No Michigan State Spartans player has ever won the Heisman Trophy. In fact, there have only been four players to even finish among the top four vote-getters for the award. However, there is no reason that streak can’t end this year.
The last Spartan to finish in the top four for the award was Lorenzo White, who pulled it off in both 1985 and 1987. But the Spartans have a handful of players who could not only be among the finalists, but actually win the Heisman.
Last season was supposed to be running back LJ Scott’s breakout Heisman season. But after struggling with holding onto the ball and not being quite as dominant as some had hoped, Scott returned for his senior year. Scott will start that season already on the Doak Walker watch-list.
There is no doubt that Scott is a bell-cow running back and can be an absolute game changer. This year, he will not only have his own experience to lean on, but also a full set of offensive weapons that should free up the box for more running lanes. Additionally, he will have the added push of trying to improve his NFL Draft stock.
Only two running backs have won the Heisman in the last decade, both from Alabama – Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram. Scott has a similar, but not identical playing style of both of those players, with the ability to bang between the tackles and beat a defender on the edge. To reach this those heights, Scott will likely need to rush for nearly 2,000 yards and have 15 touchdowns. That’s a big jump from last season, needing to nearly double his total in both categories. He may also need to see an improvement in his receiving game.
Scott is the best-known member of the MSU offense, so that gives him an advantage. If the Spartans are competing for a Big Ten championship and can remain at or near the top 10, Scott will get plenty of recognition.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke has the clear advantage of being, well, the quarterback. After taking firm hold of the starting job last season, Lewerke will start his junior year as one of the best signal callers in the Big Ten.
Six of the eight quarterbacks to win the Heisman in the last ten years have not only been explosive through the air, but were a true running threat. Last season, Lewerke was the team’s second leading rusher with 559 yards on the ground. He is by far the best true athlete Michigan State has had at quarterback in Mark Dantonio’s time in East Lansing.
Lewerke still needs to make improvements as a true passer. His accuracy downfield held back the MSU offensive play calls last season, and even his completions were aided by strong receiver play. Most importantly, Lewerke needs to hang on to the ball. While he only lost two fumbles, he put the ball on the ground eight times last season.
As a true freshman, it took a few games for Cody White to standout in the MSU offense. But by the end of the season he was someone defenses needed to single out. The wide receiver may be the best big-play threat on the Spartans offense.
White has a unique combination of a big body, elite hands and deceptive quickness. He is able to get open and be a big play threat for Michigan State. He could be the player scoring the biggest touchdowns for a Spartans team that wants to be on the biggest stage.
Oh, and he will be returning punts for MSU, which never hurts.
Obviously, White has a lot working against him. As a sophomore and a wide receiver, he would have to be truly outstanding to get national attention. Even being in the Heisman consideration would be a huge compliment for the young receiver.
Felton Davis III:
No player made a bigger splash for Michigan State last year than Felton Davis III. He made one big play after another for a young Spartans offense and was the key in helping Lewerke grow.
Last season Davis had nine receiving touchdowns, nearly half of the Spartans overall total and more than double any other pass catcher. He led the team in receiving yards by a huge margin as well. Davis was Lewerke’s safety blanket in just about every situation.
Now a senior, Davis will start the season as MSU’s unquestioned top receiver. He has the speed to take the top off of the defense and the pass-catching ability to pull down almost anything remotely close to him. If the Spartans are as strong this season as they hope to be, Davis will be responsible for a large percentage of the touchdowns.
Like White, Davis is a huge underdog to even be considered for the Heisman. The biggest factor in how Davis is seen nationally will likely come down to how defenses decide to handle MSU. If they focus additional secondary attention on Davis, he may be put at a disadvantage in comparison to the rest of the MSU options.
It takes a monumental season for a strictly defensive player to receive Heisman consideration. It would be unfair to expect that from Justin Layne, but by the end of the season, he may be the star of the Spartans defense.
Layne will be the top corner in a Michigan State defense that has repeatedly put out some of the best cornerbacks in the country. Last season, Layne was a shutdown corner and the entire defense benefited. Quarterbacks tried to force throws to other targets just to avoid Layne.
With 40 tackles and eight pass breakups, Layne earned All-Big Ten honorary mention. Despite having only one interception, the converted wide receiver obviously has the ball-skills to make a play on any pass within reach.
Layne will start the season with a little added pressure. Dantonio announced that fellow starting corner Josiah Scott will likely miss the first month of games due to injury. However, if Layne can stay strong on his end through that stretch, he will have the chance to rack up more appealing stats when it counts the most later in the season.