5 reasons Michigan State can win B1G
It turns out 2016 was a blip for Michigan State.
The Spartans were one of the most disappointing teams in the country that season, with a 3-9 record halting their streak of six consecutive winning seasons.
But 2017 saw Sparty resume its spot as one of the best teams the Big Ten has to offer. The Spartans won 10 games for the sixth time in eight seasons and defeated Washington State 42-17 in the Holiday Bowl.
MSU coach Mark Dantonio is in hot pursuit of the school record for victories. Legendary coach Duffy Daugherty was 109-69-5 in East Lansing from 1954 to 1972; Dantonio, 100-45 in 12 seasons, needs nine wins to tie Daugherty and 10 to pass him. Granted, teams play more games per season now than in Daugherty’s day, but Dantonio’s advantage in winning percentage (.690 to .609) is pretty significant.
The head coach is just one reason that Michigan State can make a serious run at the league title this season. This is the third in our week-long series of B1G contenders; we already made cases for Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Here are five reasons the Spartans can win the B1G:
Stability at the top
Dantonio has become an institution at Spartan Stadium and for good reason. But it’s not just the top guy bringing coaching chops to this staff. Offensive co-coordinators Jim Bollman and Dave Warner enter their sixth season sharing that role, and both have 30-plus years of college coaching experience. Mike Tressel, going it alone as defensive coordinator after tag-teaming with Harlon Barnett last year, is in his 12th season on the Spartans’ staff and worked under Dantonio at Cincinnati as well. That kind of stability matters to recruits.
So much production returning
Michigan State has 10 returning starters on offense and nine on defense from last season’s 10-3 team. According to SBNation research, the Spartans have the most combined offensive and defensive production returning in the country. That’s almost exactly split on both sides of the ball: 92 percent of the offensive production and 91 percent of the defensive production from last season will be on the field again. The next-highest B1G team on the returning production list is Michigan at No. 13.
Promising QB play
Brian Lewerke emerged last season as a quarterback worth watching in green and white. As a sophomore in 2017, Lewerke passed for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. And Lewerke can do a bit of damage with his feet as well, as he proved with 124 carries for 559 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. He was the team’s second-leading rusher last season behind running back LJ Scott, who also returns. But the offense start with Lewerke’s maturation throwing the ball, and that’s an area he should improve in 2018.
Who should defenses cover?
MSU does not appear to have the most spectacular talent at wide receiver in the league, but depth on this unit should create matchup problems. Senior Felton Davis and junior Darrell Stewart each had 50 or more receptions in 2017 and tight end Cody White had 35 catches for 490 yards. Stewart also rushed 20 times for 140 yards.
All of that D-line talent
Three of the four starters are back on a defensive line which helped Michigan State finish second in the country in rush defense, allowing just 95.3 yards per game on the ground. Defensive end Kenny Willekes is a preseason second-team All-B1G pick by Athlon’s and solid tackles Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams are back to help clog the middle. MSU was seventh in the country in total defense in 2017 and there is no reason to expect any less in 2018.