There is nobody who wants to get back out onto the field in real game time and forget about the off-season more than Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio.
The 11th-year head man for the Spartans has had a busy off-season, to put it lightly. Overshadowing the potential of his freshmen class and some other younger talents on the team was the slew of player departures from last year’s team, none more than the trio of now-former Spartans who were charged with sexual assault.
Dantonio and his staff have really had their work cut out for them in terms of figuring out who well step up in 2017, specifically more so post-investigation. How they respond to everything that has happened in the last seven-ish months is among the three biggest questions facing this team.
IS BRIAN LEWERKE ‘THE GUY’ MOVING FORWARD?
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke got the bulk of reps in the MSU spring game back in April and among the biggest takeaways from that day was Dantonio saying that Lewerke is “the guy” moving forward.
Lewerke played in four games last season and showed some glimpses of promise before being lost for the season do to injury. As we mentioned, he got a ton of snaps in the team’s spring game. He got a ‘head start’ if you will in the quarterback competition with both redshirt senior Damion Terry and redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver being sidelined in that game, both rehabbing from injuries.
It’s like those two guys will be No. 2 and 3 respectively on the depth chart come opening day for Michigan State. But should Lewerke falter along the way or succumb to injury again, it becomes next man up once more.
WHICH YOUNGSTERS WILL STEP UP?
This isn’t exactly going to be an experience-laden team in East Lansing this season. Per Ourlads.com, the Spartans are not rolling out a ton of seniors, let alone players with vast playing experience. So expect some growing pains early on for MSU.
This position for the program opens up a ton of opportunities for a lot of the younger guys, including some from this incoming freshman class, to step in and make an impact right away. Among those will be cornerback Josiah Scott, who was among the team’s top performers in the annual spring game.
Scott was an early enrollee to Michigan State back in January, as was wide receiver Hunter Rison out of Ann Arbor Skyline High School. The 4-star prospect was listed among our top-5 freshman that can make a big impact right away. You also have sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie, another elite performer from the spring game, earning a starting role at middle linebacker and flanked by two veterans in Chris Frey and Andrew Dowell.
There’s definitely a lot of potential with a lot of these younger Spartans. But which ones will play “above their pay grade” if you will?
WHAT ARE REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS FOR MSU?
Arguably the biggest question, that perhaps has no real direct or concrete answer, is “how will Michigan State fare after a complicated and difficult off-season?”
It’s a fair question to pose, but one that can only be answered with pure speculation and opinions. A track record of being able to recruit and develop and get players to perform above their level would suggest that they can bounce back and have little to no problem, at least gradually. Dantonio has earned that much benefit of the doubt.
But there are legitimate questions facing not only this year’s team, but the foreseeable future perhaps. Yes, they may possess one of the most difficult schedules in college football this season. Yes, they also have one of the lesser-experienced teams in the country. And yes, they are in a division with arguably three of the top 10 or 15 teams nationally.
So what is a reasonable expectation for Michigan State in 2017? If you have read our game-by-game breakdown for the upcoming season, it would suggest that they can bounce back and return to form, to a certain degree. And considering what they did a year ago, that seems like a fair expectation.