We’re fully into the basketball season now, and there were plenty of questions about where Michigan State stands right now as well as what the future coaching staff might look like.
However, it seems it’s always football season nowadays and there is still plenty of interest in the Spartans as they capped off a 10-win season with a victory in the Holiday Bowl.
In this week’s mailbag we take a look at some areas they need to improve on next season and what the ceiling might be in 2018.
Question: MSU ended 2017 on a high note and has a lot coming back in 2018. However, there are three areas that need to improve by quite a bit for MSU to take that championship leap: run blocking, the DE/SAM pass rush and safety play. How do you see State addressing these concerns this spring? — @tSpartanRocky
Answer: I might quibble with you on safety play. There have been issues in the past with broken coverages, but there was very little of that this season. Khari Willis was second on the team in tackles and David Dowell had five interceptions and was named first-team All-Big Ten by the media. That might have been a little high — he was honorable mention from the coaches — but the Spartans feel good about their secondary headed into next season.
The run blocking and pass rush, I’m with you. There are no secrets on the offensive side. The belief from the Spartans is the full season of experience is big for this group. Think about the fact they played a true freshman — Kevin Jarvis — for most of the season at right guard and in the Holiday Bowl, freshman Jordan Reid got plenty of work at right tackle. The key is who takes over at center for Brian Allen. On defense, there was at least progress from last season but a true edge rusher still needs to emerge. Kenny Willekes could be that guy and they’re still high on Brandon Randle.
Q. With continued improvement over 2017, where do you see MSU football finishing next year in the Big Ten? — @JohnGuadez
A. There’s no reason Michigan State can’t win the East, and then anything is possible from there. Now, this is coming from the guy who picked the Spartans to go 6-6 this season, so take it for what it’s worth. And, of course, as Michigan State improves, it’s not like the rest of the division is going anywhere, not to mention Wisconsin over in the West. Ohio State will always be in the picture, and it doesn’t look like Penn State is going away. Also, hate it as much as you want, Michigan will be a factor, while Maryland took strides before injuries became overwhelming. Point is, winning the division is not guarantee, even if you get better. There are some positives for the Spartans, namely they get Ohio State and Michigan at home and they avoid Wisconsin again.
Q. What schools is deWeaver looking at for transfer? — @ep5954
A. Hard to say at this point as Messiah deWeaver hasn’t been talking, but start looking around for teams that might have a senior quarterback with what looks like an open competition from there. I wouldn’t limit where he’s looking. This is a former four-star recruit who has a lot of the tools teams are looking for, and he was granted a full release, meaning there are no restrictions where he can go.
MSU head coach Tom Izzo talks about the Spartans' No. 1 national ranking. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Q. Do you see Fife or Stephens taking over the head coaching job when Izzo retires? Or do they go outside the program? —@ryanoc_gogreen
A. I’m sure, in a perfect world, either Dwayne Stephens or Dane Fife would love to move into the head coaching position at Michigan State. The thing is, both want to be a head coach — again, in Fife’s case — and they’re not just going to wait around. What I mean is, there is no sign Tom Izzo is looking to retire anytime soon and Stephens and Fife have both been in the mix for head coaching jobs the last few years. Neither will jump at any chance, but if the right opening comes and there’s a chance for Stephens or Fife to land the job, they’d take that as opposed to waiting.
Q. Did I miss something or what’s up with Ben Carter? — @gloverelec
A. He injured his right ankle a couple of weeks ago and has missed the last couple of games. He practiced full on Tuesday, so I’d expect him to be back in the rotation Thursday against Maryland. Izzo said on Tuesday he believes Carter is OK, physically, but they were being cautious considering they didn’t want Carter to compensate for the right ankle to a point where it affected his surgically-repaired left knee.
Q. What’s the single-season record for blocks by a Spartan basketball team? I love the block parties Jaren Jackson throws. What kind of preseason ranking will Mark Dantonio be looking at in fall 2018? — @50investors
A. The single-season mark is 177 in 2015-16. At 126 and the Spartans averaging 8.4 a game, it would seem that number would get passed fairly easily this season. Jackson has 51 blocks this season, which already ties him for the seventh-best season in program history. He’ll push pretty hard for the program record of 72, set by Ken Johnson in 1984-85.
As for Michigan State’s football ranking, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in the top 10. Considering where they ended this season and what’s coming back, it would be worthy. However, we all know how preseason rankings seems to work and often Michigan State is undervalued. So, ranked for sure, but where? We’ll have to see.