Sure, it’s just July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last season’s four College Football Playoff semifinalists were rated Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 24 on our 2015 list.
Today’s team: No. 15 Michigan State (Related coverage: Grad transfer Sherrod upgrades from Delaware State to Michigan State)
The Spartans will contend if … they can effectively replace quarterback Connor Cook, a three-year starter who went 34-4 and broke virtually all of Michigan State’s passing records. However, the Spartans will need to do more than just find a reliable quarterback if they hope to win 11 games for the sixth time in the past seven years — Michigan State also must replace three of its top four receivers from 2015.
INSIDE THE SPARTANS
Coach: Mark Dantonio (10th year, 87-33; 105-50 overall at Cincinnati, Michigan State)
2015: 12-2, 7-1 in the Big Ten; lost to Alabama in the CFP semifinals 38-0
Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense
The key game: Oct. 29, Michigan
Hello: QB Tyler O’Connor, OG Brian Allen, DT Malik McDowell, RB L.J. Scott, DE Demtrius Cooper, LB Riley Bullough
Goodbye: QB Connor Cook (Oakland Raiders), WR Aaron Burbridge (San Francisco 49ers), WR Macgarrett Kings, WR DeAnthony Arnett, LT Jack Conklin (Tennessee Titans), C Jack Allen (New Orleans Saints)
Spring cleaning: Dantonio and his staff went into the spring with one priority: Rebuild the passing game. They seemed to have achieved that goal; in the spring game, fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor completed 10 of 16 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown in limited action. More importantly, O’Connor again showed the poise that he exhibited while filling in for an injured Cook in last year’s upset win over Ohio State. Touted freshman receiver Donnie Corley had a quiet spring game, but the coaches still believe that the 6-3, 190-pound four-star recruit will emerge as a difference-maker. Defensively, graduation took a toll on the front with the departure of three starting linemen.
Passing: Tyler O’Connor, 13-24-133 yards, 2/1 (2nd)
Rushing: LJ Scott, 146-699-11 (1st); Gerald Holmes, 110-540-8 (2nd); Madre London, 119-500-3 (3rd)
Receiving: RJ Shelton, 43-503-4 (2nd)
Tackles: LB Riley Bullough, 106 (1st)
Sacks: DE Demetrius Cooper, 5 (2nd)
RETURNING ALL CONFERENCE (2)
Offense: OG Brian Allen (2nd team)
Defense: DT Malik McDowell (2nd)
- Corley isn’t the only heralded freshman receiver who arrived early on campus. Cameron Chambers also took part in spring drills, and true freshmen Justin Layne and Trishton Jackson add to the talented but raw receiving corps. The Spartans will need those youngsters to contribute quickly; they’ve lost 66 percent of their receptions and 65 percent of the receiving yards from 2015.
- Although Malik McDowell, an all-conference defensive tackle, gives the Spartans a physical presence to the front seven, they’ll need to develop some pass rushers to replace three-time All-Big Ten DE Shilique Calhoun. A revamped pass rush also will keep the pressure of a secondary that gave up 233.9 passing yards per game last season, although injuries played a big role in the porous pass coverage.
- An early-season road trip to Notre Dame looks daunting, but Michigan State appears to have caught a break with its schedule. The Spartans play top conference rivals Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State at home, and all of their conference road games appear winnable. If the revamped offense can find its rhythm by the time Michigan State opens Big Ten play against Wisconsin in the third game, the program may spring a surprise run to the conference title game.
Michigan State's 2016 schedule
|Date||Opponent||Last yr's result (if played)|
|Sept. 17||at Notre Dame|
|Oct. 1||at Indiana*||W, 52-26|
|Oct. 22||at Maryland*||W, 24-7|
|Oct. 29||Michigan*||W, 27-23|
|Nov. 5||at Illinois*|
|Nov. 12||Rutgers*||W, 31-24|
|Nov. 19||Ohio State*||W, 17-14|
|Nov. 26||at Penn State*||W, 55-16|
|* Big Ten game|
Michigan State: The last 5 years
|2015||12-2 / 7-1||5th / 6th||CFP semifinals, L|
|2014||11-2 / 7-1||8th / 6th||Cotton Bowl, W|
|2013||13-1 / 8-0||— / 3rd||Rose Bowl, W|
|2012||7-6 / 3-5||13th / —||Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, W|
|2011||11-3 / 7-1||17th / 11th||Outback Bowl, W|
|Total||54-14, 32-8||5 bowl games (4-1)|
2015 NATIONAL RANKS
Scoring: 56th (29.8 ppg)
Scoring defense: 22nd (21.7 ppg)
Passing yards: 52nd (234.2 ypg)
Rushing yards: 88th (151.3 ypg)
TOP 25 SO FAR …
No. 16: Michigan State
No. 15: Coming Sunday. Want a hint? This school opens its season against Alabama and ends it with Notre Dame.
3 schools: Pac-12 (17-Washington, 21-Oregon, 25-Washington State)
2 schools: ACC (20-North Carolina, 23-Louisville); Big Ten (15-Michigan State, 18-Iowa); Big 12 (19-Baylor, 22-Oklahoma State)
1 school: SEC (16-Georgia); Mountain West (24-Boise State)