Now that the college football season is all but over, save for Monday’s national title tussle between Alabama and Georgia, there’s been little wasted time in looking at next season.
The Sporting News delved into it Friday, ranking Michigan State No. 16 and Michigan No. 17 in its “pre-preseason” top 25.
The Spartans are coming off a 10-3 season, including a Holiday Bowl victory over Washington State, and lose just three senior starters. The cast of returners include playmaking quarterback Brian Lewerke, and running back LJ Scott, who set aside NFL aspirations for a year to return for his senior season.
“Brian Lewerke emerged as Michigan State’s quarterback of the future in 2017, and that was the key to another successful season — and remarkable turnaround — in 2017 under Mark Dantonio,” Bill Bender of the Sporting News writes. “Running back LJ Scott is returning, and Ohio State and Michigan must visit East Lansing. As Dantonio likes to say, ‘It’s never over.’ ”
Michigan, likewise, returns a loaded roster, including defensive end Chase Winovich, who also put the NFL on hold to return for his final season of eligibility.
“The arrival of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson could be the missing piece that allows Jim Harbaugh to silence the critics after a disappointing five-loss season,” Bender writes. “To be honest, we wanted to go higher, but the Wolverines’ schedule — which features road games at Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State — leaves them with a lot to prove.”
These rankings, of course, often are called “way-too-early” rankings for a reason. For one, it’s simply that — too early — and the rankings range widely as a result. Athlon Sports, for example, unveiled its way-too-early rankings earlier this week, ranking Michigan at No. 7, and MSU at No. 10.
There’s also still plenty left that could unfold in the offseason, including the national signing period in February, and any surprise roster additions or subtractions. And, in Michigan’s case, there’s Patterson’s immediate future, as he waits to hear about a waiver that will allow him to be eligible for next season in Ann Arbor.
What appears to be crystal clear, however, is that the Big Ten figures to be stacked next season. Three conference foes check in higher than Michigan State and Michigan in the Sporting News rankings: Ohio State at No. 4, Wisconsin at No. 6, and Penn State at No. 10.
Alabama, which plays Georgia on Monday for the natinoal title, is No. 1.