Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State Spartans
After years of success under Mark Dantonio, the wheels fell completely off of the wagon last fall, as the Spartans started to suffer losses they were not seemingly prepared to take on. The Spartans proceeded to finish 1-8 in Big 10 play, and just 3-9 overall, and there were signs that the 2016 version of Michigan State football was in trouble right from game one. After all of that, there was an assistant released basically for trying to obstruct an investigation into a team related sexual assault case, and three more players have been charged with felonies since that time. Dantonio is handling everything in typical upstanding Dantonio fashion, but is he losing his grip on this once proud program? Can he and his current staff right the course?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The RB duo of LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes will return intact this fall, as the two backs combined for 1425 yards and 11 scores. Scott is the work horse of the two, as he carried the football 184 times last season as compared to 91 carries by Holmes, but they create a nice one-two punch out of the backfield when needed.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The Spartans have holes to fill everywhere, and that is a terrible issue to deal with on top of the off-field drama that is playing out in East Lansing these days.
The first major issue is at QB, where Tyler O'Connor largely failed to live up to Connor Cook, and really struggled most of last season. O'Connor will not get another crack at running the team, as he has graduated and moved on. Sophomore Brian Lewerke and senior Damian Terry will battle it out for the starting job, but neither has a ton of experience or success as Spartans under their collective belts. Lewerke adds a solid dimension in that he is a dual threat capable QB, while Terry does not fit that bill nearly as well. Lewerke averaged over seven yards per carry when pressed into duty last season. With that in mind, neither impressed as passers in limited duty.
Once the staff figures out the QB issue, they have to figure out who to throw the football to. Monty Madaris and RJ Shelton are gone, as is TE Josiah Price, who was effective at times. Donnie Corley, a sophomore, was the most experienced receiver slated to return, but he is now gone. Felton Davis III is now the most experienced returning receiver, and he had all of 12 receptions last fall.
There are issues on the line as well, as only the left side returns intact with LT Cole Chewins, a sophomore, and LG Brian Allen, a senior, slated to return as starters. The entire line needs to be rebuilt from Center to Right Tackle.
There is also a void at PK, as Michael Geiger is gone after hitting 15/19 FG attempts last season. Brett Scanlon, who was the third strong PK last fall, is the only player left from last season's depth chart that can compete for the job.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
There is some good news to be had for the Spartans on the line, where all four starters from the season finale will return this fall. Demetrius Cooper and Robert Bowers will both be back to start at DE. Cooper finished with six TFLs while Bowers played in seven games last season, and is just getting ready to become a full time starter, if he holds the job in fall camp. Mike Panasiuk is back at DT, while Raequan Williams will return at the NT spot. Williams finished with five TFLs last fall, while Panasiuk rotated in and out as a freshman. Expect this group to be solid from day one, and finally have a chance to gel together. Dillon Alexander will be back to add some depth at the DE spot. Kyonta Stallworth and Devyn Salmon will be around to push for some time at DT, while senior Gerlad Owens will rotate at NT.
Andrew Dowell and Chris Frey will be back at the OLB spots this fall. Dowell will start at STAR, while Frey will man the SAM spot. Frey led the team with 96 tackles last season, while Dowell finished with 67. Tyriq THompson will return as a sophomore to try and get some time in behind either spot.
Jake Hartbarger will be back at Punter after averaging 40.94 yards per punt, with the hope being that further development will bring his numbers up this fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The middle man in  the defense, and the overall leader, Riley Bullough, is gone at MLB, and Malik McDowell, the sometimes star on the line who showed up when he wanted to, is also gone. Those were two players who were heavily depended upon last fall, but the Spartans have some talent both up fron and in the middle to come forward to take up leadership mantles and roles. The main issue on both the line and at LB will be depth, because there just is not much coming back at either spot. Joe Bachie, a sophomore, will likely step into the starting role at MIKE backer, but he should expect some push from Shane Jones. The outside backer spots are thin on the bench, and that could create cause for concern.
The secondary is largely being rebuilt, as two seniors departed in FS Demetrius Cox and CB Darian Hicks. They combined for 13 PBUs last fall, and that is some serious production to recreate. CB Justin Layne is also gone from the roster, leaving a third starter from the season finale being gone. There could be some major slippage against the pass this season.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Bowling Green, 9/9 Western Michigan, 9/23 Notre Dame, 9/30 Iowa, 10/7 at Michigan, 10/14 at Minnesota, 10/21 Indiana, 10/28 at Northwestern, 11/4 Penn State, 11/11 at Ohio State, 11/18 Maryland, 11/25 at Rutgers
Final Overview
The Spartans are in for another rough ride this fall, unfortunately. As the roster stands now, and looking at the overall schedule in Big 10 play, I believe that any dreams of the Spartans returning to a bowl game are probably misplaced hope, at best. There are just far too many issues on offense to overcome in one season, and the defense has some serious lack of production issues off of the edge, and in the secondary, to allow me to think that Dantonio can turn this mess around this season. What is more concerning is that he could be on the hot seat for a multitude of reasons after this season ends, and he is too good a coach to find himself here. Get ready, because it will be a bumpy ride in East Lansing this fall.

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