Believe it or not, the Big Ten’s first spring football game is about to commence on Saturday afternoon. It will be the annual Green-White game for the Michigan State Spartans.
However, this isn’t going to be an ordinary spring game. That is impossible thanks to a lingering sexual assault investigation that has led on an unprecedented media blackout. To say things in East Lansing are tense right now may be an understatement.
What that means heading in to Saturday’s spring game is that those of us in the media literally know next to nothing about this team on the field. Luckily we do know that even with an ongoing sexual assault investigation the show will go on.
Head coach Mark Dantonio made it clear that there was thought of canceling the spring game, but there were other factors like not penalizing those who aren’t under investigation and giving the kids that were scheduled to come in as part of a youth clinic a chance to be a part of this.
So, there won’t be a lot we really know heading in to the scrimmage on Saturday. That doesn’t mean we can’t and won’t have expectations though. Here are three things we’ll expect to see and hear coming out of Saturday’s game.
Speculation Will Run Wild
There is no way to avoid it, speculation is going to run wild about which three players not on the field are the ones involved in the sexual assault allegations. Players aren’t going to be avoiding wearing their numbers and Dantonio has made it clear that there will be a group sitting this game out besides the three being investigated.
News reporters are not NOT going to report on those players who aren’t in uniform. That would be journalistic suicide and a clear dereliction of duty. However, only if the investigation brings up charges will the actual three names be confirmed.
Those of us in the media have the names, but it simply isn’t right or smart to release them until/if they are actually charged with a crime. It stinks that other players sitting out for suspension or other reasons are going to be lumped in to speculation, but it is inevitable when you pair curiosity with a public event like the spring game.
After 14 practices of hiding behind closed doors and not even a single internal production crew allowed around the team, this will be the first time seeing this team. Even if speculation over the three players isn’t the biggest headline, there’s a month or more of built up curiosity regarding the team on the field to deal with.
What fans and the media sees on Saturday afternoon will be the only judgement they can make for an entire offseason. It will certainly all boil down to speculation from here until August at the very least.
Quarterback Battle Takes Center Stage
No single position was as big of a mess in 2016 as that of the quarterback. It is a large part, although certainly not all, of the reason Michigan State limped to its worst record on the field since 2006 when the Spartans went 4-8.
This position may have been better had former walk-on sophomore Brian Lewerke not spent most of the season in a boot after breaking his leg. He seemed to steady the ship, finishing the year completing 54.4 percent of his passes for 381 yards and two touchdowns in four games of play.
Stats can be misleading, and given the multiple-quarterback situation for MSU last season, Lewerke’s stats are exactly that. Dantonio had enough confidence to name him the frontrunner for the starting job in 2017.
That doesn’t mean it will just be handed to him though. Senior Damion Terry seemed to slip down the depth chart quickly last season and this is his last shot. Meanwhile, highly touted redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver showed some big time promise in spring and fall camp last season.
Given Terry is injury-prone and deWeaver is still learning the offense inside-out, Lewerke seems like the logical choice. But, we haven’t seen 14 practices of work and perhaps Terry has shown the consistency of the Penn State game to wow the coaching staff. Then again, maybe deWeaver has commanded the offense well enough to put himself in the mix given his natural arm abilities?
You can bet that quarterback is going to be talked about one way or the other. Either a starter will emerge or the picture will be blurry and the problems of 2016 could plague this team again.
Is the Defense Back?
The old adage is that a defense is always ahead of an offense at this stage in a season. It’s true to some extent, but given the disaster that was a 3-9 season last year, this offseason isn’t going to be about installing offensive schemes or defensive wrinkles. It should have been (and likely was) all about competition across the board.
Michigan State’s annual spring game also provides for some of the best on-field competition we see every year. The captains picking players and the competitive nature of the game lends itself to being intriguing.
That also means we’re likely to get a good idea of just how competitive this defense looks after it got beat up time and again last season. Plenty of new faces will be in new places thanks to graduations, early NFL draft entry or transfers. Can this defense show it is on the road to becoming the dominant group we’ve been used to seeing under Dantonio?
Perhaps the biggest thing is to know that there is a clear-cut leader or three emerging from the spring to bring this unit together. If the spring game doesn’t show that, maybe it is time to worry about the Spartans ability to bounce back immediately this season.