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"I look for positives in challenges," says Michigan State coach George Perles, whistling past a potential graveyard of a schedule. "A schedule like this can make you better. You can get great exposure and great momentum." Alas, you can also get beaten and fired. State starts with Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Florida State, Iowa and Michigan. A 2-3 beginning would not reflect badly on the talented Spartans.

But Perles, who is trying to return MSU to the glory days of Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty, insists, "Our goal remains the same: to win the Big Ten championship." Not this year, unless Columbus and Ann Arbor secede, but Spartan followers can still hope. They look at 1986's 6-5 mark and point out that four of the losses came by three points each. And if running back Lorenzo White (see story on opposite page) had been healthy (because of a knee strain and an ankle sprain he was at full speed for only three games) who knows?

White returns for his last hurrah, but he lacks adequate help in the offensive backfield, and therein lies the trouble. The likely quarterback will be junior Bobby McAllister, whose longest pass completion last season was 15 yards. He's trying to replace the departed Dave Yarema, who had 200 completions and 16 TDs last year. Similarly, Bobby Morse, the rugged and inspirational fullback, has completed his eligibility, but the salvation must be youth.

The offensive line is rock solid, particularly split end Andre Rison, who should be brilliant. Terrific, too, is the defensive front. And outside linebacker Tim Moore can start on anybody's team. Returning punter Greg Montgomery averaged 47.8 yards per kick last year. So there is optimism, if not certainty. By overcoming slow starts (the Spartans were outscored in first quarters last year, 72-62) and penalties (551 yards to opponents' 387), and with a generous portion of luck, State could turn the rest of the conference green with envy.