In his tenure as Michigan State football coach, Mark Dantonio has seen some great quarterbacks come and go.
Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook have their names all over the MSU record book and will be remembered as Spartan greats.
However, Dantonio’s best quarterback ever might be under center in 2018. After sitting out much of the 2016 season with a leg injury, Brian Lewerke burst onto scene last year, throwing for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns while adding 559 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
That dominant sophomore season has experts pegging him as a dark horse Heisman contender in 2018. The real question is: can he live up to that hype?
Lewerke is a dark horse for a reason. He doesn’t play in a high-powered offense, he isn’t considered the best quarterback in his own conference and he has to play an incredibly tough conference schedule, which is a blessing and a curse.
One thing he does have going his way is the fact that he is a dual-threat quarterback. A quarterback has won eight of the last 10 Heisman Trophies and five of those quarterbacks rushed for over 600 yards in their winning season (Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Lamar Jackson).
Lewerke has never rushed for 600 yards in a season, but he came just 41 yards short last year and MSU would be crazy not to use his legs more in 2018. His running ability is not going to hurt his chances of winning a Heisman. His arm will be the determining factor.
Lewerke completed 59 percent of his passes last year, which ranked fifth among Big Ten quarterbacks who attempted at least 300 passes. That number will need to improve heading into his junior year.
MSU’s top three receivers are returning this year and that should help Lewerke’s completion percentage increase. Felton Davis III is a top contender for Big Ten Receiver of the Year, so if he and Lewerke can maintain the chemistry they had last season, both could be taking home some hardware at years end.
Along with Davis III, Darrell Stewart Jr. and Cody White will look to match their production from last season. Stewart and White combined for 85 receptions, 991 yards and six touchdowns. If the Spartans’ receivers can improve upon last year’s production and the tight ends can take a step forward, MSU could be in for a big offensive year.
The Big Ten East is no joke, and that could hurt Lewerke’s Heisman hopes, but if he and the Spartans can manage to win the Big Ten, that would do wonders for his Heisman resume.
A lot of things have to go right, and MSU might need a little luck, but Lewerke’s dual-threat ability paired with the amount of talent the Spartans have returning make him a legit dark horse Heisman contender.