2016 Impact College Football Preview: Michigan State’s Record

The Spartans are heading into 2016 with high hopes, as the program’s first College Football Playoff team has a Big Ten title to defend. Five NFL draft picks have left the roster, as well as a number of key role players. The schedule features enticing rivalry games with Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State. Another Big Ten championship appearance is by no means guaranteed, especially with the talent in the Big Ten East. Here’s what the Impact Sports staff projects for coach Mark Dantonio and company:

Kyle Turk: 10-2

It’s easy to be pessimistic about this year’s team given the amount of talent lost from the 2015 playoff team. Tyler O’Connor should be able to hold down the fort at the quarterback position, and I have no doubts about the running game this season. That said, RJ Shelton and Josiah Price will both need huge seasons catching the ball for this offense to be effective.

The defense has a couple more question marks. Malik McDowell is talented; that is beyond dispute. However, the rest of the defensive line will have trouble getting to the quarterback if they only rush four, something that can be offset by a loaded linebacking corps. Montae Nicholson is someone who deserves a lot more of the spotlight, and having Demetrius Cox back will be another bright spot given his strong play down the stretch last season. If Vayante Copeland can recover from last season’s neck injury, I’ll feel a lot more confident about the secondary.

The Spartans will benefit from playing two of their three toughest games at home. Notre Dame is an early toss-up in South Bend, as MSU has a chance to pull off a road upset against an AP top 10 team coming off a bye week. The other three rivalry matchups with Michigan, Ohio State, and at Penn State are also 50/50 with the amount of variables in play at this point in the preseason. Out of those four games, I think the Spartans win two of them. I think the stigma of 2013 and 2014 weighs enough on Michigan’s heads to lead to a Spartan victory, but from there, Ohio State will be hungry to beat the team that kept them out of the Playoff last season, and Penn State may still be alive in the B1G East race on the final day of the regular season. All in all, the schedule lines up just right to keep the 10-win season streak alive.


Davey Segal: 9-3

Six games over .500 is absolutely nothing to hang your head in if you’re a sports fan. But since Mark Dantonio came to East Lansing, he has demanded excellence and brought a winning tradition with him that has been unparalleled. Everyone is saying that there’s no way MSU loses both home games to Ohio State and Michigan, but I just think the lack of leadership at the core positions for the Spartans will pay dividends when the clock hits triple zeros in those two games. I also think MSU falls to Notre Dame in South Bend early in the season. But don’t get me wrong — I hope Michigan State does what they do best: prove people wrong.


David Manion: 10-2

With his small impressive sample size from last season, Spartan Nation will find out just how productive O’Connor can be as the starter. His earliest test comes in a September showdown against Notre Dame. This game should be a helpful indicator in determining his future success. Does he have the pivotal tools at quarterback to transform the offense into a multi-dimensional scoring machine?

Another big question mark lies in the secondary. Can Demetrious Cox and company stop the deep ball and revive the “No Fly Zone” back into working order? If both of these questions turn into positive results, then Sparty has a solid chance of running the table.

Because the Spartans will be facing several top notch defenses, many of Michigan State’s scores will come in the kicking game. Michael Geiger is truly the deal breaker for the 2016 campaign. He needs to land into a comfortable rhythm early on, or else it’s going to be a long season.

The Spartans will lose one non-conference game, but not to Notre Dame. In one of MSU’s many possible trap games, BYU will knock off Sparty in East Lansing. Michigan State will have their hands full as they prepare to contain the artistic dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill, as well as an impressive Cougars pass rush that tallied a school-record 40 sacks last season. Some players on the roster like Hill are 24 to 26 years in age (missionaries), giving BYU a slight advantage in terms of strength and experience.

The Spartans will win out until their fall in Happy Valley to an underrated Penn State club. MSU will still clinch the Big Ten East division after downing archrivals Michigan and Ohio State in East Lansing, yet will come up short to the vengeance-seeking Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2016 Big Ten championship game. Michigan State will once again receive a New Year’s Six bowl invite and go on to defeat the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl, marking Mark Dantonio’s sixth 11-win season in the last seven years.  


Zach Barnes: 12-0

The Spartans have a ton of questions going in the season. Will they be too young at wide receiver? Will others be able to step up on the D-line when Malik McDowell inevitably gets double teamed? Is the “No Fly Zone” back? And can Tyler O’Connor get one of the best modern dynasties back to the promised land?

How quickly these questions will be answered will dictate how well the Spartans do. And quickly is what they’ll have to do, because once Week 3 rolls around, MSU must be in  peak form if they want to beat the Fighting Irish in South Bend. But maybe an early loss is what Coach Dantonio’s boys need.

MSU has a solid mix of veterans as well as ready-to-play freshman talent (something the Spartans are not used to having). The bar has been set according to Dantonio, and I don’t see this team faltering in a sold-out Spartan Stadium (students have been scrambling to get tickets every day since they sold out). I don’t expect a lot of pretty games, but well-managed and classic ground-and-pound Big Ten games will be aplenty.


Zachary Swiecicki: 10-2

It’s not impossible to see how this team can reach double digit wins. But the over/under for Michigan State’s win total is 7.5 (credit that number to all of the questions Zach raised). Seven and a half games for a team that was in the College Football Playoff last season? That seems like an easy bet to go with the over. MSU has lost starters, but we have seen Dantonio use the “next man up” mentality and still produce wins for a while.

MSU faces three preseason top 10 teams, all separated from each other by at least two games, giving the Spartans ample time to recover and focus. Within the last two weeks, Notre Dame has had six players arrested and Brian Kelly has said DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire will be in a rotation–just enough chaos and distraction to give Michigan State an opportunity to win in South Bend. Having Michigan and Ohio State come to Spartan Stadium is huge for MSU, but one of those teams will get revenge from last year… In accordance with my CFP predictions, it will be Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes on November 19th.

Wisconsin, at Indiana, and BYU in the three weeks after Notre Dame are all dangerous games for Michigan State. Wisconsin-Michigan State always seems to be a competitive matchup. Indiana was only down one point to the Spartans heading into the second half last year. And BYU’s quarterback (whether it’s Taysom Hill or Tanner Mangum) can cause problems. Traveling to Illinois after facing Michigan could also prove troublesome with Lovie Smith in his first year leading the Fighting Illini. I’m not saying MSU loses at Illinois, but it could be closer than Sparty fans would like.


Ryan Cole: 10-2

It seems pretty basic, but I think the current version of the Spartans are a nine-win team. But Mark Dantonio has sewed together some magical games in the last three years, so I expect the Spartans to win one game they likely shouldn’t, thanks to superior coaching. That puts them at 10 wins, which likely won’t be enough for a division championship.

Tyler O’Connor should perform well at quarterback, but the offensive line will be the Spartans’ weakest in four years. I worry that will hurt Michigan State’s talent in the backfield, led by LJ Scott.

On the defensive side, Michigan State should field its best back seven since the legendary 2013 Rose Bowl season. The unquestioned leader of the team, Riley Bullough, will call the shots while having a healthy and improved secondary behind him. Coming off a Big Ten championship, I don’t think Bullough will allow the Spartans to fall off a cliff to mediocrity.

I expect this season’s fate to come down to three games: Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State. Of those three, I actually think Spartan fans should be least worried about the rivalry game against Michigan. Each of Dantonio’s nine teams has come out and played above their norm in the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, so I don’t expect this team to play flat.

But I do see the Spartans playing with some jitters and dropping the early road contest in South Bend, as well as the late-season matchup with the always-talented and revenge-minded Buckeyes. A 10-2 season is nothing to scoff at, but the goal in East Lansing these days is to win a Big Ten championship, a goal I believe the Spartans will fall short of this year.