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Michigan State Is 11th In The Preseason AP Poll, But We Can Expect More From Them This Season

No real surprises in the top 25. Having Wisconsin at No. 4 will surely end in disaster in December, but they earned their spot by going 13-1 and beating Miami in the Orange Bowl. The Big Ten East has supplanted the SEC West as the top division in college football, and the preseason poll reflects that.

Michigan State at No. 11 shows that the AP, as well as Spartan fans, have great reason to be cautiously optimistic. The Spartans had more highs than lows in their 2017 campaign, but the lows were very low. Namely, losing to Northwestern 39-31 in triple overtime despite 445 passing yards from Brian Lewerke, and getting destroyed by the Buckeyes 48-3 the week after beating Penn State in a rain-soaked Spartan Stadium. However, the Spartans return 19 starters, tied for the most in the country, including dark-horse Heisman candidate quarterback Brian Lewerke.

2017 was Lewerke’s first year as Michigan State’s starter, and he had flashes of brilliance that should put him among the top quarterbacks in 2018. He ended with a 59% completion percentage, 20 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, but Lewerke’s top 3 receivers from 2017, Felton Davis, Darrell Stewart, and Cody White, are all returning for the 2018 season. Lewerke became the second quarterback in Michigan State history to throw for over 400 yards when he threw for 445 against Northwestern in Week 9. He followed this performance up with another 400 yard appearance the next week in a win at home against Penn State. On top of Lewerke’s passing ability, he is just as dangerous running the ball. Recruited as a pocket passer out of high school, Lewerke proved this past season that he has the speed to take the ball 61 yards to the house, as he did against Western Michigan.

Lewerke finished with 559 yards rushing, the most since Drew Stanton in 2004 and the fourth MSU QB to eclipse the 500-yard mark.

Joining Lewerke in the backfield is senior running back LJ Scott, most famous for his touchdown against Iowa in the 2015 Big Ten Championship as a true freshman.

We can expect LJ Scott to finish the season with well over 1000 yards, running behind an offensive line that returns both guards and tackles, losing center Brian Allen to the NFL.

The hallmark of Michigan State that led them to the CFB Playoff, a Rose Bowl win, a Cotton Bowl win, and 5 ten-win seasons in 6 years, was their defense.

Last year, the Spartans were ranked 12th in the country and are poised to return to the top ten this year. The Spartans had 9 players receiving at least All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors, 8 of these players are returning, including Joe Bachie, Mike Panasiuk, and Raequan Williams, three run-stoppers from MSU’s second-rated rush defense in 2017.

Right now, I think that Michigan State is better than the eleventh best team in the country, but the 2016 season is still affecting this team in the eyes of pollsters. Improving by 7 wins from 2016 to 2017 was one of the largest improvements in the country, and the 10-win team only lost three starters. The road to the Big Ten Championship should run through East Lansing; they host both Michigan and Ohio State, but travel to Happy Valley to take on the Saquon Barkley-less Nittany Lions on October 13. Mark Dantonio always has the Spartans ready to battle. In 2016, the effort was there but the talent wasn’t, 2017 was a young team that over-performed, and the 2018 Spartans should be a force to be reckoned with.