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2017 Michigan State Spartans Season Outlook

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NCAA Football: Northwestern at Michigan State
You’re up, kid
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

/stirs

//finds self in dumpster

///Russian discotech bass line headache

Nnnnng. Michigan State week. This is what happens when the company retreat features bottomless rusty nails and the boss hires his out-of-work friends to tend bar.

On an editorial note, this would have been even earlier, but life obligations amongst staffers required a week swap. Deal with it Maryland, you weren’t that much better last year anyway.

What Happened Last Year?

Good question, and one that’s still lacking satisfactory answers. Michigan State plunged from its conference title and Playoff appearance in 2015 to a horrendous and thoroughly unexpected 3-9 last season.

There were some initial signs of promise in an early win over Notre Dame in South Bend. But the wheels abruptly fell off, and MSU managed just a single win after Week 2, over pathetic Rutgers.

During the season, the fanbase was generally mystified a to how this had happened. It was trendy, as always, to lay the blame on the quarterback, and to be sure, Tyler O’Connor did not build upon his high-profile late-2015 work. He gave way to RS freshman Brian Lewerke until Lewerke was lost for the season, but blaming O’Connor for last year’s meltdown is lazy. This team lost big, they lost close, they lost shootouts and they lost meatgrinders. However it happened and whoever you want to blame, this much losing can’t be one guy’s fault.

Offense

Sophomore-to-be Lewerke is the presumptive starter at QB, and did show some signs of being the next NFL QB to come through this program. Rising senior Damion Terry is down to his last chance to make some kind of impact, but he’s looking at an apparently-entrenched younger starter ahead of him.

The tailback group returns intact, and figures to once again be lead by junior L.J. Scott, with senior Gerald Holmes and junior Madre London getting their chances as well. Any of them could be a capable lead back, but the staff has a clear preference for Scott to take the lead.

The receiving group loses some experience, as wideouts RJ Shelton and Monty Madaris and tight ends Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles move on. It’s fair to say, however, that this group generally underwhelmed last year, and a young group will need to find combinations that work. Incoming freshman Hunter Rison and redshirted Cam Chambers will join up with Donnie Corley and spring game standout Trishton Jackson, and we’ll see who earns the targets. Tight end figures to be Matt Sokol and whoever of the youngsters (Noah Davis, Matt Dotson, and Jack Camper) blocks well enough to play.

An offensive line that played a lot of seniors to dishearteningly poor effect now leans on the youth movement that took over towards the end of the season. Sophomore Cole Chewins at LT, sophomore Tyler Higby at LG, and redshirt freshman Luke Campbell at RT are probable starters alongside elder statesman Brian Allen; Chewins in particular started to show some real promise towards the end of last season.

Defense

Uh, there are some questions.

Starting at the back end, both starting safeties are gone from last year after Montae Nicholson’s surprising-but-apparently-not-crazy decision to go pro early. It’s far from clear how safety shakes out; Khari Willis, Matt Morrissey, and Grayson Miller all have some experience. Cornerback was again a mess, to the point where there’s a real chance true freshman Josiah Scott starts despite the mob of guys who have come in the last couple of years. MSU’s staff has also never been shy about shuffling guys between corner and safety, so the defensive backfield likely remains fluid into fall practice.

Linebacker sees major contributors in Riley Bullough and Jon Reschke depart, but depending on what rumors you choose to believe, a fresh chemistry in the locker room may not be an entirely bad thing. Bullough’s ejections and injuries to other guys forced Joe Bachie to burn his redshirt last year, and he’s now all but locked down the middle. He should be flanked most of the time by Chris Frey on the weak side and Andrew Dowell on the strong.

Defensive line sees a marquee name in Malik McDowell leave for the draft, but his junior season was a considerable disappointment between injuries, effort, and the blurred line between the two that one couldn’t help but wonder about towards the end of the year. They should be quite good at tackle with Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk, but end is definitely a major point of uncertainty.

Special Teams

Four-year placekicker Michael Geiger and kickoff specialist Kevin Cronin both move on; redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin is the logical choice for one or both jobs. Punter Jake Hartbarger returns.

Coaching

Same guys. I’ve aired my grievances on that point already; Dantonio has chosen to sink or swim with his friends, not only this year, but potentially for his legacy as well.

Recruiting

Sluggish, as you might expect after last season. As of this week, Dantonio and crew have just 5 commitments, but among them are a pair of 4-stars in TE Trenton Gillison and DB Xavier Henderson, as well as the staff’s preferred QB target in Dearborn product Theo Day.

2017 Schedule

Saturday, September 2 vs Bowling Green

Saturday, September 9 vs Western Michigan

Saturday, September 23 vs Notre Dame

Saturday, September 30 vs Iowa

Saturday, October 7 @ Michigan

Saturday, October 14 @ Minnesota

Saturday, October 21 vs Indiana

Saturday, October 28 @ Northwestern

Saturday, November 4 vs Penn State

Saturday, November 11 @ Ohio State

Saturday, November 18 vs Maryland

Saturday, November 25 @ Rutgers

So...you can probably chalk OSU and PSU up as losses, most likely Michigan as well (though I’m not as sold on their literal total defensive rebuild as everyone else in the college football universe seems to be). The rest of the conference games should be in reach, and not leaving the state until October 14 should help.

The noncon, though, is tricky. Notre Dame probably isn’t going to be as hapless as they were last year, though you wouldn’t hear objection from me if they were. A good deal of the talent PJ Fleck brought to Kalamazoo is also still hanging around, and Bowling Green has traditionally been a pretty decent MAC program as well.

If You’re Talking to an MSU Fan, Don’t Mention:

The calendar year 2016. Like, really.

Do Mention:

Miles Bridges/Jaren Jackson Jr./basketball generally, finally lighting the fuse on the cannon Tom Anastos has been sitting in