The 2018 season did not go as planned for most people with a vested interest in Michigan State football. The Spartans returned the core of a 10-win team and were expected to be serious contenders for the Big Ten East title. Instead, injuries and a general lack of consistency on offense doomed head coach Mark Dantonio's club — resulting in a 7-6 season and a fourth-place finish in the division.
Looking ahead to 2019 and the season opener against Tulsa, there are some reasons for Michigan State to be excited about to the upcoming campaign. Here are three reasons why the Spartans and their loyal followers should feel good about 2019.
1. Plenty of returning starters
The Spartans will return 16 of 22 regular starters on offense and defense. That will once again make this club one of the more experienced in the Big Ten East. Dantonio has done a terrific job over the years of constructing his roster to the point of minimizing any rebuilds or learning curves, and his record is demonstrative of that. Two of those key returners are Raequan Williams and Kenny Willekes, who possibly form the best returning defensive lineman duo in the Big Ten.
2. A quarterback controversy
Yes, this is a good thing. You have a proven starter in Brian Lewerke who has played at a high level and led the Spartans to some big wins. That said, he struggled mightily at times in 2018. Pushing him for the starting job will be Rocky Lombardi, who stepped in and showed promise at times last season. If Lewerke holds onto the job, the Spartans go into every game with the more experienced signal-caller. If Lombardi wins the gig, it's because he beat out one of the most seasoned quarterbacks in the country. A lot of teams would love to have Michigan State's situation.
3. Urban Meyer's departure
Don't underestimate the impact of the void left by the departure of one of the three most dominant head coaches in college football over the last 10 years. The question marks in Columbus are big enough to make the Big Ten East wide open. If Michigan or Penn State can beat the Buckeyes, it will go along way in Michigan State having the potential to control its own destiny. The Spartans get Penn State at home and have winnable games bookending the early and late portions of the schedule. There's no reason Michigan State can't go into the final weekend with a chance to lock up a division title.
— 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 is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.