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MSU football: 5 things to be thankful for this season

Tis the season, it’s time to give thanks

NCAA Football: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t just any holiday season.

This is the holiday season where we try to be positive and give thanks. So, as interesting as this season has been for MSU football, let’s sort out the positive and be thankful for what is going on this season.

We should be thankful for...

The Defense

Just complete dominance from them pretty much every week. Offenses have to play 13 guys on their side of the ball to have a scoring chance it seems.

For you analytical nerds, the MSU defense comes in at No. 4 on the S&P+ rankings.

For you statistical laypeople like me, MSU’s run defense is No. 4 in the nation with just 2.6 yards per carry. The pass defense has been stout with Justin Layne and Josiah Scott manning the corners. You’ve got guys like Kenny Willekes and Raequan Williams turning into absolute studs on the defensive line.

Not enough can be said about this defense. Yeah, the season has been rough in the wins-loss column, but this defense is among the nation’s best.

The Leadership

You could see how special the leadership is from the second Khari Willis hit the mic stand at the Big Ten media days luncheon. Throughout the season, captains Willis and Bachie have said all the right things to the media amidst a challenging season where, really, their unit is putting the entire team on its back. It happened as recently as last week, with Bachie talking about how his team is upset they didn’t pitch a shutout rather than throwing the offense under the bus.

You also saw it in Rocky Lombardi after the loss in Lincoln too, suggesting he didn’t see any drops. Now, of course he saw some drops. There were too many – including two in the end zone – that were impossible to not see. But doing that, he doesn’t throw his receivers to the wolves. For a young quarterback and player, that was refreshing to see after such a gut-wrenching loss.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, we’re bowling

Bowl eligibility is pretty neat. Let’s not act like the 2016 season was two decades ago. That whole season is still a fresh wound that was aided by a 10-win season the following year.

But bowl eligibility can’t be taken for granted, especially considering what it offers – another month of practice to get momentum rolling into the next offseason.

And let’s also be thankful for Mark Dantonio and his consistency getting into the bowl season. Eleven bowls in 12 seasons is pretty damn good, especially considering the previous two decades before his arrival held 11 bowls total.

We all have our opinions on how he’s handled the quarterback position this season – and you know mine – but don’t let that blur the fact that he’s one of the best coaches in the country.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Plenty of returning starters

This team returns a ton of talent. Eight starters are likely to return on offense, and up to eight could return on defense (going off the week one depth chart thanks to the 2,000 injuries making gauging this tougher).

Amongst those returners are LJ Scott, Brian Lewerke, Cody White, Darrell Stewart and nearly the entire offensive line. On defense, Josiah Scott and the Panasiuk wrecking balls are coming back with Kenny Willekes, Raequan Williams, Justin Layne and maybe even Joe Bachie mulling over NFL options.

Shades of the 2012 season pop into mind – a team that lost a lot of games they were right there for, but come back returning a good crop of players and…well, you know what happened that next season.

New redshirt rule is big

The new redshirt rule couldn’t have come at a better time for MSU with a few key players taking advantage.

LJ Scott, Jake Hartbarger and Josiah Scott are all key players that have played under the four game cap. Young guys like Kalon Gervin and Trenton Gillison are all young guys that were able to get a whiff of playing life without burning up eligibility.