We’ve still got a couple of months before preseason camp begins, but there’s no reason not to start thinking about what might be in the cards for Michigan State in 2019.
The conservative approach would say the Spartans should be a bowl-caliber team. But considering the questions stemming from last season and the fact the schedule is difficult, competing for the Big Ten East title might be a bit of a stretch.
But that’s no fun. Instead, we’re getting bold. Some might say ridiculous.
Oh well. It’s still May, after all. And with that, here are 10 bold predictions for the Spartans in 2019.
1. Brian Lewerke will be first-team All-Big Ten
It’s easy to forget the projections for Lewerke heading into 2018. He was a dark horse Heisman candidate after an outstanding sophomore season, but a slow start followed by injuries derailed his junior year. If he remains 100-percent healthy, Lewerke could resemble the 2017 version, one that was effective both as a passer and a runner.
2. A running back will gain 1,000 yards
The Spartans haven’t had a back go for 1,000 yards since Jeremy Langford in 2014 and changing that after an abysmal 2018 seems like a reach. But these predictions are bold, right? Who is the back to get it done is another question, but if someone emerges early – freshman Anthony Williams, perhaps – he could become the go-to guy.
3. Cody White will lead MSU in receiving and contemplate leaving for the NFL
Injuries kept White on the sidelines for four games last season, but he still had 42 receptions for 555 yards and a couple of touchdowns in nine games. He’s proven to be one of Brian Lewerke’s favorite targets and has a penchant for making tough catches. Remaining healthy could result in an All-Big Ten season and have NFL teams paying close attention.
4. The offense will finish in the top half of the Big Ten in scoring
It will take a significant jump for a group that scored just 18.7 points a game last season, but the assumption is the offensive line has to get better and health at the skill positions should make a big difference. The wild card is what the offense will look like under new coordinator Brad Salem, something the Spartans hope breathes some life into what became a stagnant unit.
5. MSU returns a kick or a punt for a TD for first time since 2014
When the priority for returning kicks, especially punts, under Mark Dantonio has been to secure the possession, it’s not a shock to realize the last time the Spartans took a kick back for a TD was by R.J. Shelton in 2014. The last punt taken back was by Keyshawn Martin in 2011. But with a player like Jalen Nailor likely to have a role returning kicks, expect things to change in 2019.
6. Kenny Willekes doubles his sack total from last season
If he does that, he’ll surpass the program record of 16 set by Larry Bethea in 1977. It’s a tough ask to double the 8 Willekes had last season and it will be interesting to see how he bounces back from the broken leg suffered in the Redbox Bowl. But there seems to be little doubt that Willekes could be primed for a big final season with the Spartans.
7. Josiah Scott leads the Big Ten in interceptions
He had two interceptions in just five games last season after missing the first eight with a knee injury. That came after earning Freshman All-American honors in 2017 and has many expecting this could be the junior’s final season at Michigan State.
8. The defense produces three All-Americans
There are more than three players that could put together an All-American-type season, but we’re going to go with Willekes, Scott and fifth-year senior tackle Raequan Williams. Willekes and Williams earned All-Big Ten honors last season and Willekes was the conference’s top defensive lineman. By the end of the season, all three could see their names on a bigger stage.
9. MSU is 9-0 heading into the Michigan game
We figured we’d end this exercise with the boldest of the takes. The first is the Spartans will be unbeaten heading into the Nov. 16 game at Michigan. To do so would include wins at Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin. None are going to be easy, but each team has questions entering the season that could point to being vulnerable in 2019. MSU, at the very least, is experienced, and that could be the difference.
10. MSU returns to the College Football Playoff
Again, a lot has to go right for this to happen, but pull off the 9-0 and the Spartans are in position. Obviously, they’d need to win that Michigan game and that would cap off a resume including four impressive road wins. It would all lead to a fourth appearance in the Big Ten title game and second playoff berth, two things that, at this point, are absolute long shots.
Fri., Aug. 30, Tulsa
Sat., Sept. 7, Western Michigan
Sat., Sept. 14, Arizona State
Sat., Sept. 21, at Northwestern
Sat., Sept. 28, Indiana
Sat., Oct. 5, at Ohio State
Sat., Oct. 12, at Wisconsin
Sat., Oct. 26, Penn State
Sat., Nov. 9, Illinois
Sat., Nov. 16, at Michigan
Sat., Nov. 23, at Rutgers
Sat., Nov. 30, Maryland