2019 College Football Preview: Michigan State Spartans

(Photo: Shilique Calhoun, 2015 Spartan Football)

Michigan State Spartans

Head Coach: Mark Dantonio

2018 Record: 7-6, 5-4 Conference

Bowl: 6-7 Loss to Oregon at Redbox Bowl

Season Win Prop: 8 wins (O -165, U +135)

Make 4 Team Playoff: Yes +2500, No -10000

The Michigan State Spartans will be better this season than last, but still will likely fall short of what could be considered a “conference contender.”

They are just close enough that the true contenders in the Big Ten can hardly sleep on them, however. Mark Dantonio returns a good QB in Brian Lewerke and his defense should be top-shelf, as well. Just that bodes well enough for the Spartan’s to improve on last year’s 7-6 campaign, but how close can the team come to challenging the likes of Ohio State and Michigan? Let us take a look.

Offense

Brian Lewerke is essential to the offense. It was definitely illustrated when he went down in week 6 with a shoulder injury: The Spartans failed to score more than seven points in four of its next seven games. He attempted to play through the injury, but he was clearly quite affected by it. His arm strength and accuracy were both diminished as the Spartans tried to recapture the early season success that saw it start the season 3-1. The injuries to Cody White, Darrell Stewart Jr., and Jalen Nailor compounded these issues, and Michigan State is hoping to avoid the injury pitfalls in 2019.

That injured trio of receivers will have to stay healthy for the Spartans to reach its full potential. White is a big threat on the outside for huge plays. Stewart has 101 career receptions and is great in the slot receiving position. Tight end Matt Dodson had 14 receptions last season, and he is a good downfield target. The passing game should be strong.

The OL also returns seven with starting experience, and it was a lineup that cycled through nine different starting arrangements last year (due to injury issues). MSU was not the most physical up front, and it struggled with double-team blocks the entire season. Left tackle Cole Chewin and right tackle Jordan Reid have both bulked up, and that should add some more physicality to a line that needs it. OL coach Jim Bollman is in his first year in that role, and he is hoping for improvement. Matt Allen and Kevin Jarvis will be good at the center and right guard.

Defense

MSU led the nation in rush defense last season, and it should be just as good this year with its DTs Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams back in the fold. They are both now seniors and should be strong leaders for the defense. DE Kenny Willekes’s leg injury in the Redbox Bowl was something of a blessing in disguise, as it kept him at Michigan State for another season instead of testing his draft potential. He won Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year last season, and he led the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 20.5.

Joe Bachie was first-team All-Big Ten last season after starting 26 games at Michigan State so far. Tyriq Thompson is a solid strong-side LB, while Antjuan Simmons is a new starter at Star linebacker. Both should be good creators of pressure this season and keep the pass defense strong with the pressure. Josiah Scott may benefit as the next big thing at cornerback. He missed the first eight games of last season with a knee injury. Shakur Brown and Josh Butler will split time at the other corner.

David Dowell has made the All-Big Ten team twice at safety, but he can be better still if he develops more consistency to his approach. Xavier Henderson had a decent freshman year, and he will be a key safety after starting last season as a nickel back.

Special Teams

Matt Coghlin hit 18 of 22 field goals to make First-team All-Big Ten. He also hit a career-high 49-yard attempt. Jake Hartbarger has a 42.1 yard average on punts over his NCAA career. He will have a sixth-year of eligibility due to his broken leg last year. Kick returns will be fielded by Connor Heyward, while punts go to Jalen Nailor.

Final Word

Michigan State will be in the conversation simply due to its strong defense, and Dantonio will make his 12th bowl appearance due to it, as well. But what more can be said? Can Michigan State sneak into contention in any possible world? That probably hinges on an unexpected performance leap from the offensive line, which may take more than just this season to occur.

  • Prediction: 8 wins
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