The Michigan State Spartans were a surprise to many last year as they made a run for the Big Ten Championship. After a rough loss to Notre Dame early in the season, Sparty went on to finish 9-2 with a heartbreaking loss in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan State scored the the lone Big Ten win over the SEC with their thrilling triple overtime victory over Georgia in the Outback Bowl. While the Spartans are going to break in a lot of new offensive players, their defense will be one of the best in the nation.
Michigan State loses quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Edwin Baker and a host of wide receivers on offense. Junior Andrew Maxwell will step into the quarterback role and lean heavily on last year's leading rusher Le'Veon Bell. Le'Veon ran for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns and will run behind a very experienced offensive line. Four out of the five offensive linemen have returned from a solid unit last year and two more received significant playing time. There will be some growing pains early with the offense but everything should be in place for their conference run.
Michigan State's Defense ranked 6th last year in total defense and return nine starters. The defense was ranked 10th in scoring defense and 14th in tackles for loss. This unit would be right at home in the SEC. This fierce defense is led by first round defensive end prospect William Gholston and linebacker Denicos Allen. Gholston and Allen combined for 16 sacks last year and 34.5 tackles for loss. Sparty was strong in the red zone and gave up only 9 red zone rushing touchdowns. This unit will be leaned upon heavily during the first few games as the offense gels.
The traditional Big Ten scheduling of four non-conference opponents followed by 8 conference games stands pat with the Spartans. A Friday night opener against Boise State will be a nationally televised game where Sparty will be favored. A home game against Notre Dame will be key for the Spartans' season. If they can get by Notre Dame, they should be 7-0 heading into a brutal stretch of at Michigan, at Wisconsin and home for Nebraska. Michigan State will be going for 5 straight wins over their in-state rival and trying to avenge losses last year to Wisconsin and Nebraska. If the offense is clicking along by this stretch watch out for Sparty. But I don't see them being able to overcome that inexperience against all three of the brutal run. I see Michigan state going 1-2 during that stretch at best and finishing out 9-3.