The Michigan State Spartans are coming off their second Big Ten title in the past three years. This team just continues to fly under the radar each season under Mark Dantonio, who enters his 10th year on the job in 2016.

The Spartans beat Ohio State on the road 17-14 to essentially punch their ticket into the the title game, where they won a hard-fought contest with Iowa 16-13. But the season certainly ended on a sour note as Michigan State was throttled by eventual champion Alabama 38-0 in the four-team playoff.

Dantonio will have one of his least-experienced teams yet in 2016 with just 10 starters returning. However, as we’ve seen before, you can never really count this team out. Let’s see if the Spartans can recapture some of last year’s magic this coming season.

Last Season
Big Ten East
ATS Record
Points For
Points Against
12-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
2016 Michigan State Spartans Schedule
Date Opponent
Spread (Est.)
Win Chance
9/2 Furman
9/17 @ Notre Dame
9/24 Wisconsin
10/1 @ Indiana
10/8 BYU
10/15 Northwestern
10/22 @ Maryland
10/29 Michigan
11/5 @ Illinois
11/12 Rutgers
11/19 Ohio State
11/26 @ Penn State
Estimated Wins: TBD

Michigan State actually took a huge step back offensively last season. After averaging 43.0 points and 501 yards per game in 2014, it put up just 29.8 points and 386 yards per game last year. Expect those numbers to drop even more with only four returning starters on offense.

The Spartans must replace the school’s all-time leading passer in Connor Cook, who was the engine on this team last year. Senior Tyler O’Connor, who led the upset at Ohio State last year with Cook injured, is first in line to take his place. But don’t count out junior Damion Terry or talented freshman Brian Lewerke.

Each of the top three rushers are back from last season in LJ Scott (699 yards, 11 TD, 4.8/carry), junior Gerald Holmes (540 yards, 8 TD, 4.9/carry) and Madre London (500 yards, 3 TD, 4.2/carry). After coming on strong at the end of last year as a freshman, look for Scott to become the next workhorse RB in East Lansing.

The Spartans do lose their top two receivers from last year, including Aaron Burbridge, who caught 85 balls for 1,258 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Senior WR RJ Shelton (53 receptions, 503 yards, 4 TD) and junior TE Josiah Price (23, 267, 6 TD) are the only two returnees with any experience. Talented freshman Donnie Corley and sophomore Felton Davis are expected to take on starting roles at receiver.

The offensive line loses three starters to the NFL in C Jack Allen, LT Jack Conklin and RG Donovan Clark. The Spartans lose a whopping 118 career starts and bring back only 42, so they will not be as good. However, they do have three players with starting experience back in C Brian Allen, RG Kodi Kieler and LG Benny McGowan. Look for junior LT Dennis Finley to take Conklin’s spot while sophomore RG David Beedle fills in for Clark.


The Spartans actually gave up the most points (21.7) and yards (350) per game last season that they have since 2010. So there is room for improvement on defense, and this should be one of the Big Ten’s best units with six starters and four of their top five tacklers back.

The biggest losses are along the defensive line where Shilique Calhoun, Lawrence Thomas and Joel Heath are all currently on NFL rosters. They do still have an All-American candidate in junior NT Malik McDowell (41 tackles, 13 for loss, 4.5 sacks last year). The new starters were impressive in limited roles last year, including DE Demetrius Cooper (22 tackles, 5 sacks). The Spartans may be relying on freshmen Raequan Williams (DT) and Josh King (DE) to fill the other two starting spots.

The Spartans could have three starters back at linebacker if Ed Davis is granted a 6th year of eligibility after missing all of last season with an injury. They return both Riley Bullough (106 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INT) and Jon Reschke (72 tackles, 5.5 for loss) and should be very strong. Chris Frey (23 tackles, 5 for loss) will also figure into the mix.

The Spartans should have an improved secondary after allowing 60.5 percent completions and 234 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks last year. That’s because three starters and 10 of their top 12 defensive backs return. Leading the way will be senior CB Darian Hicks (33 tackles), junior SS Montae Nicholson (83 tackles, 3 INT) and senior FS Demetrious Cox (79 tackles, 3 INT).

Odds (Courtesy of 5Dimes)
Regular Season Win Total
Big Ten East Odds
Big Ten Championship Odds
4-Team Playoff Odds
National Championship Odds
Season Predictions

Michigan State always seems to get overlooked each season, which is a scary proposition. However, with just 10 starters back and being one of the least-experienced teams in the Big Ten, I simply do not believe they will come close to repeating as Big Ten champs.

The losses are huge on offense with Cook and Burbridge, who simply cannot be replaced. The defense should hold its ground and keep the Spartans in most games this season. I’m just not sold that they have the talent to match the other top teams in the Big Ten East.  Plus, they were fortunate last season with a +14 turnover differential and six wins by a touchdown or less.

The schedule does set up well as the Spartans get Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State at home, so if they can win those games, they will certainly have a great shot at surprising again. I just don’t see it happening, and therefore I’ll call for the Spartans to finish in a tie for third in the division at 8-4 overall and 6-3 within the conference.

2016 Projections
Big Ten East
Big Ten Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
Under 8.5
More College Football Predictions
Big Ten
Michigan State