According to ESPN, not much has changed when sizing up the Michigan football team's future. Michigan State's, though, appears to be brighter than it was a year ago.
Going from 3-9 to 10-3 can do that.
ESPN unveiled its overall "future power rankings" on Monday (pay site), projecting the outlook for college football's top 25 programs through the 2020 season.
Not much separates Michigan and Michigan State — the Wolverines are ranked No. 16, and the Spartans No. 17 — in the rankings, which ESPN's Adam Rittenberg says are the result of reviewing rosters and polling coaches, among other factors.
Both are in different positions than last year, when ESPN ranked Michigan No. 6, while leaving Michigan State out of its future rankings.
Rittenberg's take on Michigan, though, had a familiar tone, with "few teams' forecasts ... tougher to peg than Michigan's" in last season's rankings.
This year, Rittenberg writes that, "after the top five to seven teams, Michigan could really end up anywhere on this list."
"(Head coach) Jim Harbaugh has assembled enough talent — much of it from the 2016 recruiting class, which ESPN rated sixth nationally — to start challenging for Big Ten titles and ultimately the playoff," Rittenberg continues. "Then again, Michigan needs to show more in college football's most competitive division."
Michigan ranks No. 21 in future QB rankings — which are over the next three seasons — No. 25 on offense, and No. 5 in defense.
"Don Brown's defense has often performed at an elite level and should continue to do so in 2018 as Rashan Gary, Chase Winovich, Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson headline an excellent front seven," Rittenberg writes.
"Then there's the offense, a unit that, as one Big Ten coach put it, 'has more talent than what's showing up on game day.' Shea Patterson could be the immediate answer at quarterback, and Michigan should benefit from Tarik Black's return at wide receiver. But the offensive line has got to start performing to its potential, as veteran assistant Ed Warinner takes over there. Michigan's 2018 recruiting fell off a bit compared with Ohio State and Penn State, adding to the urgency for a breakthrough this fall."
Michigan State, meanwhile, is among the top 25 teams after ESPN left the Spartans out in 2017, likely the result of a miserable 2016 season, in which they went 3-9.
"It's as if 2016 ... didn't even happen in terms of affecting MSU's trajectory," Rittenberg writes. "A 10-win season in 2017 coupled with a roster filled with returning starters has put the Spartans back on track. Talented quarterback Brian Lewerke has two more years of eligibility left, and he'll be throwing to a wide-receiving corps one Big Ten coach calls the league's best."
Lewerke leads a QB group that ESPN ranks No. 12 over the next three seasons. The offense ranked 11th, and the defense 15th.
Rittenberg quotes one unnamed defensive coordinator who face MSU last season, saying "They'll be good on offense. They've got a slew of backs. All of the wideouts are young. They looked athletic."
As for the defense, Rittenberg writes, "Michigan State should produce Dantonio-esque defenses for the next few seasons, especially with a secondary stocked with gifted underclassmen. The Spartans lack glitzy recruiting classes, which could ultimately hurt them in the Big Ten East Division, but they seem to be back to scouting and developing the right players for their identity."
Alabama tops ESPN's rankings. Ohio State is No. 3 — one of three Big Ten teams in the top 10, joining Penn State (No. 6) and Wisconsin (No. 9).
Michigan State opens the season Aug. 31 at home against Utah State. Michigan opens Sept. 1 at Notre Dame. The rivals meet Oct. 20 in East Lansing.