Football season is now just a few weeks away. Michigan State Spartans fans can finally put the bumbling 2018 season in the rear-view mirror and hope for better things in 2019.
Before the season starts, take a look at the five base questions every fan should know.
Q: Who is the most important player on offense?
A: QB Brian Lewerke.... If he’s on the field.
After a disastrous junior season, Lewerke returns as the presumptive starter.
Lewerke showed flashes of big-play ability during his sophomore year, his first as a starter, both on the ground and through the air. But his inconsistency and lack of accuracy needed to be improved.
Unfortunately, the following year things just got worse. Lewerke dealt with an injury to his throwing shoulder in the final seconds of the win over Penn State. For the final seven games of the year, Lewerke was either sidelined by the injury or severely limited.
But even before the injury, Lewerke didn’t appear to be making big improvements. Despite a strong completion percentage, Lewerke threw eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Even his running game was hit or miss, twice netting negative yards in the pre-injury games.
Lewerke’s accuracy has to be fixed. If he can limit the turnovers and return to his big-play ability, the Spartans could be a force in the Big Ten. The offense – or lack thereof – cost MSU at least four wins last year if not more. A healthy Lewerke should put MSU over the top in those games if put back in that position this year.
Unfortunately, if improvements aren’t made, things get really scary. Rocky Lombardi filled in for Lewerke last year with mostly poor results. While Lombardi could improve, it would need to be significant. Behind Lombardi are some intriguing prospects, but all freshman.
Q: Who is the most important player on defense?
A: CB Josiah Scott
Injuries decimated the Michigan State offense in 2018, but the biggest injury before the start of the season was on defense. Scott, who emerged as a star cornerback as a freshman, missed the first eight games of his sophomore year with a knee injury.
This year, Scott will be the feature corner in a MSU defense that relies heavily on cornerbacks surviving on an island.
Scott has NFL talent, but he may not be the most talented player on a defense featuring Kenny Willekes, Mike Panasiuk and Joe Bachie, just to name a few. But for Willekes and Panasiuk to be able to pin their ears back and get in the back field and Bachie to roam free, Scott needs to reliably take out the opposing offense’s best pass catcher.
The Spartans defense should be dominant again this year. But if Scott can be as good as many hope, then it could be a very special year.
Q: What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?
A: Please stay healthy
At the end of every successful season for any team in any sport, the first thing a critic points to is the luck surrounding a team’s health.
If that’s the case, and if karma is a thing, then there shouldn’t be a significant injury for roughly the next 15 years. Every vaguely important player on offense dealt with an injury last season and either missed significant time or looked limited on the field.
This isn’t a perfect team, there were a lot of issues with certain players even when healthy. But there was no time for improvement last year because of all of the injuries. Assuming more players can, well, actually play, the Spartans should look very different.
Q: What is the most important game on the schedule?
A: Week 9 vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
It would be easy to say that the Michigan game is and always will be the most important game of the year. After all, beating Michigan changes the way seasons are remembered.
But looking at the big picture, beating Penn State could change the way the season plays out for Michigan State.
The Week 9 game comes off of a bye week. But before the week off, the Spartans have back-to-back road games against Ohio State and Wisconsin. A loss to the payback-minded Nittany Lions could be the difference between a December bowl game and a more elite postseason. It also has the chance to propel the team into its matchup two weeks later against the Wolverines.
Q: What is your prediction for the win-loss record and postseason destination?
A: 9-3, Citrus Bowl
I will get into more specifics in our annual preseason predictions with The Only Colors staff, but I expect Michigan State to take advantage some very winnable games late in the season and bounce back nicely from last year.
To reach that mark, they will need to win a couple of their tougher games this season, but all good teams need to do that. I’m not positive which games that will be yet, but I think they can get it done.
Nine wins won’t be enough to get MSU into one of the selection committee games, but it should still be an important game. Last year, a nine-win Penn State team went to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl.