Head coach Mark Dantonio will have the core of his 10-win Michigan State team from 2017 returning this season. With the exodus of talent at Ohio State and Penn State, it's not crazy to think that these Spartans could very well emerge as the team to beat in the Big Ten East in 2018. Much of that will depend on the growth, development and health of a couple of key players during the spring practice season.
Here are 5 players to keep an eye on as spring practice progresses in East Lansing.
Brian Lewerke, QB
Lewerke (above, right) was proably reason No. 1 for the incredible Michigan State turnaround from 2016 to ‘17. He emerged as one of the more dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the Big Ten, if not the country. If the Spartans are going to be contenders for a division, conference or even national title, Lewerke will need to stay healthy. From an actual production and development standpoint, look for changes in the offensive scheme that have him throwing the ball a little deeper down the field more consistency — the hope being that he can improve on his 6.7 yards per attempt average.
LJ Scott, RB
Mark Dantonio's squads are always going to feature a power, capable rushing attack. Scott should once again be the workhorse in the backfield — due to both his own talent and a lack of proven depth at the running back position. As a result, you may not see him getting a whole lot of work in the spring — especially during contact drills. Those with a vested interest in Michigan State football should be happy just to see him running well and not losing a step as spring practice wraps up.
Matt Allen, C
Without a doubt, the biggest loss the Spartans suffered from a personnel standpoint was center Brian Allen. His brother Matt — a redshirt freshman — looks like the lead candidate to step in and fill that void. Continuity and chemistry with both Lewerke and the rest of the offensive line will be key the younger Allen this spring. If he can get comfortable in the role quickly and develop into the leader he needs to be heading into the fall, big thing could be in store for the Spartans in 2018.
Joe Bachie, LB
Bachie had a breakout season in 2017, asserting himself as one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten. Heading into his junior season in 2018, the high-volume tackler has the look of a difference-maker on defense similar to what Josey Jewell was over the last four seasons at Iowa. Spartan faithful will want to keep an eye on Bachie's development. Any improvement in his game will only make an already stout Spartan defense that much better.
Kalon Gervin, CB
Gervin is a highly touted incoming freshman who has the look of a guy who can play immediately. He wisely enrolled early and will now have extra time to learn the defensive scheme and his role in it. With his already advanced technique and sprinter speed, the thought of a talent like Gervin being comfortable in the system heading into the fall should frighten every opponent on Michigan State's schedule. He progress is worth monitoring based on what appears to be unlimited potential.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation and Bleacher Report. He has covered the Big Ten Conference extensively throughout his career. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.