Ever since Mark Dantonio came to East Lansing, his teams have consistently been dominant in the trenches.
Even in today's pass-happy mentality among much of college football and the NFL, Dantonio's Spartans have been winning double-digit games in five of the past six years. Just this year, offensive tackle Jack Conklin was a top-10 pick in the NFL draft, and he's just one of many maulers who've helped Michigan State win trench warfare.
But defense has been just as, if not more dominant when it comes to the lineman. Jerel Worthy, William Gholston and Shilique Calhoun have been the most recent defensive linemen to star in the Spartans defense, but one current Spartan has the potential to be the best under Dantonio's watch.
Defensive lineman Malik McDowell has already had a great career in East Lansing thus far, but some think he's about to become one of the best players in college football. The guys at Pro Football Focus recently did a ranking of the top 101 players in college football next season, and McDowell was able to crack the top 25.
23. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
At 6-foot-6, 286 pounds, McDowell resembles first-round pick DeForest Buckner in both frame and playing style, and he could make similar strides this season. He's coming off a strong year in his first extended action, ranking third as a pass rusher among returning interior defensive linemen to go with a solid +9.5 grade against the run.
That's not all. McDowell was pegged as the No. 2 interior defensive lineman to watch in college football this season by NFL.com on Wednesday.
2. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
An NFC scout recently told me that every time he watched McDowell, he felt like he was watching an Oregon game thanks to his similarity to former Duck defenders like Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. McDowell has very similar size (6-6, 280, according to school measurements) to the aforementioned first-round selections, but he might have even more ability as a potential disruptive force. McDowell plays on the interior for MSU but could easily play base end in a 4-3 scheme or defensive end in a 3-4. He's long and slippery with an ability to flip his hips and get over the top of blockers. He has the foot quickness to beat blockers to the spot as well as pursue quarterbacks and runners. Look for a huge step up in pass-rush production from the talented junior.
In 2015, McDowell was a second-team All-Big Ten selection after posting 41 tackles,13 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and 4.5 sacks. What makes McDowell so special is he's been dominant at various spots along the defensive line. He's also a guy who could play multiple spots in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, making him a very attractive prospect in next year's draft.
That is, if the junior does leave for the NFL, but at this point, it looks like that's a likely scenario if he's able to crack the first round. Heck, as much as he's being hyped up, McDowell may be poised to be the highest-drafted Spartan under Dantonio.