Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo break down Michigan and Michigan State for the 2017 college football season.
East Lansing — A game week is finally here, one that took a little bit longer for Michigan State this time after missing a bowl game last season.
In this week’s mailbag, we hit a lot of the hot topics as fans wonder what we might see from the Spartans this season.
■ Question: What game will MSU unexpectedly win this year? Which one will they unexpectedly lose? —@meyerm_11
■ Answer: This is a tough question because, outside of the Penn State and Ohio State games, I’m not sure there’s one on the schedule that seems an expected win or loss. But I’ll do my best. When it comes to a game the Spartans might win that many think they won’t, might as well stick close to home and say Michigan (but, Blue Wall!). No, this isn’t just to get the rivalry all stirred up — as if that ever needs stirring. Rivalry games are a different animal, and while I think Michigan wins that game, I’m not totally sold the Wolverines will have it all figured out that early in the season. As for one they might lose, that’s almost as difficult. Michigan State won’t lose to Bowling Green or Rutgers and a lot of the other Big Ten games — Minnesota, Indiana, Maryland — are probably toss-ups. I’ll go with Western Michigan. It would be the last thing this MSU team needs, losing a game it shouldn’t in the second week, but the Broncos have never been afraid to mix it up with the big boys.
■ Q: Who’s a guy not many casual fans know about but who everyone will know after a few games? — @Adam_Burke_
■ A: With so many young players jumping into the mix this season, that could turn into a long list. Those who follow closely wouldn’t likely be surprised by names like Hunter Rison and Cody White at wide receiver or Josiah Scott at cornerback. If offensive line is your thing, pay attention to guard Kevin Jarvis and also tight end Matt Dotson. But those are all true freshmen. How about some guys that have been around, but now have a chance to start like Kenny Willekes at defensive end or Josh Butler at corner? OK, OK, I’ll narrow it down and pick one guy. The one guy I think breaks out that isn’t getting talked about much is wide receiver Cam Chambers. He was part of a heralded recruiting class last year but redshirted while sitting behind R.J. Shelton. He’s got all the tools to be an outstanding receiver, and if he gets a shot early, he could take off.
■ Q: How confident is Coach D with the status of his special teams? Coming into this game with a new place kicker and returner. — @KebabKyle
■ A: Like a lot of position groups, there is a confidence, but I’m not sure it’s unwavering. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of concern with Jake Hartbarger at punter, but redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin has yet to attempt a field goal in a college game, so there will always be some trepidation. Sure, Michael Geiger came on as a true freshman and maybe Coghlin does the same after a redshirt season, but you can never be sure. The next option appear to be fifth-year senior Brett Scanlon, who will handle kickoffs. Looks like freshman Cole Hahn will have to wait. As for the return game, tough to call. Brandon Sowards was no game-changer in the punting game, so Darrell Stewart could easily be an upgrade there and in returning kickoffs. It’s a spot MSU hasn’t really had a potential game-breaker since Keshawn Martin, and only time will tell if Stewart can be that guy.
■ Q: With Lewerke having decent mobility, could we see more bootleg action and qb runs? It could enhance the playbook for a young developing team. — @TyDavii
■ A: I’d say to definitely expect a bit more running from Lewerke. Now, what exactly those plays will look like remains to be seen, and Dave Warner today said Lewerke is the most athletic quarterback they’ve had since the current staff arrived in 2007. And while there almost certainly will be more designed runs, they have talked with Lewerke as much about pulling the ball down on a passing play and taking off when the opportunity presents itself. So, it won’t all be called, some will be up to Lewerke to make it happen with his feet.
■ Q: How confident are you in the O & D lines? — @hogaboom77
■ A: I’m confident in certain parts of both lines, but overall I truly believe the offensive line will come together as the season goes and become a pretty solid unit. Yes, they’re young overall and will be counting on plenty of guys who are short on starts, but there is talent there, to be sure. Some of it is really young — freshmen Kevin Jarvis, Jordan Reid and Mustafah Khaleefah could all play and redshirt freshman Luke Campbell is starting — and some are guys who’ve been around but have dealt with injuries or moved around a bit — Tyler Higby and David Beedle. But overall, a lot of good players that need to come together. On defense, I love the tackles. Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk could have big years, but the depth is solid and watch out for Naquan Jones. The ends, of course, are the question. We’ll see how Kenny Willekes and Dillon Alexander do, but look for Demetrius Cooper to get plenty of work, and I guess we’ll all have to wait and see on Brandon Randle. How much he plays at end and linebacker is a fluid situation.
■ Q: This is basketball related but do you know yet if the Spartans will wear patches on their jerseys to honor Jud Heathcote? — @Cheapaction
■ A: Haven’t heard any official word yet, but I’d count on something taking place this season that will help remember Jud.