Michigan State No. 4, Michigan No. 5 in ESPN's Big Ten power rankings

The Detroit News

If Michigan State or Michigan has any hope to win the Big Ten this season, it's apparent they're going to have to go through Ohio State. And Wisconsin.

Much like the Big Ten preseason poll by cleveland.com, the Buckeyes and Badgers are 1-2 in ESPN's Big Ten preseason power rankings, posted Monday ahead of Big Ten media days in Chicago.

Quarterback Brian Lewerke and Michigan State are ranked No. 4 in ESPN's Big Ten preseason power rankings.

Michigan State is ranked No. 4 in ESPN's rankings, one spot ahead of in-state rival Michigan, edging the Wolverines, it seems, because of a bevy of returning starters and stability at quarterback.

"This one might cause some debate between Spartans and Wolverines, but Michigan State loses only four total starters from last season," ESPN writes. "That team had 10 wins and brings back one of the more important pieces in quarterback Brian Lewerke."

Lewerke, who on Monday earned Big Ten preseason honors, is coming off a season in which he threw for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He completed 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.

He'll have his top three returning receivers to throw to, as well as senior running back LJ Scott lining up in the backfield.

"All of Lewerke's offensive weapons are coming back, and the Spartans are really only replacing center Brian Allen on the offensive side," ESPN writes. "Defensively, linebacker Joe Bachie and defensive back Josiah Scott should be able to build off strong 2017 campaigns, which will make Michigan State tough to beat in 2018."

Michigan, meanwhile, also returns plenty from last season, including defensive end Rashan Gary who, like Lewerke, earned Big Ten preseason honors. The Wolverines, however, have yet to finish higher than third in the Big Ten East in head coach Jim Harbaugh's first three seasons in Ann Arbor.

"The Wolverines once again have the talent to contend for a Big Ten title, but four years into the Jim Harbaugh era they have to start proving it on the field before they climb any higher in the rankings," ESPN writes. "The defense returns bona fide NFL prospects at all three levels and should once again be good enough to keep any game close."

Michigan appears to have its quarterback issues solved with the addition of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson. Michigan finished 8-5 last season, relying on three different starting quarterbacks because of injuries.

"Patterson — the front-runner to take over at quarterback — and some new blood on the coaching staff will be tasked with jump-starting an offense that struggled in 2017," ESPN writes.