After a forgettable 2016 season where the team only won three games, Mark Dantonio's Michigan State Spartans bounced back to win 10 in '17. The turnaround was a testament to Dantonio's prowess as both a coach and a recruiter as well as the resiliency of the blue-collar program he has built.
As always, life in the loaded Big Ten East won't be easy in 2018. All of the usual suspects -- Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan -- are once again expected to be serious players in the race to the College Football Playoff. The Spartans will face all three of those teams in a five-week stretch that runs from mid-October into November.
Luckily for Dantonio and his staff, the Spartans return a ton of talent from last season's 10-win team. That includes what may very well be the best quarterback-running back combination in the Big Ten Conference in Brian Lewerke and LJ Scott.
In all, Michigan State returns 19 (out of 22) offensive and defensive starters from 2017. They will lean on that experience as well as the culture of resiliency and toughness created by their head coach as they assert themselves as serious contender for the Big Ten East crown.
Athlon Sports polled a few editors and college football contributors share their realistic win/loss projection for Michigan State in 2018.
Michigan State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2018
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Michigan State was one of college football’s most-improved teams last season. The Spartans jumped from three victories in 2016 to 10 last fall. And with 19 returning starters, coach Mark Dantonio’s team should contend for the Big Ten title. Quarterback Brian Lewerke ranks among the nation’s best, and running back LJ Scott returns for his senior year to anchor the ground game. The defense will have a new play-caller after Harlon Barnett left for Florida State. However, Dantonio and coordinator Mike Tressel won’t allow this unit to suffer any drop off. The schedule is favorable. Michigan State hosts Michigan and Ohio State and won’t have to play Wisconsin or Iowa in crossover play. However, the guess here is the Spartans won’t have the same fortune in close games this year and lose an upset or two -- but still finish in the top 10-15 with a nine- or 10-win season.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Michigan State's toughest tests come later in the season, but the Spartans' first month should be interesting. Utah State will be much improved and could be a bit tricky. The trip to Tempe will be intriguing; it's the first big game of the Herm Edwards era, and the Sun Devils do have some talent. Indiana, on the road, will not be an easy Big Ten opener, and Central Michigan, while the weakest opponent in this opening stretch, is a solid MAC team. That being said, MSU should be 4-0 as it embarks on a challenging final two months. I'm calling for (another!) win over Michigan at home but an "upset" loss at Nebraska. This is not a great Nebraska team, but the Huskers figure to improve as the season progresses, and the game is in Lincoln.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
Last season's turnaround by Sparty might have been as shocking to see play out as their massive underachieving effort the year before. It feels like the entire team returns to East Lansing and the talk of them winning the league and returning to he playoff probably isn't too far off. Expect Brian Lewerke to continue to get better at quarterback and for the offense to be a little more explosive. The secondary might be able to take that next step as well and the schedule is quite manageable. Still, while it seems like Michigan State is a lock for being a very good team in 2018, I'm not quite willing to pull the trigger on the Spartans being an elite one given how tough the division is.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
The Spartans are not only a sleeper to win the Big Ten East, this is a team that is talented enough to fight its way into the College Football Playoff. They have a coach who has been there, a talented playmaker at quarterback, experience across the board and a system that flat out works.
There are only three teams on the schedule (Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State) with comparable or better talent than what Michigan State has on its roster. the Spartans will get two of those teams -- Michigan and Ohio State -- at home in East Lansing. I like Mark Dantonio's group to win a hotly-contested Big Ten East race and return to the Big Ten Championship Game with a spot in the College Football Playoff on the line.