“We’ve got to figure out how to get better as a team, just more consistent,” Winston said, via MLive.com. “We were winning games, but we weren’t winning games pretty, and as crisp as we should with as much talent as we have. We still have a lot of improvements left to make as a team.”
Michigan State went from .500 football to nationally relevant in just one year’s time. Now the quest to keep up that national reputation is on. With plenty of parts returning many see the Spartans as a potential favorite to win the Big Ten again.
But, as the debate rages on in the hours leading up to kickoff let’s settle it once and for all. Here is your look at how we see Michigan State’s season playing out.
Aug. 29 – vs. Jacksonville State: WIN
Seriously, Michigan State better win this one by a ton or it may not be as good a season as most think. Look for Connor Cook to play the first half and the game to be wrapped up early in the 3rd quarter before he and the rest of the Spartans starters make way for the backups. Spartans by 35 at least.
Sept. 6 – at Oregon: LOSS
History says this is going to be a loss, it’s just what the majority of Big Ten teams do when traveling out to the Pac-12 and vice versa with the West Coasters. Yet this is perhaps the most telling matchup of the entire non-conference season. If the Spartans can go to Eugene, Ore. and take down the Ducks it will speak volumes of where MSU is on the national scale. Unfortunately I don’t see the defense matching up well against Marcus Mariota, who is a better passer and runner than Braxton Miller and MSU was barely able to do enough to contain him in the Big Ten championship game. Ducks win a close one.
Sept. 20 – vs. Eastern Michigan: WIN
Eastern Michigan may be getting better, but t’s a long way up from the bottom of FBS to being competitive against a Big Ten championship-caliber team. The Eagles are going to be in for a major beat down in this contest. I see this playing out a lot like the Jacksonville State game did.
Sept. 27 – vs. Wyoming: WIN
Wyoming’s new head coach, Craig Bohl wasn’t afraid of the Big Ten while at North Dakota State and he won’t be now that he’s at Wyoming. Unfortunately his Bison teams likely could’ve beaten Wyoming as well, and the Cowboys have a lot of improving to do before being on MSU’s level. Don’t be surprised if this is the closest of the non-conference games though because Bohl can flat out coach him some football.
Oct. 4 – vs. Nebraska: WIN
Nothing like jumping in to the deep end in Big Ten play, and that’s exactly what the Spartans will do. At least this one is at home, and these two former division rivals are likely to put on one heck of a defensive showcase in this one. However, I see the Spartans passing game as being more advanced, and with it at home it’s hard to see how MSU loses this one. It could happen, but I just don’t see it playing out that way. Look for a 7-10 win for MSU.
Oct. 11 – at Purdue: WIN
While MSU got in on the deep end of the pool, it managed to swim to the safety of the 4-foot section with a trip to Purdue as a reward for victory over Nebraska. Purdue is going to be better than it was in 2013, but Michigan State is likely to be just as good as it was too. It’s hard to see a way Purdue’s offense has enough to overpower MSU’s defensive front seven, so look for that to be the difference maker in a three to four touchdown win for the Spartans.
Oct. 18 – at Indiana: WIN
Two weeks in a row to Indiana has to feel like punishment for ruining the national championship hopes for the Big Ten last season. We all know Indiana and MSU are going to likely sling this one all over the park, and if last year’s matchup taught us anything it’s that Michigan State’s pass game can hang with the best of ’em. Look for this to be Cook’s most productive game to date, and for Sparty to walk away with a hard earned victory.
Oct. 25 – vs. Michigan: WIN
Little Brother is all grown up and making “big brother” feel a little bit less about themselves as of late. There’s nothing nice about this in-state rivalry since the roles have reversed, and 2014 shouldn’t be any different as Michigan will look to prove a lot of doubters wrong by pulling off a road win in the series. Unfortunately for them, Michigan State can match anything and everything Michigan wants to do — and can often do it better. MSU’s offensive line makes all the difference, as it’s another close one until late.
Nov. 8 – vs. Ohio State: WIN
At least the Spartans get a week off before taking on Ohio State, otherwise that would be some brutal stuff from the Big Ten scheduling office. Having this game at home is also important because winning in Columbus isn’t an easy thing to do for any team. For me it all comes down to the fact that Ohio State lost its dynamic playmaker that could win them this road game. With Braxton Miller it’s a loss for the home team, but no revenge will be had on this day in East Lansing.
Nov. 15 – at Maryland: WIN
Going to a new place can always be a bit tricky, and so can playing a Randy Edsall offense. Problem is, Michigan State has a $1 million defensive coordinator on staff to figure that tricky stuff out. He also happens to have a loaded group of players to help him with that plan. As much as Maryland could surprise some people, C.J. Brown isn’t consistent enough to win it for me. Michigan State keeps rolling towards clinching the Big Ten East.
Nov. 22 – vs. Rutgers: WIN
Rutgers did a very un-Big Ten like thing last night and took down Washington State, but let’s not jump to conclusions too fast here. The Scarlet Knights won thanks to some opportune defense and ball control offense. It isn’t going to be that easy against anyone in the Big Ten, let alone a reigning conference champion with six conference wins under its belt heading in to this contest. Connor Cook vs. Gary Nova? I’m going Connor Cook all day, every day.
Nov. 29 – at Penn State: WIN
Penn State and Michigan State play for the Land-Grant Trophy…so that’s something. Nothing about this game should be taken lightly though, especially with it being played in Happy Valley. This will likely be the best quarterback matchup of the entire season between PSU’s Hackenberg and MSU’s Cook. The difference is Hackenberg will make more mistakes against a very talented MSU secondary. Look for a 4-10 point win as MSU scores a late touchdown to seal victory.
Overall Record: 11-1
Big Ten Record: 8-0
Spartans to name Bill Beekman as new AD
MSU expected to remove interim tag from Bill Beekman in a press conference on Monday morning.
Michigan State has undergone a huge leadership transformation following the sex abuse scandal that plagued the athletic department and led to the AD leaving and the university president resigning as well.
Bill Beekman was named interim AD following Mark Hollis’ resignation last January. Apparently he has impressed the Board of Trustees enough in his just about three-month tenure to earn the new job on a permanent basis. This will be his first official job in any capacity within an athletic department.
The Detroit Free Press first reported the Beekman would get the interim tag removed from him on Sunday night. On Monday morning, the Spartans held a press conference and announced that very thing.
Beekman is a name that many on the Board of Trustees would be familiar with, having served on the board himself starting in 2008 until his appointment as the interim athletic director. He also has served as the executive director for the MSU Alumni Association and is a 1989 graduate of Michigan State.
Clearly he has the Spartan blood running through him, but most importantly, he has apparently done a great job of getting the big names behind him in the process. According to sources, both Mark Dantonio and Tom Izzo have been impressed by what Beekman has brought to the table in reshaping the department since his arrival.
Additionally, this move makes sense as the Board of Trustees isn’t likely to name a replacement to interim president John Engler until at least this time next year.
The university put out a media notice through the Big Ten of a press conference set for 11am ET for what it is calling “regarding an athletic-related personnel announcement.”
You can see the press conference on BTN or via BTN2Go.
Michigan State Spartans Football Preview: Reasons to be Optimistic
We continue our look at the 2018 Michigan State Spartans with a look at reasons to be optimistic heading in to the season.
Michigan State has been a surprising team as of late. First it surprised everyone by going from the College Football Playoff to a 3-9 team in a matter of one season. Then it surprised a lot of people from weathering that 33-9 season and a horrible offseason to return to a Big Ten East contender in 2017.
So, where does that leave the 2018 version of Mark Dantonio’s Spartans? Well, we’re here to break that down all week and today we’ll give you the reasons to be optimistic about MSU.
Holy Experience Batman
One reason why Michigan State has been so successful under Mark Dantonio is that he has a system and sticks to it. That consistency helps his players in a major way, but so does having experienced players executing that system.
So, it should be no coincidence that when the Spartans are at their best it’s with a very experienced team.
The 2018 version of the Spartans return 19 starters, including 10 on the offensive side of the ball. Spearheading that attack is second-year starting QB Brian Lewerke, whose ability to be a deadly passer as well as a deadly runner has added a different wrinkle to the MSU offense.
Defensively, this team is as strong as it may ever be under Dantonio. Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams are beasts at defensive tackle and Joe Bachie follows a long line of quality middle linebackers behind that group. In fact, another season like Bachie had in 2017 and he could be the best middle linebacker MSU has seen in the Dantonio era. Those are just three of 9 returning starters for a defense that was No. 2 in the country against the run last season.
That 2017 team was light on experience, but had plenty of potential. Fast forward a season and this is one of the more experienced teams in the Big Ten, and that should help them contend in the rough and tumble Big Ten East division.
Skill Position Depth
This isn’t your brother or sister’s Michigan State Spartans squad anymore. No longer does MSU have to pound you in to submission on offense. Instead, it can be as dynamic an offense as any the Big Ten has to offer.
One huge reason for that is a deep group of skill position players at the ready. MSU has arguably its most versatile group of wide receivers it has had in the 2010’s. 6 foot, 4 inch tall Felton Davis is a matchup nightmare thanks to his size and speed, while Darrell Stewart is perfect in the slot and can kill you with deceptive speed. Both caught over 50 passes last season to prove they belong. Meanwhile up and coming Cody White is another big threat, catching 35 passes as a freshman last year.
Defensively, things look good on the edge with the combo of Justin Layne and Josiah Scott. Layne’s size (6-3) and Scott’s ability to use his hands well makes this combo difficult to pass against. Scott nabbed a pair of interceptions and led the team with 10 pass breakups as a freshman last season, while Layne had eight of his own pass break ups and a forced fumble to go with 40 total tackles as well.
There’s also depth behind them at cornerback and two safeties that are proving to grow in to their roles. Having the skill positions be a strength should only help an offensive line that returns a lot of starting experience but lacked quality run game production a season ago.
Few coaches in the Big Ten get as much out of their talent as Dantonio does in East Lansing.
Any time you have Dantonio on your side, it’s a reason to be optimistic that things are going to be just fine. How Dantonio helped his guys weather an offseason storm and how he took the slings and arrows of the media over the past 18 months is a testament to why the team can be successful on the field.
In a conference that has upgraded its overall coaching talent, Dantonio still stands out as one of the best motivators and teachers in the Big Ten. Don’t underestimate that mattering when the games kick off this fall.
There is certainly reason for renewed optimism around the Spartans program.
While it may be difficult to get all the way back to the College Football Playoff level, at least the Spartans aren’t going backwards as many seemed to think they were heading in to 2017.
Combining Dantonio’s steady system with experienced players who just so happen to be very productive while gaining that experience is a great reason to be bullish on this team. Don’t be surprised to see this formula equal a run towards the East division title and national recognition too.
Michigan State Spartans Football Preview: Lessons from 2017
What did the 2017 season teach us about the Michigan State Spartans program?
There was little doubt that 2017 was going to be a defining season in the Mark Dantonio era. With a ton of pressure from the outside world and a crazy 3-9 season in the rearview mirror, either Dantonio would sink his own ship or right it.
It didn’t take long to see that a program in turmoil had banded together in an “us vs. them” mentality that worked well for the Spartans.
The result was a 10-3 season, wins over two of the biggest names in the Big Ten East division and a very different narrative heading in to the 2018 offseason.
But, with so much happening around the program last season, what lessons were learned that would apply to 2018?
Let’s take a look at what lessons we believe will matter going forward.
Adversity Wears Well on Spartans
No team in the Big Ten had a worse 2017 offseason than the Spartans did. There were awful off-field allegations, charges and convictions. There were players suspended, kicked off the team and transfers.
Yet, when the dust settled on the 2017 season, a team that seemingly was in disarray nearly won the East division. A team that won just three games in 2016 and suffered through a very public and ugly offseason managed to right the ship right away and went 7-2 in Big Ten play.
There were wins over rival Michigan and a red-hot Penn Stat program and a massive blowout of Washington State in the Holiday bowl for redemption of not being selected for a seemingly better positioned bowl game.
At every step of the way in 2017 there was major adversity. Instead of folding, Mark Dantonio’s crew rallied together and came away with a season few saw coming from the outside world.
It was certainly a positive lesson for everyone involved — from what not to do off the field to how to grow together in the face of major doubters. By the end of it all, MSU football felt like it was closer to being back in the Big Ten title picture than ever before. The lesson of the 2017 season won’t soon be forgotten.
1-QB System Works Best
If you would’ve told anyone back in the 2016 offseason that Brian Lewerke would be the answer to MSU’s quarterback hopes, few would’ve believed you. Yet, the pattern of quarterback-by-committee not working and then getting a leader to emerge and make the team dangerous the next continued on.
No position seems to hold the keys to success or failure at Michigan State more that quarterback. It’s no coincidence that settling on one quarterback has proven to be the defining factor in offensive success at MSU.
Lewerke looked like the better option in 2016, took hold of the position in 2017 and the Spartans offense was back off to the races. The sophomore signal caller threw for over 2,700 yards and 20 touchdowns compared to just 7 interceptions. Compare that to the three-headed QB monster in 2016 that ended up with just 2,668 yards, completed just 57 percent of their passes and had just 19 touchdowns to 11 interceptions.
Coming up the ranks from a walk-on to starter in the face of supposed stiff competition from Damion Terry, Tyler O’Connor and emerging as the steadying force showed that picking one quarterback and sticking with them is a recipe for better chances at success in East Lansing.
Lewerke established himself as the starter and has two more years to lead this team forward. If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that Lewerke is not to be underestimated, just like the Spartans as a whole.
This Offense has to be More Than Lewerke
As impressive as Brian Lewerke was last season, for large swaths of 2017 he was the only offense that mattered for Michigan State.
In fact, not only did Lewerke lead the way through the air, he was the Spartans leading rusher for much of the year too. Only a late-season surge from L.J. Scott, who only had three 100-yard games on the entire season, allowed him to overtake Lewerke on the ground.
Scott finished the season with 898 yards to Lewerke’s 559 yards, with Scott leading the TD category 8 to 5.
While it was nice to see the team back to winning against quality competition, the Spartans were torn apart by teams who could shut Lewerke down. Ohio State tore apart MSU and more importantly, held Lewerke completely in check. He rushed for just 2 total yards and passed for just 131 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns in the 48-3 loss.
Can Scott become the star everyone thought he might have been last season, this season? If MSU wants to become a true East division and Big Ten title contender, it has to re-establish a tough run game that doesn’t rely on Lewerke to be the leading rusher for most of the season.
Is Michigan State’s March magic in danger of running out in 2018?
Michigan State has limped through the start of March, can it right the ship and pull off its usual March magic?
Death, taxes and the Michigan State Spartans going deep in March under Tom Izzo.
Almost all three of these things are automatic in life.
Usually we’re talking about Michigan State and deep runs in the NCAA tournament. After all, this was a program that went to back-to-back Sweet Sixteen’s and then an Elite Eight and a Final Four in four straight seasons from 2012 to 2015.
But, the last few seasons have ended in much quicker fashion than normal, with a first round exit in 2016 and a second round exit last season.
All seemed right heading in to this March though, with the Spartans riding a 13-game win streak and a Big Ten regular season title.
But, March took on a different tone for this team and those deep runs MSU is famous for may not be worth betting on this time around.
One loss in 15 games may not be anything to worry about, but the devil is in the details as to why MSU may not be the solid bet everyone seems to think they are.
It actually started in late February, with Michigan State being taken to the wire by a lower-half Wisconsin Badgers team in the regular season finale. Five days later, that same Badgers team did it again, making the Spartans work for a 63-60 victory in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals.
A day later and MSU found itself out of the tournament at the hands of bitter in-state rival Michigan. The Wolverines played the type of game most expect from the Spartans and won 75-64.
That was the end to a 13-game win streak, but the cracks were clearly there prior to the loss.
Michigan State struggled to score in both games against the Badgers and over the past three games have only been shooting 41.6 percent from the field. Additionally, the Spartans have scored under their conference season average of 76.5 points per game in five of their final seven games.
Of course, one could also see it as a positive that MSU found ways to win six of those seven games despite not playing its best basketball.
But, come March all it takes is one day or night of off basketball and you are bounced from the tournament.
That fact isn’t lost on the team, as guard Cassius Winston pointed out that the upcoming break needs to be about MSU finding its rhythm once again.
Maybe it is a good thing the loss came on Saturday in the Big Ten tournament, giving the Spartans a bit of an extended break ahead of the NCAA tournament. The team certainly sees the extra week of prep as helpful.
“We can sharpen up on a lot of things, understand ourselves as a team more and get better offensively, because we’re not as sharp as we have been,” Spartans guard Joshua Langford said, via MLive.com. “This break is going to be great for us.”
The Spartans have the Big Ten’s most talented starting five and certainly can go deep in to the NCAA tournament, but this isn’t a team that screams classic Tom Izzo tournament run. Something seems off about this team heading in to the tournament, let’s see if they can find the spark to dominate like they have most of the season.
If not, expect this NCAA tournament run to not last very long.