As a freshman in 2010, Le'Veon Bell dazzled. As a sophomore in 2011, he was nearly unstoppable.
The 6-foot-2, 237-pound junior-to-be anchored a strong Spartans backfield this past fall, rushing for a team-high 948 yards (sixth-most in the Big Ten) with 13 touchdowns. Averaging just over five yards per carry, Bell was a constant force for Michigan State, which made it to the first Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin in December.
Although Bell shared duties with Edwin Baker -- who is bound for the NFL Draft -- a year ago, he came dangerously close to the 1,000-yard mark. In 2012, Bell should be the Spartans' go-to back and top the millennium plateau.
Michigan State wasn't the league's elite rushing team (137.9 yards, 10th overall), but the Spartans fared well through the air with Kirk Cousins at the helm. Now that Cousins has graduated, the Spartans could return to a more ground-oriented offense. And Bell is the best weapon they have at their disposal.
Bell rushed for over 100 yards twice in 2011 and went for 80 or more four times (game log). He was just four yards shy of 100 in the Spartans' 31-24 win over Minnesota. And take into account that he was pulled early in two blowout wins: He had nine carries for 68 yards in Michigan State's 55-0 Senior Day victory over Indiana and 14 carries for 69 yards in an early 44-0 win over Florida Atlantic.
Had Bell stayed in those games longer -- he wasn't needed, however -- he would have probably ended the year with 1,000 or more yards.
But back to the offense's situation. With quarterback Andrew Maxwell taking over for Cousins, accompanied with the loss of key receivers like B.J. Cunningham, Keith Nichol and Keshawn Martin, something tells me that Spartans coach Mark Dantonio might rely on his running game more than he did this past season.
That would be music to Bell's ears, more than likely. He's a powerful runner who didn't appear to shy away from carries -- or shy away from doling out hits to defenders. He doesn't have blazing speed but makes up for it with a tank-like frame.
The likelihood of Bell rushing for 1,000 yards is strong. He had 182 totes in 2011, and that number could be closer to 200 this season. Considering he averaged just over five yards per carry, Bell should have more than enough opportunities to notch his first 1,000-yard season at Michigan State.
Adam Biggers has followed NCAA football for over 20 years, specifically the Michigan State Spartans and Big Ten Conference. He can be found on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.