Michigan State’s football program has covered the full range of emotions and excitement in the past three years. There’s been a 12-win season that included a Big Ten title and a playoff berth in 2015 and a 10-win season a year ago.

But that’s sandwiched around a 3-9 season in 2016 and sent everyone into a major panic. So as 2018 rolls around, the obvious question jumps out: Just how good can these Spartans be?

Some think very good. There are four very good teams in the Big Ten East and all four — Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan — have been picked by some to be the winner.

The journey begins at home against Utah State (Friday at 7 p.m. ET; TV: Big Ten Network). Here are five things we really have to see from Michigan State in Week 1:

1. Brian Lewerke shows us he’s a star in the making

It’s always nice to have a veteran quarterback in college football and the Spartans are lucky to have a guy like Brian Lewerke, who can make all the throws and knows the offense well. He threw for 2,793 yards last year and had 20 touchdown passes to only seven interceptions.

The big games are down the road, of course, but it’s important for Lewerke to step up and show us that he really is capable of putting up a bunch of points and making the Spartans a legitimate threat to chase titles. Might as well start with the opener.

2. Inexperienced defensive line not a liability

If we’re looking at a position group that has us concerned at Michigan State, it’s the defensive line. There’s talent there, but it’s a little bit young and a lot unproven. They need to step up, and stepping up in Week 1 will ease a lot of concerns.

Raequan Williams has been around, and he should be good along with Mike Panasiuk and Kenny Willekes. How good is the question. If they’re capable of dominating games, then Michigan State’s defense could be one of the best in the country.

3. Secondary shines despite Josiah Scott’s absence

With everyone back, Michigan State has high hopes to move up in passing yards allowed this season. Sophomore Josiah Scott, a breakout star a year ago as a freshman, is out for a month but there’s plenty of depth there and more stars on the way.

It will be nice to see this secondary lock down Utah State in the opener and send a message to quarterbacks down the road that passing against the Spartans is something you should try at your own risk. This group could be that good. Utah State has 18 starters back — including sophomore QB Jordan Love — so this is a test worth passing.

4. LJ Scott continues to rush to greatness

Michigan State’s LJ Scott is back for a fourth season with the Spartans and he’s already had nine 100-yard rushing games in his career, including at least one in all three previous seasons. He could have a breakout senior year, and he might as well start right from the beginning.

Utah State gave up 38.9 points per game in its seven 2017 losses, so it’s possible Scott could have a huge rushing day. Eliminating turnovers from his game has to be a must, as well. If he does, this could be a big year.

5. Late in a close game, someone has to make a big play

There’s been a theme to the final item in all our conference stories, and the same applies for the Spartans. It’s probably not a likely concern in Week 1, because Michigan State is a 23-point favorite against Utah State.

But it’s a good time to set the tone. Let’s see an interception returned for a touchdown, let’s see big catches on third down and let’s see long drives that eat up the clock and end in scores. There’s plenty of talent on this team, and for the end-of-season goals to come to fruition, it’s time for the stars to shine.