The Michigan State Spartans made it all the way to the college football playoffs in 2015.
Unfortunately, they were paired up with Alabama in a News Year's Eve semifinal matchup and saw their season come to an end with a 38-0 defeat to the Crimson Tide.
So what is the outlook for the Spartans heading into the 2016 season? How are they ranked? After all, the defending Big Ten champions seem to get better each year under Head Coach Mark Dantonio.
First, let’s take a look at some of the key losses the Spartans will need to replace heading into this season.
All-time leading passer Connor Cook has graduated so a new quarterback will need to be found. In addition, receiver Aaron Burbridge and offensive lineman Jack Allen and Jack Conklin have also left East Lansing.
Cook should be replaced by fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor who actually replaced Cook in the pivotal road victory over Ohio State last season.
The offensive line will be a bit more inexperienced with the losses of Allen and Conklin and they will need the replacements to step in and be productive sooner rather than later.
However, it is at wide receiver where the Spartans will need the most assistance from their young players. R.J. Shelton returns as the only player with at least seven catches last year. They do, however, have a highly acclaimed recruit in Donnie Corley and a sophomore talent in Felton Davis III who should get plenty of playing time.
Defensively, the Spartans are expected to remain strong even though they only return five starters. Defensive tackle Malik McDowell is expected to reach All-American status and promises to be one of the country’s top players.
At linebacker, Riley Bullough leads a strong core of players competing for positions. The defensive backfield will be a definite strength with Montae Nicholson and Demetrious Cox leading an experienced and talented group.
Which leads us to the question we asked in the beginning. Can the Spartans get all the way back to the college football playoffs.
Most analysts don’t believe so. Playing in the same division with rivals Ohio State and Michigan will definitely make it tough and many are picking MSU third behind those two teams. Don't tell that to the Spartan fans and alumni.
The Spartans will get both the Buckeyes and Wolverines at home this year which should give them an advantage.
A quick look at the schedule shows a mid-September matchup in South Bend versus Notre Dame. That game will go a long way in determining if the Spartans have a chance to go into their key games undefeated.
With Dantonio, Michigan State has always been a team that has a way of exceeding expectations. Although they usually don’t get the top recruits, he has a way of coaching them up and getting the most out of all of his players, especially in big games.
With the odds and the expectations low, this gives Dantonio the perfect scenario to run the table and get back to the playoffs.
Not everyone thinks it will happen, but don’t tell that to the Spartans.
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