Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong last season did for Michigan State, as the Spartans tumbled all the way to 3-9 and just a game ahead of winless Rutgers for last place in the Big Ten East. Spartan fans should expect a bounce back this fall, but not all the way back to when Michigan State was contending for conference titles and appearing in the College Football Playoff, With only five starters returning, questions at numerous positions and minimal depth, this looks to be a rebuilding year of sorts for Mark Dantonio’s team.
Previewing Michigan State Football’s Offense for 2017
Michigan State’s pro-style offense will get back to smashmouth basics and effectiveness in 2017 with a punishing tailback, good talent at wideout, a capable offensive line and a rising quarterback you may not have heard of in Brian Lewerke. The mobile, crafty Lewerke started two games at midseason last year as a freshman before being lost to a broken leg, but he has come back strong. Lewerke has the arm to throw to the wide side of the field and the quick mind to get the ball out on time.
Sophomore Trishton Jackson looks like a future All-Big Ten candidate at wide receiver. Donnie Corley was the leading returning receiver, with 33 catches a year ago as a freshman. However, Corley was dismissed from the team in early June.
Junior tailback LJ Scott broke the 100-yard mark in four of the last six games last year and is motivated to have a good enough season to leave for the NFL one year early. Senior Gerald Holmes is a rugged, reliable leader with 1,015 career rushing yards and 13 TDs.
There are questions at tight end with Josiah Price and his 22 career touchdowns having graduated, but junior Matt Sokol is taller, a bit more athletic and ready.
The Spartans are good at left tackle with Cole Chewins and center with Brian Allen. MSU can put players with starting experience at the other three positions.
Previewing Michigan State Football’s Defense for 2017
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Michigan State would like to get away from some of the predictable nature of its quarters zone defense, but it needs established, quality defensive backs to make progress in that area. The Spartans have developed talent in the back end but might be a year away from having the type of run-stopping front, pass rush and experience in the secondary to have hopes of fielding their first top-10 defense since Pat Narduzzi’s departure.
In the meantime, a strong tag team of young defensive tackles — sophomores Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk — is laying the groundwork for Michigan State’s defensive revitalization. Redshirt freshman Naquan Jones is a bull, too. However, there is a lack of a proven edge rusher. Demetrius Cooper was a disappointment and needs to have a bounce-back season. Robert Bowers is progressing nicely but isn’t a difference maker.
Chris Frey brings psycho intensity at Sam linebacker. He’s not a superstar, but he’s dependable and energetic. A heady thumper with good speed, Joe Bachie is ready to emerge as the next standout middle linebacker for the Spartans.
Youngsters Justin Layne and Josiah Scott could be future stars at cornerback. Junior Vayante Copeland won't return to the team. Michigan State’s speed is suspect at safety with Khari Willis, Matt Morrissey and Grayson Miller.
Previewing Michigan State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Jake Hartbarger is back after ranking sixth in the Big Ten in punting with a 40.9-yard average. Redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin, the new placekicker, had shaky stats as a high school senior.
It’s doubtful that Michigan State will be able to rise up from last year’s disastrous 3–9 season to replicate something similar to the Spartans’ 2015 trek to the College Football Playoff or their top-five finishes of 2013 and ’14. A landing somewhere between those two extremes is more likely as Mark Dantonio tries to work past off-field problems and rekindle the discipline and toughness that helped him put Michigan State in the national picture.
The beginning of a new bowl streak is likely in 2017, as the rebuilding process takes shape with a number of intriguing young playmakers on the roster. However, Michigan State doesn’t have the proven depth or senior leadership of the championship-level teams Dantonio fielded earlier this decade.