Michigan State Spartans
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio
2015 Record: 12-2
2015 Bowl: 38-0 Loss to Alabama at Cotton Bowl- Semifinal
2016 Returning Starters: 2 Offense, 5 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +7800
Odds to win 2016 Big Ten Championship: +1100
Regular Season over/under: over 8.5 (+115), under 8.5 (-145)
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QB Tyler O’Connor came of age last season. He is coming of age and is a good leader, fleet of foot and has a strong, accurate arm. He is perfect in MSU’s pro-style offense, and though the offense only returns two starters, returning O’Connor is huge.
His best target may end up being TE Josiah Price. He has 66 career catches, but he battled an ankle injury much of last season. R.J. Shelton had 43 catches last season and is the team’s most experienced WR. He is capable of making clutch plays like he did at Rutgers and Michigan last season. True freshman Donnie Corley will be a source of excitement at WR this season, too.
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In the backfield the Spartans return its three leading rushers from 2015. Sophomores L.J. Scott and Madre London along with junior Gerald Holmes will be a strong unit capable of moving the ball. Last season, MSU averaged just 151.3 rushing yards per game, ranking No. 93 in the nation. Scott had 699 yards and was the go-to guy late in games.
The OL returns starters Brian Allen at C and Kodi Kisler at RT. 6’6” 282 pound junior Dennis Finley and 6’3” 327 pound senior LG Benny McGowan bring a lot of bulk and power on the line.
DT Malik McDowell will anchor the line, a likely first-round NFL draft pick. He is a major player who can prove disruptive, but there is a lot of inexperience surrounding McDowell on the DL. The Spartans lost both DEs, including Shilique Calhoun. Demetrius Cooper could be a great answer there, but he is not yet ready. The junior will be counted upon heavily, nevertheless. The LB position is deep and features senior Riley Bullough in the middle and sixth-year senior Ed Davis on the outside.
Davis will be needed as a playmaker, and they could have used him last year while he was out with a knee injury. Even so, MSU’s defense held opponents to 21.7 points and 349.9 yards per game, ranking No. 25 and No. 26 in the nation.
The rush defense was particularly effective, holding opponents to just 116.0 yards per game and ranking No. 11 in the country. S Montae Nicholson and CB Vayante Copeland will be part of an improved secondary. The Spartans were not good covering the pass last season, allowing 233.9 yards per game and ranking No. 76.
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Michael Geiger hit 26 of 41 FGA the last two seasons after going 15 of 16 as a freshman, but he had his moment of course when he hit the FG over Ohio State and proceeded to put on a bit of a celebration. Punter Jake Hartbarger has a strong leg, but will have to work on building consistency this season.
MSU opens the season at home against Furman on Sept. 2. Week 2 brings Independent Notre Dame on the road, and Week 3 is a home matchup against Wisconsin. MSU hosts Michigan on Oct. 29 and Ohio State on Nov. 19 and closes the season Nov. 26 at Penn State.
The Michigan State Spartans have their work cut out for them to repeat as Big Ten Champions. The schedule does make it fairly possible, however, with Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State all being home games. The season really will likely all come down to that Nov. 19 home matchup against the Buckeyes, so circle it on the calendar.
Prediction: 9 wins
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