#10 Michigan State Football 2016 Preview

Michigan State Spartans
Overall Rank: #10
#2 Big Ten
Michigan State comes into the 2016 season flying under the radar as they have plenty of key players to replace on both sides of the football. However, there is enough talent returning defensively, not to mention a culture of winning, which will make the Spartans a tough out when Ohio State and Michigan visit East Lansing late in the season. This round-robin of games between the Spartans, Buckeyes and Wolverines should once again determine the playoff fate of the Big Ten Conference in 2016.
2015 Record: 12-2, 7-1
2015 Bowl: Cotton Bowl vs. Alabama (L 0-38)
Coach: Mark Dantonio (87-33 at Michigan State, 105-50 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jim Bollman, Dave Warner
Defensive Coordinator: Harlon Barnett, Mike Tressel
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: L.J. Scott, RB, 699 yards
Passing: Tyler O’Connor, QB, 133 yards
Receiving: R.J. Shelton, WR, 503 yards
Tackles: Riley Bullough, LB, 106
Sacks: Demetrius Cooper, DE, 5.0
Interceptions: Demetrious Cox, S, 3; Montae Nicholson, S, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Gerald Holmes, Madre London, TE Josiah Price, OL Brian Allen, LB Jon Reschke, DT Malik McDowell
Key Losses: QB Connor Cook, WR Aaron Burbridge, WR Macgarrett Kings, OL Jack Allen, OL Jack Conklin, LB Darien Harris, DE Shilique Calhoun, CB Arjen Coluhoun
The duo of R.J. Shelton and L.J. Scott are going to have to lead the way offensively to offset the loss of Connor Cook at quarterback. Scott came up with several timely runs in the Big Ten Conference championship game against Iowa last December and has a ton of potential. In addition, Gerald Homes and Madre London will be right on the heels of Scott in the battle for carries at running back. This depth should set up the offense to really try to impose their will on opposing defenses with the running game. Shelton is the only returning wide receiver that has had a significant amount of receptions in his career. Malik McDowell is a standout defensive tackle that should cause plenty of havoc along the defensive line along with end Demetrius Cooper. Riley Bullough is the leading returning tackler from last season at linebacker with 106 tackles. In the secondary, Demetrius Cox and Monte Nicholson will form an excellent tandem at safety. Cox and Nicholson combined for six interceptions and have very critical experience in big games that will help the young cornerbacks grow very quickly.
Replacing Connor Cook is going to be an interesting storyline to follow all season long in East Lansing. Tyler O’Connor is the clear frontrunner to get the starting quarterback job this season. O’Connor is a fifth-year senior who helped lead the Spartans to the season defining 17-14 upset win over Ohio State in Columbus last November. The offensive line will need to replace Jack Allen and Jack Conklin, who both were stalwarts last season for Michigan State. Brian Allen will lead an offensive line that may need a few games to get themselves right chemistry wise. If Allen can produce at an all-Big Ten level or better, then look for the Spartans to become more efficient offensively in a quicker fashion. On the other hand, if the offensive line struggles all year long then this season will become an even biggest test of Coach Dantonio and his staff’s ability to develop players very quickly.
The Bottom Line:
On September 17th, the Spartans will head to South Bend to take on Notre Dame in a game that will be a fantastic early season test for Michigan State. This is one of the best rivalries in college football and will be a great opportunity for the Spartans to remind the college football world that they will still be an excellent team. After the game with the Fighting Irish the schedule sets up for a manageable stretch of games with Wisconsin and BYU visiting East Lansing in the month of October prior to the Michigan game on October 29th. For Michigan State, if they can split the Michigan and Ohio State games, they should be in perfect position to be at about 10-2 with just one conference loss and right in the mix for another New Year’s Six bowl appearance in 2016.
Projected Bowl: Rose Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 151.3 (93rd in nation, 9th in conference)
Passing Offense: 234.2 (55, 6)
Total Offense: 385.5 (73, 6)
Scoring Offense: 29.8 (60, 6)
Rushing Defense: 116.0 (11, 3)
Pass Defense: 233.9 (76, 9)
Total Defense: 349.9 (26, 8)
Scoring Defense: 21.7 (25, 6)
Turnover Margin: 1.00 (4, 1)
Sacks: 2.64 (23, 4)
Sacks Allowed: 1.50 (38, 6)
Madness 2017 NFL Draft Rankings:
#8 Malik McDowell
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#77 Josh King
#89 Donnie Corley
#165 Auston Robertson
#207 Cameron Chambers
#241 Messiah deWeaver
#245 Demetric Vance