The quest for a bounceback season begins for Michigan State when the Spartans host Bowling Green in a non-conference contest Saturday. Michigan State went from playing Alabama in the national semifinals two seasons ago to a 3-9 record in 2016, with just one victory in Big Ten play.
Now, coach Mark Dantonio is looking to get back to the winning ways of past seasons with sophomore Brian Lewerke under center to lead the way. Lewerke started twice last season before being sidelined by a broken tibia, and the Spartans are hoping he can build on the solid play he showed in 2016. Injuries crippled Michigan State defensively last season, but with leading tackler Chris Frey (96) back for his senior season at linebacker, the Spartans should be better at shutting down opponents. The Falcons are hoping to build on the momentum of a three-game winning streak to close out 2016 under coach Mike Jinks and earn their fourth win over a Big Ten opponent since 2014.
TV: Noon ET, ESPNU. LINE: Michigan State -17
ABOUT BOWLING GREEN (2016: 4-8): Although the Falcons are excited about the possibilities with sophomore James Morgan (2,082 passing yards, 16 TDs) under center to start the season, the team’s success in the final three games of 2016 suggest the running game will be more of a focus. Over that season-ending three-game winning streak, Bowling Green ran the ball more, racking up 984 yards with Donovan Wilson recording three games over more than 100 yards and Josh Cleveland having two. The two seniors are back, giving Jinks the opportunity to continue to limit turnovers by keeping the ball on the ground and taking some pressure off of Morgan to carry the team.
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (2016: 3-9): If there’s a position of strength for the Spartans, it’s at running back, where the trio of junior LJ Scott (994 yards), senior Gerald Holmes (431) and junior Madre London (120) will battle for carries throughout the campaign. Scott will be a key to the Michigan State offense and Dantonio will certainly lean on him early on as Lewerke continues to gain experience and confidence as the starter. Holmes and London will also see playing time as Dantonio likes to juggle his backs to keep them fresh and the defense off balance.
1. Junior WR Felton Davis III is the leading returning receiver for the Spartans, recording 12 catches for 150 yards in 2016.
2. Scott’s 1,693 rushing yards through his first two seasons ranks fifth in school history, just ahead of Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro RB Le‘Veon Bell’s 1,553 in his first two campaigns in East Lansing.
3. Michigan State’s streak of 18 straight wins in its home opener is tied for the fifth-longest active streak in the country.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 35, Bowling Green 20