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Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans were dismantled in last year's College Football Playoff, but they got there. Coming off a Big Ten title campaign and their fifth season in the last six years reaching at least 11 wins, Michigan State has an uphill battle. Losing key starters on both sides of the field will be tough, but Mark Dantonio has turned his team into an annual powerhouse and can't be expected to lie down for Ohio State and Michigan this year.
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The first hole that needs to be filled comes at quarterback where Tyler O'Connor is expected to be named starter. O'Connor will be a senior so he has experience on the team and he looked like the best quarterback on the roster by far in the spring. Even so, he's only attempted 54 passes in his career and his receivers will be a bit young. R.J. Shelton (43 receptions) steps into the top role, but he's been mostly a slot guy in his career, while tight end Josiah Price (six TDs) could see a larger role. The x-factor is freshman wide out Donnie Corley, who everyone seemed to be pumping up in the spring, as he's one of the fastest guys on the team.
But this offense will win via its running game. The offensive line loses two large pieces, but still returns three starters and should be just fine with Brian Allen anchoring the unit. At running back, the options are endless for the Spartans. LJ Scott (699 yards, 11 TDs) was a monster at times and he's flanked by Gerald Holmes (8 TDs) and Madre London (500 yards). Dantonio played musical chairs with his RBs last year, but this spot is Scott's to lose.
The defensive side brings questions as well, especially after slipping up against the pass last year. The secondary is the first area of concern for MSU, but will at least have two returnees at safety in Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson. Cornerback will be the bigger question after they dealt with injuries and inexperience a year ago. The line loses loads of talent, but tackle Malik McDowell is one of the best in the nation and will run this group. Others like Demetrious Cooper and two-way player Jamal Lyles can make an impact. Linebacker will be just fine as well with Riley Bullough leading the unit and Ed Davis returning from injury.
The disappointing thing for MSU's schedule may be a bye in just the second weekend before taking on Notre Dame. That game against the Irish will be a true test for the Spartans early in the season. It doesn't really get easy for them at any point either with Wisconsin being their Big Ten opener, followed by a trip to Indiana. All of their road games are winnable in Big Ten play, but the Spartans will also need to beat at least one of Michigan or Ohio State in East Lansing for a shot to win the East again.
The Spartans lost a lot, but if O'Connor (or whoever) can show some consistency under center, they'll be fine and should reach at least double-digit wins.
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2016 Michigan State Spartans Football Schedule
Sept. 2 vs. Furman
Sept 17 at Notre Dame
Sept. 24 vs. Wisconsin
Oct. 1 at Indiana
Oct 8 vs. BYU
Oct. 15 vs. Northwestern
Oct. 22 at Maryland
Oct. 29 vs. Michigan
Nov. 5 at Illinois
Nov. 12 vs. Rutgers
Nov. 19 vs. Ohio State
Nov. 26 at Penn State
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