Most of what’s below is self explanatory, with the following exceptions:
*The points for/against and yards for/against numbers don’t include bowl games.
*Football Power Index (FPI) is an ESPN metric.
*Phil Steele is a college football analyst best known for his annual preview magazine.
*The coaching records are as an FBS head coach only. NFL records of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Illinois’ Lovie Smith, for example, are not included.
2018: 7-6, 5-4 Big Ten. Best win: 21-17 at Penn State as a 13-point underdog. Worst loss: 16-13 at Arizona State as a five-point favorite.
Starters back: 17 (nine offense, eight defense).
By the numbers: Points for/against, 243-223; yards for/against, 4447/3941. FPI: #14 in the country, #4 in Big Ten East. Phil Steele: #14 in the country, #3 in B10 East.
Schedule: (57th-toughest in FBS by opponents’ 2018 W-L) Aug. 30, Tulsa; Sept. 7, Western Michigan; Sept. 14, Arizona St.; Sept. 21, at Northwestern; Sept. 28, Indiana; Oct. 5, at Ohio St.; Oct. 12, at Wisconsin; Oct. 26, Penn St.; Nov. 9, Illinois; Nov. 16, at Michigan; Nov. 23, at Rutgers; Nov. 30, Maryland.
Coach: Mark Dantonio, 13th year at MSU (107-51), 16th year overall (125-68).
Outlook: The defense was one of the best in the country last year, top 10 in FBS in five major categories. The offense was not. The Spartans lost three games in which they yielded 16 points or less, including 9-6 at Nebraska at 7-6 to Oregon in the Redbox Bowl. Michigan State has a reputation for running the ball (deserved) effectively (not so much). Sparty managed a feeble 3.9 yards per carry last year. It might change this year; all five offensive line starters, and seven OLs who have started at least one game, are back.
Almost everybody’s back, in fact, including the entire defensive line, the entire secondary, and some of the best kicking specialists in the country. QB Brian Lewerke only seems to have been there since the George W. Bush Administration.
The schedule’s tough in key spots, including at Ohio State, at Wisconsin (in back-to-back weeks) and at Michigan. Sparty will be good. Maybe, if new offensive coordinator Brad Salem can coax Dantonio to get creative with a healthy Lewerke, they can be better than good.
Prediction: 10-2, 7-2.