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3 from Michigan defense, MSU's Lewerke make Sporting News' top 40

The Detroit News

There's little question Michigan's defense is loaded again this season. It's reaffirmed with each watch list, or every time someone comes out with their preseason rankings.

One of the latest comes from the Sporting News, which on Monday released its top 40 players for the 2018 college football season. Three members of Michigan's defense — which last season ranked No. 3 in the country in total defense — are on the list: Defensive end Chase Winovich (No. 38), linebacker Devin Bush (36), and defensive end Rashan Gary (15).

Michigan defensive lineman Chase Winovich (15) and Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke  (foreground) are among the Sporting News' top 40 college football players for the 2018 season.

Also landing a spot in Sporting News' top 40 is Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who checks in at No. 29.

Only Clemson's defense — with four players, including two in the top 10 (defense tackle Christian Wilkins at No. 3; defensive end Clelin Ferrell at No. 8) — has more representatives from its unit than Michigan's defense, which matches Alabama's offense and Washington's offense with three.

Gary, a 6-foot-5, 281-pound junior, leads the trio after a sophomore season in which he had 67 total tackles last season, 12 for a loss, including six sacks. His seven quarterback hurries led the team.

"The former No. 1 overall recruit continues to impress off the edge in Michigan's defense," writes Bill Bender, a national college football writer for the Sporting News. "He had six sacks and 12 tackles for loss last season, but it's the opportunities his presence creates for others both against the run and pass that makes a big difference for the Wolverines. He'll still need the numbers to follow to compete with a loaded defensive line class."

He's joined on the defensive line by the 6-foot-3, 253-pound Winovich, who opted to return for his final season rather than enter the NFL draft. He had 77 total tackles last season, including a team-high 18 for loss, and eight sacks (tied for the team lead).

"Winovich's decision to stay for another year gives the Wolverines another dominant pass-rusher off the edge," Bender writes. "... (He) could easily be a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft."

Bush, meanwhile, led the Wolverines in tackles (100) last season, while also notching 9.5 tackles for loss, including five sacks.

"Bush enjoyed a breakout season for the Wolverines in 2017," Bender writes. "He's a fast, side-to-side linebacker who can lay the big hit."

A season ago, Lewerke took the Michigan State offense's reins on a full-time basis and flourished. He threw for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns, with seven interceptions, while completing 59 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 559 yards (4.5 yards per carry), which ranked second on the team, and five more touchdowns, in leading the Spartans to a 10-win season, including a Holiday Bowl victory.

Like Gary, Lewerke earned preseason honors last week from the Big Ten.

More: Brian Lewerke poised to step into the company of MSU's legendary quarterbacks

"(MSU head coach) Mark Dantonio has groomed NFL-caliber quarterbacks in Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook," Bender writes, "but Lewerke offers the best of both worlds (in his ability to pass and run). ... He'll keep the Spartans in the hunt in the Big Ten East."

Mississippi State defensive end Montez Sweat is ranked No. 37. Sweat spent 2014 at Michigan State before transferring to Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College, and then to Mississippi State.

Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver tops the Sporting News' rankings.