Michigan State Spartans
2017 Record: 10-3 (7-2) – Won 2017 Holiday Bowl
2018 Coaches Poll Top 25 Rank: No. 12
To borrow the quote from Rams head coach Sean McVay, "the standard is the standard" at Michigan State. So when the Spartans faltered to a 3-9 record in 2016, you knew it wasn't going to be long before the Spartans bounced back and made an impact in the Big Ten.
On the right arm of quarterback Brian Lewerke, it took all of one year for the Spartans to be right in the thick of the Big Ten chase. The team finished 10-3, with the three losses coming to Notre Dame (38-18), Ohio State (48-3) and a disappointing double overtime defeat at the hands of Northwestern.
The good news for the Spartans? Few teams in the country are bringing back as much experience as Michigan State. The Spartans are returning 19 of their 22 starters from last season. The lone loss on the offensive side of the football was Center Brian Allen, now with the Los Angeles Rams. It's a recipe for a big year.
The season is favorable as well, as the Spartans have Utah State, @ Arizona State and Central Michigan on their non-conference schedule. Michigan State will look to exact revenge on Northwestern on October 6th (their homecoming weekend) and if they do, it's very likely the team will be 5-0 entering a trip to Happy Valley, where the Lions will have revenge of their own in mind after the Spartans stole last year's tilt as time expired.
The other two premiere games on Sparty's schedule, Michigan and Ohio State, come after that date with Penn State. Both are also at home. There's a very real chance that the Spartans steal two of those three and could find themselves primed for a spot in the Big Ten Championship game in December.
They'll need to do better offensively against Michigan and Ohio State, where they combined to score just 17 points. If Lewerke keeps the offense humming, this could be a championship team.
Top 5 Draft-Eligible Prospects
1. Quarterback Brian Lewerke
Look for Lewerke to make a big push this season and rise up draft boards. There's a great foundation to Lewerke's game across all fronts, not limited to his mental processing, arm ability and athleticism. Consistency will be key, so having essentially his entire offense back will be a big boost for Lewerke's perception as a draft prospect.
2. Saftey David Dowell
Dowell is a solid player. He's pretty reliable and flexible on the back end, offering some ability to play off-man coverage as well as zone roles. Dowell isn't especially physical however and he's got to keep his feet more frequently as a tackler to finish reps in one on one situations.
3. Running Back L.J. Scott
Scott was a freshman phenom who simply hasn't taken the next step yet. There's glimpses of surprising open field athleticism, Scott can get creative and make people miss in one on one situations. That adds some value to his skill set, but Scott ultimately needs to remain patient when pressing into the line of scrimmage and allow his blocks to develop to maximize his rush yardage.
4. Linebacker Joe Bachie Jr.
Bachie is a well built athlete who offers a stout presence in the middle. Fairly mobile for his size, Bachie shouldn't be regarded as a statue or strictly as a gap plugger in the middle. Also offering a nose for the football, Bachie made big plays last season, a testament to his football intelligence and anticipation.
5. Wide Receiver Felton Davis III
Davis is long, wiry and can be frustrating due to some irregular results when trying to catch the football away from his body. But for every easy drop there's an equally impressive contested catch, so it's not a question of skill but rather a question of concentration. Davis will lead this team in touchdowns and provides a plus red zone threat in the pass game.
Others to Watch: WR Darrell Stewart, TE Matt Sokol, OT Cole Chewins, DT Raequan Williams, DE Kenny Willekes, LB Andrew Dowell, CB Justin Layne, S Khari Willis