The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the 18th of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover the no. 8 Michigan State Spartans.
Michigan State was able to right the ship last year with a 10-3 season after their disastrous 3-9 season in 2016. They lost to Notre Dame, Northwestern and Ohio State last year, but were able to beat Michigan and Penn State. They capped off the year with a win in the Holiday Bowl over Washington State. With 18 returning starters, the Spartans should have high expectations heading into the 2018 season.
Nine starters will be reclaiming their spots from last season. This unit really needs to improve if they want to contend this season, especially given their Big Ten East schedule. They ranked 96th in scoring, 62nd in rushing and 76th in passing for the 2017 season.
Michigan State is yet another team that has a quarterback, but one that needs to be more accurate and efficient. Brian Lewerke threw for 2,793 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 59% completion. He does have the ability to make plays with his legs, as he accounted for 559 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
The top three receivers for Michigan State are back from last season. Felton Davis III led the way with 55 receptions for 776 yards and nine touchdowns. Darrell Stewart Jr. and Cody White had similar stats, both amassing around 500 yards receiving. Tight end Matt Sokol will also be back in the fold after a decent junior season.
L.J. Scott can be one of the best running backs in the country if he is blocked for. He had 898 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns on 4.5 yards per rush. He does need to protect the football more, as a team that doesn’t score a lot of points can’t turn the ball over and minimize their chances to win the game.
The offensive line needs to be better this season and they do have four returning starters, which should help their cause. With more holes for Scott and more time for Lewerke to dissect defenses, the offense can open up a bit more in 2018.
Experience will not be an issue, but the question will be: Can the Spartans’ offensive line hold up against some very good defensive lines this season?
The defense is the strength of this team. They return nine starters from a great unit last year. Michigan State ranked 19th in points allowed per game, second against the rush and 37th against the pass. There are no reasons to think this defense won’t be elite in 2018.
On their defensive line, three of four starters return. Kenny Willekes led the team in sacks last season, but will be joined by a new player at the other defensive end spot this season. The Spartans are strong at defensive tackle with Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk.
The top tackler on the team, Joe Bachie, returns to lead the defense. He did a little bit of everything for the Spartans with 100 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, two passes defended, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles. New starter Tyriq Thompson will join Bachie.
The pass defense lagged behind the rush defense, but all key players are back. The cornerbacks, Justin Layne and Josiah Scott, will be entering their second years as starters and have a chance to be among the best in Michigan State history. With experienced safeties behind them, this team will be tough to throw on.
So much talent returns to this team that it is hard to imagine this unit not being among the best in the country.
They play Utah State (home), Arizona State (away) and Central Michigan (home) in the non-conference schedule. The road game to Tempe, Arizona will test them, but they are the superior team and should be able to win by a decent margin.
In the conference schedule, they play Penn State (away), Michigan (home) and Ohio State (home). Getting Ohio State and Michigan at home helps and they also avoid the top teams in the Big Ten West in their crossovers.
It is not out of the question for Michigan State to get to double-digit wins this regular season.
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