LB. Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard are athletic playmakers at CB, and SS Isaiah Lewis may be one of the best pro prospects on the roster. SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The Spartans return PK Dan Conroy, coming off two straight excellent seasons, and P Mike Sadler, who had a solid season in place of Aaron Bates in 2011. The big loss here is at PR/KR, where Keshawn Martin helped MSU win a lot of games with big returns. RB Nick Hill is the top candidate to return kicks and punts, but several young WRs also could be in the mix. TOP NEWCOMERS: S Demetrious Cox (Detroit Renaissance, Jeannette High, Jeannette, Pa.) -- Michigan State scored just before signing day with this 6-1, 182-pound athlete, who picked the Spartans over an offer from Urban Meyer and Ohio State, among many others. Scout ranks him the No. 8 safety in the nation and Rivals has him No. 13. Mark Dantonio said he "looks like he's ready for NFL camp" and an early role is very possible. WR Aaron Burbridge (Farmington Hills Harrison High, Farmington Hills, Mich.) -- The Spartans land the top prospect in the state of Michigan for the third straight year in Burbridge, who is ranked the No. 9 receiver in the country by Scout.com. At 6-1, 190, he has the size, strength and speed to be a dominant outside receiver. And MSU needs some new ones. QB Tyler O'Connor (Lima Catholic Central, Lima, Ohio) -- O'Connor joins recent MSU QBs Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and Keith Nichol as an Elite 11 QB. O'Connor is ranked the No. 18 pro-style QB in the nation by Rivals.com, and Mark Dantonio likes him for his mobility. He'll be able to redshirt in 2012 as long as MSU doesn't have injuries at the position. ROSTER REPORT: --Starting LB Chris Norman will miss most or all of spring football after offseason shoulder surgery, so redshirt freshman LB Taiwan Jones starts the spring as No. 1 at the Star (weak-side) LB. Freshman LB Lawrence Thomas also had offseason shoulder surgery and will miss most or all of the action. --Tyler Hoover was lost for the season in the 2011 opener with a fractured rib, hurting MSU's depth at DE. Now Hoover starts his final spring as a DT, after gaining about 20 pounds to get to 295. Hoover is big for a DT at 6-7, but he thinks he can play with the proper leverage at the position. --WR Bennie Fowler had a screw placed in his left foot in the offseason, after dealing with a stress fracture that worsened throughout the 2011 season. Fowler is expected to miss the first two weeks of drills, and then MSU hopes he'll be able to participate in most things from there.