Leave it to Mark Dantonio to say that Michigan State’s 2014 campaign fell short of expectations. While the Spartans couldn’t get past Ohio State and get to a Big Ten Championship, Sparty was the only team in the country to finish its second straight season in the Associated Press top five. The goal is exactly the same as it was last year, and so are preseasons expectations. Here’s what the Spartans have to do to get there.

Find answer at tailback

Michigan State is coming off its best offensive season in school history with the leader of that group, Connor Cook, back for more. But the second half of that equation, Jeremy Langford, is not. Running back Nick Hill is gone, too. Delton Williams was re-instated with the team after an alleged on-campus gun road rage incident resulted in his suspension. He’s back, but it isn’t clear if he’ll face further discipline from the team. Williams, Gerald Holmes, Madre London or LJ Scott could all take on a significant workload. For as much praise as the passing game got — and rightfully so — the Spartans were still a run-first offense last year. That should shift given Cook’s experience, but there will still be plenty of work to make up for in the backfield. Lucky for them, they’ll get to run behind preseason All-Americans Jack Conklin and Jack Allen.

New Fly Zone

The “No Fly Zone” will have a different look to it with the departures of All-Big Ten selections Kurtis Drummond and Trae Waynes to the NFL. R.J. Williamson is expected to lead the Sparty secondary after he further established himself as a junior. Montae Nicholson will also look to spark a resurgence in the defensive backfield, which didn’t perform to its usual high expectations last year. In its two biggest tests of the season — against Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and eventual-national champion Ohio State — the Spartans surrendered an average of 309 yards passing and 47.5 points. Much was made about defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi leaving to take the Pittsburgh job. But Dantonio remained confident that the defensive culture Narduzzi established in East Lansing wouldn’t be going away. Even if Sparty doesn’t prove to be as skilled in the secondary as its been in years past, there are plenty of playmakers on the defensive line to make up for it.

Don’t get caught looking ahead 

For that Nov. 21 showdown against Ohio State to mean all the Spartans hope it will, there’s plenty of business to take care of first. Michigan State gets a rematch against Oregon in Week 2 and also has to travel to Michigan and Nebraska, both of which will be tough road tests. All three losses in the past two years came against ranked foes, so Dantonio’s group hasn’t had any problems against lesser opponents. But entering a year where preseason expectations might be as high as they’ve ever been in East Lansing, that same disciplined approach will be needed or else Sparty will find itself on the outside of the College Football Playoff looking in.