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B1G 2018: Michigan State Cocktail Party

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2017 was a great bounce-back on the field, surrounded by the single worst abuse scandal in the history of American academia. What happens going forward in both arenas?

NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

About Last Season

It went about as well as could be expected given 2016’s abrupt plunge into the depths, as the Spartans rebounded to go 10-3, refilling the trophy case and hitting a late crescendo with a controlling win in the Holiday Bowl, albeit against a Wazzu team dealing with its own distractions.

Sure, the losses each hurt in their own way - putting the Notre Dame series on a decade-long hiatus with a loss, stubborning to a defeat against Northwestern’s crossing routes, running into a Buzzckeyesaw the week after OSU incurred the most mystifying loss of the last several years in this conference.

But turning 3-9 and the ensuing wave of transfers into 10 wins exceeded anyone’s most optimistic projection. After a year with several defeats marked by an inability to make the big play in crunch time, MSU was 5-1 in one-score games. And they dealt another YEAH BUT [excuse] loss to a Wolverine program that one would think has to run out of them eventually.

2018: The Offense

Very intriguing, as just one starter and a few depth guys depart. The losses: Brian Allen, 4-year starter on the OL. Gerald Holmes, solid enough but typically the third running back in the game. And WR transfers Hunter Rison and Trishton Jackson, both promising but not big contributors in 2017. And...that’s it.

4 starters (Cole Chewins, Luke Campbell, Kevin Jarvis, David Beedle) and 2 experienced reserves (Jordan Reid, Tyler Higby) on a capable offensive line return, though MSU did enough position-shuffling that it can be hard to quickly describe who’s playing where. Top three WRs Felton Davis III, Darrell Stewart Jr., and Cody White all return. L.J. Scott passed on the NFL to come back for what should be a heavy workload at RB, the tight end group returns intact, and most importantly, junior-to-be QB Brian Lewerke returns to run the show.

If you’re looking for weaknesses, largely the same OL didn’t generally create much push in the run game, and Scott continued to share carries despite being head-and-shoulders more talented than his backfield fellows because of an unresolved fumbling issue. As promising as individual components of the offense looked last year, the only metric that really mattered - points on the board - often didn’t equal what this group seemed to be capable of.

2018: The Defense

Probably the underrated aspect of last season’s turnaround, going from 41st in S&P+ defensive ranking in 2016 to 4th last year (although if you’re looking for data points on the limits of statistics, S&P+ also ranked the 2016 offense 26 slots higher than the 2017 version). This group held 6 teams to 10 points or fewer last year, and like the offense returns essentially everyone - LB Chris Frey and DE Demetrius Cooper are the only guys who played heavy snaps who won’t be back.

The line should be strong with DTs Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams starting and capable depth behind them. DE Kenny Willekes was an important find last year as well. LBs Joe Bachie and Andrew Dowell return, and Bachie should contend for All-Conference recognition. But the real strength should be in the secondary, where literally the entire two-deep returns - and only one of the starters, Khari Willis, is a senior, meaning potentially great things beyond next season.

2018 Special Teams

Fine for the most part. Jake Hartbarger continues to do his thing going into his 4th year punting. Matt Coghlin wasn’t perfect as a placekicker but hit a big one as time expired to knock off Penn State. The return game continues to lack dynamism, but the coverage units tightened up considerably as special teams returned to Mike Tressel’s oversight.

2018 Schedule

Utah State - August 31, 7:00 p.m., BTN

@ Arizona State - September 8, 10:45 p.m., ESPN

BYE - September 15

@Indiana - September 22, TBD

Central Michigan - September 29, TBD

Northwestern - October 6, 12:00

@Penn State - October 13, 3;30/4:00

Michigan - October 20, TBD (could swear I heard this was a night game)

Purdue - October 27, TBD

@Maryland - November 3, TBD

Ohio State - November 10, TBD

@Nebraska - November 17, TBD

Rutgers - November 24, TBD

When Talking to a Michigan State Fan

Do Mention

10 wins, Paul Bunyan bak, Matt Coghlin slip-n-slide, Mark Hollis’ weather machine, Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr.’s NBA draft stock

Do Not Mention

Hahahahahahahahaha there are a couple of things.

Also Ben Carter in the high post against Syracuse.