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Spartan Spring Football Preview

March 1, 2018

Spring Media Guide (PDF) | Spring Roster

Feb. 27-April 10 (Spring Game, April 7, 5 p.m., BTN)

• After finishing the 2017 campaign with a 10-3 record and a No. 15 ranking by The Associated Press, Michigan State is looking to use the momentum built from last year into another successful season in 2018. The Spartans capped the greatest single-season turnaround in school history with a dominating 42-17 win over No. 18 Washington State in the Holiday Bowl to record their sixth double-digit win season in the last eight years.

• MSU begins its 12th spring practice under head coach Mark Dantonio on Tuesday, Feb. 27. The Spartans will hold their annual Green-White Spring Game, presented by McLaren Health Plan, on Saturday, April 7 at 5 p.m. in Spartan Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on BTN and BTN2Go.

• After featuring one of the youngest teams in the nation last season, Michigan State returns a total of 49 letterwinners and 19 position starters in 2018. A total of 33 players returning have starting experience (16 offense, 14 defense, three special teams). Out of a combined 286 possible starting positions in 2017 on offense and defense throughout the course of 13 games, the Spartans are returning 239 of those starts (84 percent). The 19 position starters returning on offense and defense are tied for the second most in the FBS (Kansas, 20). According to the S&P+ Ratings from SB Nation, MSU has the most returning production of any team in the FBS.

• On defense, the Spartans return 23 letterwinners and nine starters from a unit that finished ranked in the FBS Top 10 in rushing defense (No. 2 at 95.3 ypg) and total defense (No. 7 at 297.6 ypg). Out of a possible 143 starting positions last season over the course of 13 games, the Spartans are returning 120 of those starts (84 percent). Five of those nine returning starters started in all 13 games last season (LB Joe Bachie, LB Andrew Dowell, DT Mike Panasuik, NT Raequan Williams, S Khari Willis).



• The Spartans will welcome 10 starters back on offense, including senior running back LJ Scott and junior quarterback Brian Lewerke. The only starter lost on offense was center Brian Allen. MSU returns 100 percent of its passing yards from the quarterback position, 82 percent of its receptions, 81 percent of its receiving yards, and 71 percent of its rushing yards. Out of a possible 143 starting positions last season over the course of 13 games, the Spartans are returning 119 of those starts (83 percent).

• The Spartans are ranked in the Top 25 in several “way-too-early” preseason polls, including (No. 5), The Athletic (No. 7), ESPN (No. 9), Athlon Sports (No. 10), USA TODAY (No. 10), (No. 12) and Sporting News (No. 16).

• Michigan State, which finished the 2017 season with a 10-3 record and a victory in the Holiday Bowl over Washington State, was ranked No. 15 in the final Associated Press Poll and No. 16 in the final Amway Coaches Poll. MSU’s seven-game win improvement from 2016 established a school record for the biggest turnaround in program history. It marked the seventh time Michigan State finished in the national rankings under Dantonio, who is tied with legendary Hall of Fame Coach Duffy Daugherty for the most AP Top 25 finishes in school history. It’s also the 26th time overall the Spartans have finished in the AP Top 25. Dantonio has led Michigan State to Top 25 finishes in seven of his 11 seasons (2008: No. 24 in both polls; 2010: No. 14 in both polls; 2011: No. 10 Coaches/No. 11 AP; 2013: No. 3 in both polls; 2014: No. 5 in both polls; 2015: No. 6 in both polls; and 2017: No. 15 AP/No. 16 Coaches).

• Dantonio won his 100th game as head coach at Michigan State with the victory in the Holiday Bowl and is one of just eight active FBS coaches to own at least 100 victories at his current school. He is 100-45 overall in 11 seasons at Michigan State. The second-winningest coach in school history, Dantonio also extended his school record by winning his fifth bowl game (5-5 in bowl games at MSU). He is nine victories shy from tying Daugherty, who coached at MSU from 1954-72, for the most wins in school history (109).

• Dantonio’s incredible run at Michigan State ranks among the best in Big Ten history. Dantonio is one of just six Big Ten coaches to have at least six 10-win seasons on their resume (Bo Schembechler, Michigan; Jim Tressel, Ohio State; Joe Paterno, Penn State; Lloyd Carr, Michigan; Urban Meyer, Ohio State) and one of four to have at least five 11-win seasons (Tressel, Paterno, Meyer).

• Dantonio is one of just 14 coaches in Big Ten history to record 100 victories. He is currently No. 14 in Big Ten history with 100 wins.

• Michigan State is in the midst of its winningest decade in school history based on total wins, as the Spartans are 78-28 (.736) since the beginning of the 2010 season. During that span, MSU has won five bowl games (2012 Outback, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings, 2014 Rose, 2015 Cotton, 2017 Holiday), three Big Ten Championships (2010, 2013, 2015) and three Big Ten Division titles (2011, 2013, 2015). MSU’s .736 winning percentage this decade is second best in school history (.766 in 1950s, 70-21-1). The Spartans’ 78 victories since 2010 rank tied for 10th most in the FBS, and the 49 wins since 2013 are tied for ninth most.

No. 1 – Tuesday, Feb. 27
No. 2 – Thursday, March 1
No. 3 – Tuesday, March 13
No. 4 – Thursday, March 15
No. 5 – Friday/Saturday, March 16/17
No. 6 – Tuesday, March 20
No. 7 – Thursday, March 22
No. 8 – Friday/Saturday, March 23/24
No. 9 – Tuesday, March 27
No. 10 – Thursday, March 29
No. 11 – Tuesday, April 3
No. 12 – Thursday, April 5
No. 13 – Friday, April 6
No. 14 – Spring Game, Saturday, April 7, 5 p.m. (BTN/BTN2Go)
No. 15 – Tuesday, April 10

• Michigan State will face seven teams on its 2018 schedule that appeared in bowl games last season, including two of its three nonconference opponents (Aug. 31 vs. Utah State; Sept. 8 at Arizona State). Spartan Big Ten opponents Northwestern (Oct. 6), Penn State (Oct. 13), Michigan (Oct. 20), Purdue (Oct. 27) and Ohio State (Nov. 10) also played in bowl games last season.

• Michigan State’s 2018 season opener against Utah State is set for Friday, Aug. 31 at Spartan Stadium. This marks the seventh time in the last eight years that the Spartans will open on a Friday night. MSU hosted its first Friday night game in 2011 vs. Youngstown State, and has also welcomed Boise State (2012), Western Michigan (2013), Jacksonville State (2014) and Furman (2016) to East Lansing to start the season. In 2015, MSU traveled to Kalamazoo on Friday, Sept. 4 to begin the 2015 campaign at Western Michigan. The Spartans are 6-0 in their previous Friday night games under 12th-year head coach Mark Dantonio. A member of the Mountain West Conference, Utah State went 6-7 last season and lost in the Arizona Bowl. The matchup will be the first between the two schools.

• Michigan State and Arizona State will meet in Sun Devil Stadium on Sept. 8 in the first matchup between the two schools since 1986 and just the third overall in series history. MSU defeated ASU in the first-ever meeting, 12-3, at Spartan Stadium in 1985, but the Sun Devils returned the favor the following season in Tempe, 20-17.

• Now in the third year of the nine-game Big Ten Conference schedule, MSU has five home games and four road games in 2018. MSU will open Big Ten play at Indiana on Sept. 22 and will also travel to Penn State (Oct. 13), Maryland (Nov. 3) and Nebraska (Nov. 17). The Spartans will host Northwestern on Homecoming Oct. 6, Michigan on Oct. 20, Purdue on Oct. 27, Ohio State on Nov. 10 and Rutgers on Nov. 24. MSU will play Northwestern, Purdue and Nebraska from the Big Ten West Division in 2018.

• Michigan State will be looking for its ninth win in 11 tries against Michigan on Oct. 20 in Spartan Stadium. The Spartans have won eight of their last 10 meetings over the Wolverines, including four of the last five matchups in East Lansing.


Lettermen Lost: 21 (12 offense, 8 defense, 1 specialist)

Lettermen Returning: 49 (23 offense, 23 defense, 3 specialists)

Starters Lost: 4 (1 offense, 2 defense, 1 specialist)

Starters Returning: 23 (11 offense, 9 defense, 3 specialist)

Offensive Starters Lost (1): C Brian Allen

Offensive Starters Returning (10): LG David Beedle, RT Luke Campbell, LT Cole Chewins, WR Felton Davis III, RG Kevin Jarvis, QB Brian Lewerke, RB LJ Scott, TE Matt Sokol, WR Darrell Stewart, WR Cody White

Defensive Starters Lost (2): DE Demetrius Cooper, LB Chris Frey

Defensive Starters Returning (9): LB Joe Bachie, LB Andrew Dowell, S David Dowell, CB Justin Layne, CB Josiah Scott, DT Mike Panasiuk, DE Kenny Willekes, NT Raequan Williams, S Khari Willis

Starting Specialists Lost (1): KO Brett Scanlon

Starting Specialists Returning (3): SN Collin Caflisch, PK Matt Coghlin, P Jake Hartbarger



Letterwinners returning (1):
Brian Lewerke (2L, Jr., 6-3, 215, 13 games/13 starts, 246-of-417 passing (.590), 2,793 yards, 20 TDs, 7 INTs)

Outlook: After a sensational sophomore season, Brian Lewerke returns for his second year as the starting quarterback in 2018. Lewerke became the first Spartan quarterback to throw for more than 2,500 yards and rush for more than 500 yards in the same season while leading MSU to a 10-3 record and a No. 15 AP ranking in 2017. He set MSU sophomore records for total offense (3,352 yards), passing yards (2,973), passing attempts (417) and passing completions (246); in addition, his 3,352 yards of total offense were the second most in school history. A true dual-threat quarterback, Lewerke also finished last season with 559 rushing yards on 124 carries, the fourth most by a Spartan QB in a single season and the most since Drew Stanton had 687 in 2004.

During the course of his first year as a starter, Lewerke’s passing skills were on full display, as he became just one of three Big Ten quarterbacks in the last 20 years to throw for 400 yards in consecutive games. He set school single-game records for passing yards (445), total offense (475) and completions (39) in the triple-overtime loss at Northwestern on Oct. 28, and followed that effort by completing 33-of-56 passes for 400 yards to defeat No. 7 Penn State the next week on Nov. 4. In MSU’s 42-17 win over No. 18 Washington State in the Holiday Bowl, Lewerke was named the Offensive MVP after finishing with 286 yards of total offense; he was 13-of-21 passing for 213 yards and three touchdowns, and set a Spartan bowl record for most rushing yards by a quarterback (14 carries for 73 yards).

Lewerke’s three favorite targets from 2017 - Felton Davis, Darrell Stewart and Cody White - all return for the Spartans in 2018. That trio combined for 1,767 yards, 140 receptions and 15 touchdown catches last year in their first season working with Lewerke.

In 17 career games, including 15 starts (10-5 record), Lewerke has completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,174 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi and early enrollee Theo Day will provide depth at quarterback for the Spartans. Graduate transfer Mickey Macius returns for his second year with the program.


Letterwinners returning (3):
RB Connor Heyward (1L, So., 6-0, 228, 12 games, 3 carries, 10 yards, 3.3 avg., 0 TDs)
FB Collin Lucas (1L, Sr., 6-1, 234, 13 games/5 starts)
RB LJ Scott (3L, Sr., 6-1, 226, 12 games/7 starts, 201 carries, 898 yards, 4.5 avg., 8 TDs, 74.8 ypg.)

Outlook: Michigan State’s running game received a boost when LJ Scott announced he would be returning for his senior season following his 110-yard, two touchdown effort in the win over No. 18 Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. Scott led the Spartans in rushing for the third consecutive year in 2017, finishing with 898 yards and eight TDs on 201 carries. He finished eighth in the Big Ten in rushing (74.8 avg.) and tied for ninth in rushing TDs (8). Scott recorded three 100-yard games for the Spartans in 2017, including a career-high 194 yards at Minnesota on Oct. 14. He enters his senior season ranked 11th in MSU history in carries (531), 12th in rushing yards (2,591) and tied for 12th in rushing TDs (25).

Rising sophomore Connor Heyward, who had a chance to show his diverse skill set as a true freshman by returning kicks, catching passes and carrying the ball in the backfield, will have a chance to earn even more playing time in his second season with the Spartans in 2018.

At fullback, fifth-year senior Collin Lucas returns as the starter after playing in all 13 games last season, including five starts.


Letterwinners returning (7):
Cam Chambers (1L, So., 6-2, 215, 13 games, 5 catches, 66 yards, 13.2 avg., 0 TDs, 5.1 ypg)
Felton Davis III (3L, Sr., 6-4, 195, 13 games/13 starts, 55 catches, 776 yards, 14.1 avg., 9 TDs, 59.7 ypg)
Nick Krumm (1L, Jr., 5-10, 184, 5 games)
Laress Nelson (1L, So., 5-8, 182, 10 games, 3 catches, 29 yards, 9.7 avg., 0 TDs, 2.9 ypg)
Darrell Stewart Jr. (2L, Jr., 6-2, 214, 13 games/4 starts, 50 catches, 501 yards, 10.0 avg., 2 TDs, 38.5 ypg)
Andre Welch (1L, So., 5-9, 169, 3 games)
Cody White (1L, So., 6-3, 214, 13 games/6 starts, 35 catches, 490 yards, 14.0 avg., 4 TDs, 37.7 ypg)

Outlook: Michigan State brings back all three of its starting wide receivers in rising senior Felton Davis III, junior Darrell Stewart and sophomore Cody White. The trio accounted for 1,767 yards, 140 receptions and 15 touchdown catches last season.

A second-team All-Big Ten selection by the media, Davis led a young receiving corps in 2017 with career highs in receptions (55), receiving yards (776) and touchdown catches (9), all of which ranked among the Big Ten leaders (tied for third in TD catches with nine; tied for seventh in receptions at 4.2 pg; seventh in receiving yards at 59.7 ypg). Davis’ career-high nine TD catches also tied for 25th in the FBS. He registered career highs in catches (12) and receiving yards (181) in the win over No. 7 Penn State on Nov. 4 and was named the Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week vs. Iowa (nine catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns). In the Holiday Bowl victory, Davis recorded his third 100-yard receiving game of the season, hauling in four catches for 118 yards, including a career-long 49-yard touchdown pass from Brian Lewerke in the second quarter. In 32 career games, Davis is MSU’s active leader in receptions (69), receiving yards (976) and TD catches (10).

Stewart ranked second on the team in catches (50), receiving yards (501; 38.5 ypg) and all-purpose yards (813; 62.5 ypg), while White, a BTN All-Freshman Team selection in 2017, closed his first year with the most receiving yards by a true freshman in school history with 490. His 35 catches were second most by a true freshman (Sedrick Irvin with 40 in 1996) and most by a true freshman wide receiver (B.J. Cunningham had 41 catches for 528 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2008). White, who started the last six games in 2017, ranked third on the team in catches (35) and receiving yards (490) and second in touchdown receptions (4). He recorded 30 of his 35 catches in the second half of the season and set another MSU freshman record with 165 receiving yards at Northwestern on Oct. 28.

Sophomore Laress Nelson should see an expanded role in the offense at flanker as a sophomore after hauling in three catches for 29 yards as a true freshman, and fellow sophomore Cam Chambers also returns to the lineup at split end (five catches for 66 yards in 2017). In addition, two-year letterwinner and fifth-year senior Brandon Sowards, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will also compete for playing time.


Letterwinners returning (7):
C Matt Allen (1L, So., 6-3, 296, 11 games)
OG David Beedle (3L, Sr.-5, 6-5, 333, 10 games/9 starts (6 at LG, 3 at RG)
OT Luke Campbell (1L, So., 6-5, 290, 13 games/12 starts at RT)
OT Cole Chewins (2L, Jr., 6-8, 288, 13 games/13 starts at LT)
OG Kevin Jarvis (1L, So., 6-4, 312, 13 games/9 starts at RG)
OG Tyler Higby (2L, Jr., 6-5, 284, 13 games/7 starts at LG)
OT Jordan Reid (1L, So., 6-4, 281, 13 games/1 start at RT)

Starters lost (1):
C Brian Allen (4L, 13 games/13 starts)

Outlook: The Spartans are returning four starters and seven letterwinnners on the offensive line in 2018, and six of those letterwinners have starting experience. Although MSU lost veteran center Brian Allen to graduation, the line should be a strength for the Spartans this fall in protecting quarterback Brian Lewerke and creating holes for LJ Scott. Last season, Michigan State allowed just 21 sacks, tied for second fewest in the Big Ten.

On the ends, MSU returns both starting tackles. Rising junior Cole Chewins started all 13 games at left tackle and has started 16 consecutive games, while sophomore Luke Campbell earned starting assignments 12 times at right tackle to earn BTN All-Freshman Team honors. Sophomore Jordan Reid also saw significant playing time (more than 275 snaps) at right tackle. Promising sophomore AJ Arcuri, who spent most of last season sidelined with an injury, will also see reps in the spring at tackle.

The Spartans are also solid at guard as three players have served in starting roles throughout their careers. Fifth-year senior David Beedle, who started the first three games in 2017 at right guard, made the move to left guard midway through the season and started the last six games at the position. Beedle didn’t allow a sack all season and finished second on the team with 13 dominators to pick up third-team All-Big Ten accolades from the coaches and media. Rising junior Tyler Higby started the first seven games at left guard before Beedle took over the starting role in Week 8. Higby has 13 starts to his credit and will be counted on as a key contributor in 2018. At right guard, rising sophomore Kevin Jarvis started more games on the offensive line than any other true freshman offensive lineman in the Mark Dantonio era. Jarvis started his first career game in the Big Ten opener against Iowa and didn’t look back, starting the final 10 games of the season.

Sophomore Matt Allen served as his brother Brian’s backup in 2017 at center and played nearly 50 snaps while earning his first letter. He will get a chance to compete for the starting position during spring practice.


Letterwinners returning (5):
Noah Davis (1L, So., 6-4, 244, 11 games/4 starts, 3 catches, 22 yards, 7.3 avg., 2.0 ypg)
Matt Dotson (1L, So., 6-5, 249, 10 games/1 start, 2 catches, 19 yards, 9.5 avg., 1.9 ypg)
Chase Gianacakos (2L, Sr.-5, 6-6, 296, 12 games/2 starts)
Matt Seybert (1L, Jr., 6-4, 249, 5 games)
Matt Sokol (3L, Sr.-5, 6-6, 255, 13 games/11 starts, 21 catches, 222 yards, 10.6 avg., 1 TD, 17.1 ypg)

Outlook: Another position of strength for the Spartans in 2018 will be at tight end, where the Spartans return five letterwinners, including starter Matt Sokol. Sokol had a career-high 21 receptions for 222 yards and one touchdown as a junior while starting in 11 games last season. Rising sophomores Noah Davis (three catches for 22 yards) and Matt Dotson (two catches for 19 yards) also caught passes in 2017. Fifth-year senior Chase Gianacakos made the transition from guard to tight end last year and provided an extra blocker on the line for the Spartans. In addition, Matt Seybert returns and will provide depth at the position.



Letterwinners returning (7):
DE Dillon Alexander (2L, Sr.-5, 6-4, 234, 11 games/4 starts, 4 tackles)
NT Naquan Jones (1L, So., 6-4, 342, 13 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 PBU)
DT Gerald Owens (2L, Sr.-5, 6-2, 306, 12 games, 11 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)
DE Jacub Panasiuk (1L, So., 6-3, 269, 13 games, 15 tackles, 3 TFLs, 1 sack)
DT Mike Panasiuk (2L, Jr., 6-4, 296, 13 games/13 starts, 25 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 PBU)
DE Kenny Willekes (1L, Jr., 6-4, 250, 13 games/12 starts, 73 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 7 sacks, 2 PBUs, 2 FR, 1 FF)
NT Raequan Williams (2L, Jr., 6-4, 295, 13 games/13 starts, 31 tackles, 6 TFLs, 2.5 sacks)

Starters lost (1):
DE Demetrius Cooper (4L, 13 games/10 starts, 29 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 1 PBU, 2 FF)

Outlook: Michigan State returns seven letterwinners to the defensive line in 2018, including three starters. The Spartans will be strong up the middle once again as rising juniors Mike Panasiuk and Raequan Williams, who both earned honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades in 2017, enter their second season as starters. Panasuik and Williams have started 16 consecutive games alongside each other on the interior of the defensive line and should only continue to improve this fall. Panasiuk recorded 25 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore, while Williams had 31 tackles, six tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. They were both key in helping Michigan State rank No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 2 in the FBS in rushing defense (95.3 ypg).

The Spartans bring back plenty of depth on the inside behind Panasiuk and Williams, including Naquan Jones, a 6-4, 342-pound rising sophomore who showed flashes of his potential during his redshirt freshman season in 2017. Two-year letterwinner Gerald Owens also returns.

At defensive end, rising junior Kenny Willekes had a breakout season in his first year as a starter in 2017, leading the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. The Ted Hendricks Award nominee also collected a career-high 73 tackles, which ranked second most among Big Ten defensive linemen and third overall on the team.

Rising sophomore Jacub Panasiuk, who played in all 13 games as a true freshman and compiled 15 tackles, including three for losses, looks to have an increased role at defensive end, along with fifth-year senior Dillon Alexander, who started the first three games last year and played in 11 games overall. Drew Beesley, who played in three games as a redshirt freshman, adds depth at the position.


Letterwinners returning (6):
Joe Bachie (2L, Jr., 6-2, 230, 13 games/13 starts, 8.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 PBUs, 1 FR, 2 FF)
Byron Bullough (3L, Sr.-5, 6-1, 232, 13 games, 13 tackles, 1 TFL)
Andrew Dowell (3L, Sr., 6-1, 225, 13 games/13 starts, 74 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 4 PBUs, 1 FR, 1 FF)
Brandon Randle (1L, So., 6-2, 225, 13 games, 5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 PBU, 1 FR)
Antjuan Simmons (1L, So., 6-0, 221, 13 games, 34 tackles, 1.5 TFLs)
Tyriq Thompson (2L, Jr., 6-1, 244, 12 games, 11 tackles, 0.5 TFL)

Starters lost (1):
Chris Frey (13 games/13 starts, 55 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 2 PBUs, 3 FR, 1 FF)

Outlook: Although the Spartans lost two-year starter and captain Chris Frey to graduation, Michigan State’s linebacking corps is loaded with talent, led by returning starters Joe Bachie and Andrew Dowell.

Bachie, who started all 13 games at middle linebacker as a sophomore for the Spartans in 2017 and led the team in tackles (100; 7.7 avg.), was named the recipient of the Governor’s Award, which is given annually to the program’s most valuable player as voted on by the team. He was the first Spartan sophomore to win the Governor’s Award since quarterback Drew Stanton in 2004. In addition to leading the team and ranking seventh in the Big Ten in tackles, he ranked second on the team in tackles for loss (8.5 for 29 yards) and interceptions (three) and fourth in sacks (3.5 for 16 yards). He also led the team in production points during the regular season with 289. A third-team All-Big Ten choice by the coaches and media, Bachie was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice in 2017 (vs. Michigan and Indiana). The 6-2, 230-pound Bachie led the Spartans in tackles eight times, including double-digit stops in five games (career-high 13 vs. Indiana; 11 vs. Maryland; 11 against Western Michigan; 10 vs. Michigan and Bowling Green). He also displayed impressive leadership skills in just his second year, as he was named to the team’s Eagles Leadership Council.

Dowell, who ranked second on the team with a career-high 74 tackles as a junior, returns for his third season as a starter at Star linebacker. He leads all active Spartans with 163 tackles and has played in 38 career games, including 21 starts.

Rising sophomore Antjuan Simmons led the Spartans in special teams tackles as a true freshman with 10 and was credited with 34 tackles overall.

Brandon Randle, who was a third-down edge rusher in his first season, will look to get more snaps at Sam linebacker during the spring. During his limited action at defensive end, Randle was still productive, recording five tackles, one sack, three quarterback hurries and one fumble recovery.

Tyriq Thompson will also have an opportunity for an increased role at Sam linebacker with the departure of Frey. A two-year letterwinner, Thompson tallied 11 tackles in 12 games last season and has played in 23 career games during his first two seasons.

Fifth-year senior and three-year letterwinner Byron Bullough has played in 29 career games and will provide experience at middle linebacker and special teams.


Letterwinners returning (10):
CB Josh Butler (2L, Jr., 6-0, 175, 12 games/4 starts, 12 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks, 3 PBUs)
S David Dowell (2L, Jr., 6-1, 196, 13 games/10 starts, 52 tackles, 5 INTs, 4 PBUs, 1 FR)
CB Justin Layne (2L, Jr., 6-3, 185, 13 games/9 starts, 40 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 1 INT, 8 PBUs, 1 FF)
S Dominique Long (1L, So., 6-2, 191, 11 games, 10 tackles)
S Grayson Miller (3L, Sr., 6-3, 209, 11 games, 7 tackles)
S Matt Morrissey (3L, Sr.-5, 6-3, 204, 13 games/3 starts, 35 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 4 PBUs)
S Tre Person (1L, So., 5-10, 165, 6 games, 4 tackles)
CB Josiah Scott (1L, So., 5-10, 170, 12 games/12 starts, 30 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INTs, 10 PBUs)
CB Tyson Smith (3L, Sr., 5-11, 171, 13 games/1 start, 5 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 INT, 1 PBU)
S Khari Willis (3L, Sr., 6-0, 214, 13 games/13 starts, 71 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 PBUs, 1 FF)

Outlook: Ten letterwinners from the secondary return in 2018 for the Spartans in what has the potential to be one of the best defensive backfields in Dantonio’s tenure.

Safety Khari Willis, who is the veteran of the group and the only senior starter, looks to build off his career year as a junior in 2017 as he ranked fourth on the team with 71 tackles, including 5.5 for losses and four sacks. He also broke up three passes, forced a fumble and recorded two interceptions as the Spartans ranked No. 17 in the FBS in pass efficiency defense.

Rising junior safety David Dowell earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media in his first year as a starter after leading the team and ranking tied for second in the conference with five interceptions, the most by any player in the Dantonio era. Dowell had two interceptions apiece in the wins over No. 7 Michigan and No. 7 Penn State and also had a pick at Ohio State. In addition, he was credited with a career-high 52 tackles and four pass break-ups.

A pair of senior safeties, Grayson Miller and Matt Morrissey, also bring starting experience and will be relied upon in the secondary and on special teams. Sophomores Dominique Long and Tre Person will also compete for playing time.

The Spartans boast an impressive starting duo at cornerback in rising junior Justin Layne and true sophomore Josiah Scott. In Layne’s first full year as a starter - he made the transition from wide receiver as a true freshman in 2016 - he tallied 40 tackles, eight pass break-ups and one interception to garner honorable mention All-Big Ten plaudits. Scott, who started more games (12) than any other freshman position player in the Dantonio era, was named a first-team Freshman All-American after leading the team and ranking sixth in the Big Ten with 10 pass break-ups to go along with his two interceptions and 30 tackles.

Just like at safety, both of the backups at cornerback have starting experience under their belt, as junior Josh Butler started four games last season and fifth-year senior Tyson Smith has six career starts. MSU features an impressive incoming freshmen class as well, with early enrollees Kalon Gervin and Xavier Henderson competing during spring practice.


Placekicker: Rising sophomore Matt Coghlin tied a Spartan freshman record with 15 field goals last season en route to earning BTN All-Freshman and honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades. He led the team in scoring with 83 points, going 15-of-19 on field-goal attempts and 38-of-38 on point-after attempts. Coghlin was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after making the game-winning 34-yard field goal as time expired against No. 7 Penn State.

Punter: Fifth-year senior Jake Hartbarger is back for his fourth year as the starter. A 2017 Ray Guy Award nominee, Hartbarger averaged 42.0 yards per punt and placed a career-high 28 punts inside the 20 to earn honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades. He enters his senior season ranked eighth in MSU history in punting average (41.89) and 11th in punts (180) and punting yards (7,540). Hartbarger is one of just three starting punters since Dantonio’s arrival in 2007, joining Aaron Bates (2007-10) and Mike Sadler (2011-14).

Long Snapper: Junior Collin Caflisch returns for his third year as the starting long snapper in 2018. Caflisch was instrumental in the special teams unit that didn’t miss a PAT or have one field goal or punt blocked last season.

Kickoff Specialist: The starting kickoff specialist duties will be up for grabs in the spring as 2017 starter Brett Scanlon graduated.

Kick Returner: Connor Heyward, who took over the kick returner job midway through his freshman season in 2017, led the Spartans with 436 kick return yards on 20 returns (21.8 avg.). Darrell Stewart (six for 152 yards) and Andre Welch (three for 61 yards) also had multiple kick returns last year for the Spartans.

Punt Returner: Sophomore Cody White took over the punt returner duties midway through last season (seven returns for 22 yards). Laress Nelson (seven for 34 yards), Darrell Stewart (six for 20 yards) and Connor Heyward (one for 6 yards) also returned punts in 2017.

• Michigan State is in the midst of its winningest decade in school history based on total wins, as the Spartans are 78-28 (.736) since the beginning of the 2010 season. During that span, MSU has won five bowl games (2012 Outback, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings, 2014 Rose, 2015 Cotton, 2017 Holiday), three Big Ten Championships (2010, 2013, 2015) and three Big Ten Division titles (2011, 2013, 2015). MSU’s .736 winning percentage this decade is second best in school history (.766 in 1950s, 70-21-1). The Spartans’ 78 victories since 2010 rank tied for 10th most in the FBS, and the 49 wins since 2013 are tied for ninth most. MSU was the only school to finish in the top-six of the national polls from 2013-15 (No. 3 in 2013, No. 5 in 2014, No. 6 in 2015).

• In addition, the Spartans have earned 10 bowl bids since 2007, including a school-record four consecutive bowl victories (2012 Outback against No. 18 Georgia, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings against TCU, 2014 Rose Bowl Game against No. 5 Stanford, 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic against No. 4 Baylor), which also tied a Big Ten record.

• The 78 wins this decade are third most in the Big Ten and tied for 10th most in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, while the 49 wins since 2013 are third in the Big Ten and tied for ninth most in the FBS. The 36 wins from 2013-15 marked the winningest three-year stretch in the history of the program.

• MSU’s highest winning percentage by decade is currently the 1950s (.766, 70-21-1 record), but the 78 wins this current decade are already the most of any previous decade in school history (previous: 70 in 1950s).

• The Spartans have had sustained success in the Big Ten Conference under Dantonio. MSU has won two of the past five Big Ten Championships (2013, 2015) and three overall this decade, also claiming a championship in 2010. The Spartans own victories in 33 of their last 45 games against Big Ten opponents (including the Big Ten Championship Game), dating back to the 2012 regular-season finale, including 20 wins by double-figures. • Michigan State and Florida are the only schools in the country to win multiple National Championships in football and men’s basketball. MSU has won six national titles in football (1951, 1952, 1955, 1957, 1965, 1966) and two in men’s basketball (1979, 2000). Michigan State is also the only school in the nation to win multiple National Championships in football, men’s basketball and hockey. • Michigan State is one of only five schools to have had at least one player chosen every year since the inception of the common NFL Draft in 1967. MSU joins Florida, Michigan, Nebraska and USC as the only programs with at least one draft choice for 51 consecutive years.

• Entering his 12th season as head coach of the Spartans, Mark Dantonio owns a 100-45 (.690) record. He is one of just eight active FBS coaches to own at least 100 victories at his current school. For the fourth time in his career, Dantonio was named a semifinalist in 2017 for the George Munger College Coach of the Year, presented by the Maxwell Football Club. Dantonio has won the most Big Ten Championships (three) and bowl games (five) of any Spartan head coach and also ranks first with 10 bowl appearances. He is the only Big Ten coach to win multiple Big Ten Championships (2010, 2013, 2015), claim a victory in the Rose Bowl (2014), and coach in the College Football Playoff (2015).

• The second-winningest coach in school history with 100 victories, trailing only Hall of Famer Duffy Daugherty (109), Dantonio also ranks first in program history in conference winning percentage (.667, 60-30 record, minimum 10 games), tied for first in AP Top 25 finishes (seven), second in Big Ten wins (60) and home wins (59) and fifth in overall winning percentage (.690).

• Dantonio’s incredible run at Michigan State ranks among the best in Big Ten history. Dantonio is one of just six Big Ten coaches to have at least six 10-win seasons on their resume (Bo Schembechler, Michigan; Jim Tressel, Ohio State; Joe Paterno, Penn State; Lloyd Carr, Michigan; Urban Meyer, Ohio State) and one of four to have at least five 11-win seasons (Tressel, Paterno, Meyer).

• Dantonio is one of just 14 coaches in Big Ten history to record 100 victories. He is currently No. 14 in Big Ten history with 100 wins.

• Overall, Dantonio owns a 118-62 (.656) record in 14 seasons as a head coach (18-17 in three seasons at Cincinnati; 100-45 in 11 seasons at MSU).

• Dantonio won his 71st game at MSU on Oct. 25, 2014, against Michigan to move into second place all-time in victories in school history (record: Duffy Daugherty, 109). Dantonio won his 100th career game as a head coach on Oct. 17, 2015, at Michigan Stadium as the Spartans rallied to defeat the Wolverines, 27-23, on a 38-yard fumble return as time expired. His career record stands at 117-62 (.654) in his 14th season.

• Dantonio’s .667 winning percentage (60-30) in Big Ten games ranks first in MSU history (minimum 10 Big Ten games). He ranks second in school history in conference wins (Duffy Daugherty, 72).

• Dantonio led the Spartans to the 2015 Big Ten Championship with a 16-13 victory over previously undefeated and fourth-ranked Iowa. It marked Dantonio’s third Big Ten Championship (2010, 2013, 2015), establishing a school record (previous: Daugherty and George Perles with two each).

• Dantonio became the first coach in Big Ten history to record five 11-win seasons in a six-year span (11 in 2010; 11 in 2011; 13 in 2013, 11 in 2014; 12 in 2015), and his five 11-win seasons are tied with Joe Paterno of Penn State for third most in Big Ten history (Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer of Ohio State with six; Paterno with five at Penn State as Big Ten member). Prior to Dantonio’s arrival, MSU had not recorded an 11-win season in its history, and had just two 10-win seasons (1965, 1999).

• A two-time Big Ten Coach of the Year (2010, 2013), Dantonio has led Michigan State to Top 25 finishes seven times (2008: No. 24 in both polls; 2010: No. 14 in both polls; 2011: No. 10 USA TODAY/No. 11 AP; 2013: No. 3 in both polls; 2014: No. 5 in both polls; 2015: No. 6 in both polls; 2017: No. 15 AP/No. 16 USA TODAY). His seven AP Top-25 finishes are tied for the most in school history. Duffy Daugherty’s teams posted seven Top-25 finishes during his 19-year tenure from 1954-72.

• Michigan State extended its school record by playing in a bowl game for the ninth consecutive season in 2015 (2007 Champs Sports Bowl, 2009 Capital One Bowl, 2010 Alamo Bowl, 2011 Capital One Bowl, 2012 Outback Bowl, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, 2014 Rose Bowl, 2015 Cotton Bowl, 2015 College Football Playoff Semifinal at Cotton Bowl).

• Dantonio also ranks first in school history with 10 bowl appearances, including a school-record streak of nine straight bowl games from 2007-15. He is 5-5 in bowl games at Michigan State, including a school-record four-game winning streak (2012 Outback, 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings, 2014 Rose, 2015 Cotton). Dantonio has led his teams to 12 bowl berths in 14 seasons as a head coach (10 at MSU, two at Cincinnati).

• From his first day on the job, Dantonio has pledged to support student-athletes as they pursue excellence, both in the classroom and on the playing field. In his first 11 seasons, a total of 193 players have earned their undergraduate degrees. In addition, 163 Spartans have earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, including eight Academic All-America selections (five first-team honorees). Michigan State has placed three student-athletes in the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete Class during Dantonio’s tenure.

• Dantonio is one of just four Spartan head coaches to coach in at least 100 games at MSU and ranks second in Spartan history with 145 games coached at Michigan State (Duffy Daugherty: 183; Dantonio: 145; George Perles: 139; Charlie Bachman: 114).

• MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has repeatedly stressed the importance of continuity on his coaching staff as one of the main reasons for Michigan State’s success during his tenure. Three of MSU’s nine assistant coaches have been at MSU since Dantonio’s arrival in 2007 (assistant head coach/offensive line coach Mark Staten, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Mike Tressel, co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach Dave Warner). Those three also coached under Dantonio at Cincinnati. Dantonio, Staten and Tressel have been on the same staff since 2004.

• In addition, quarterbacks coach Brad Salem is in his ninth year on the staff, wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel is in his eighth year, and defensive tackles coach Ron Burton is in his sixth year. Co-offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Jim Bollman, who is also in his sixth season, has coached with Dantonio on three previous occasions: Youngstown State (1986-90), Michigan State (1995-97) and Ohio State (2001-03).

• Three of Dantonio’s assistants left Michigan State to become head coaches at FBS schools: Don Treadwell (Miami-Ohio, 2011-13), Dan Enos (Central Michigan, 2010-14) and Pat Narduzzi (Pittsburgh, fourth season).

Mike Tressel, who served as Michigan State’s co-defensive coordinator the past three seasons (2015-17), was promoted to defensive coordinator on Jan. 19, 2018. He has been on the same staff with Dantonio for the past 14 seasons, including the last 11 at Michigan State. Tressel will remain coaching the linebackers.

• The consistent play of the Spartan linebackers under Tressel is one of the main reasons why Michigan State has been so successful on defense during his tenure. Under the guidance of Tressel, Spartan linebackers have earned All-Big Ten honors 19 times and All-America accolades on four occasions.

• In two of the three seasons (2015-17) that Tressel shared the coordinating duties with Harlon Barnett, Michigan State ranked in the FBS Top 25 in both rushing defense and scoring defense (2015, 2017).

• Michigan State has three new assistant coaches on its staff for the 2018 season, although all three of them have Spartan ties.

Don Treadwell, who served as Michigan State’s offensive coordinator for four seasons from 2007-10 under Dantonio, has returned to the Spartan coaching staff. Treadwell will assist coaching defensive backs and special teams while also helping as an offensive consultant. In addition, Treadwell will serve as freshmen head coach, a new title created to support first-year players in their growth and development both on and off the field.

• Treadwell, who returns for his third stint with the Spartans after serving as wide receivers coach from 2000-02 and offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach from 2007-10, has more than 30 years of experience coaching at the collegiate level. His coaching resume includes nine bowl appearances, four Division I-AA playoff appearances and a national championship. He has coached on the same staff with Dantonio on four previous occasions (Youngstown State, 1986-90; Cincinnati, 2004-06; Michigan State, 2000, 2007-10).

Paul Haynes, who has more than 20 years of collegiate coaching experience, most recently as the head coach at Kent State for five seasons (2013-17), will coach the secondary. Haynes spent two years in East Lansing (2003-04) coaching defensive backs before coaching seven seasons (2005-11) on the defensive staff at Ohio State, where he helped the Buckeyes win six Big Ten Championships while coaching in six BCS Games, including two BCS National Championship Games (2007, 2008).

Chuck Bullough, a 22-year coaching veteran who has experience in both the NFL and college, will coach the defensive ends. Bullough has mentored multiple Pro Bowlers, All-Americans and NFL players in addition to coaching in six bowl games. As a player, Bullough spent five seasons in the NFL and was one of the most productive Spartans to ever wear the Green and White; a four-year letterwinner at Michigan State from 1988-91, he still holds MSU’s single-season tackles record with 175 in 1991.

• Bullough has extensive coaching experience at both the professional and collegiate levels. He spent seven years in the NFL with both the Chicago Bears (1999-2003) and Cleveland Browns (2011-12) and has coached 14 seasons in college, including stops at Lake Forest College (2004), Western Michigan (2005), UCLA (2006-10), Syracuse (2013-15) and Eastern Michigan (2016-17). Bullough, who previously coached with Dantonio as a graduate assistant at Michigan State for two years (1997-98) under Nick Saban, served as defensive coordinator at UCLA for two seasons (2009-10) and Syracuse for three seasons (2013-15).

• MSU’s seven-game win improvement from 2016 to 2017 marked a single-season school record. MSU previously improved by six games on three previous occasions (three in 1954 to nine in 1955; four in 1964 to 10 in 1965; seven in 2012 to 13 in 2013).

• The 2017 Spartans became just the eighth team in school history to record double-digit wins in a single season. The Spartans have recorded at least 10 wins six times under Dantonio (11 in 2010, 11 in 2011, school-record 13 in 2013, 11 in 2014, 12 in 2015, 10 in 2017). MSU also won 10 games in 1965 and 1999.

• In its 121-year football history, Michigan State has won at least nine games in a season 16 times, including a school-record seven under Dantonio. MSU won nine games in the regular season in 2017 for the 13th time; the Spartans claimed Rose Bowl wins during the 1953, 1955 and 1987 seasons in picking up their ninth victory.

• MSU went 7-2 in league play in 2017, recording seven Big Ten wins in a single season for the 10th time since officially joining the league for conference play in 1953 (six-game Big Ten schedule from 1953-64; seven-game from 1965-70; eight-game from 1971-80; nine-game from 1981-84; eight-game from 1985-2015; back to nine games beginning in 2016).

• Dantonio led the Spartans to a school-record eight Big Ten wins in 2013 before winning the Big Ten Championship Game over Ohio State. He has recorded seven conference wins in 2010 (7-1), 2011 (7-1), 2014 (7-1), 2015 (7-1) and 2017 (7-2). [Note: Big Ten Championship Games don’t count in league standings].

• The Spartans went 7-0 in back-to-back seasons in 1965 and 1966 to win Big Ten Conference titles. MSU also went 7-1 in 1978 and 7-0-1 in 1987 en route to conference crowns.

• Five of Michigan State’s seven Big Ten wins in 2017 were within one score. Under Dantonio, the Spartans have managed to win their fair share of close games. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Michigan State is 25-12 (.676) in games decided by one score or less, including all four bowl victories.

• Michigan State finished 2017 ranked among the FBS leaders in rushing defense (No. 2 at 95.3 ypg), total defense (No. 7 at 297.6 ypg), first-downs defense (No. 9 at 206), pass efficiency defense (No. 17 with 113.5 rating), third-down defense (No. 18 at .328) and scoring defense (No. 19 at 20.0 ppg).

• The Spartans led the Big Ten in rushing defense for the fifth time in the Dantonio era (2011-14, 2017). MSU also ranked third in the Big Ten in total defense.

• Michigan State finished No. 7 in the FBS in total defense (297.6), marking the fifth time the Spartans have finished in the FBS Top 10 in total defense under Dantonio (No. 6 in 2011, No. 4 in 2012, No. 2 in 2013, No. 8 in 2014, No. 7 in 2017).

• The Spartans led the Big Ten in rushing defense for the fifth time in the Dantonio era (2011-14, 2017) and ranked No. 2 in the FBS, allowing just 95.3 yards per game. Michigan State has finished in the FBS Top 10 in rushing defense five times under Dantonio and seven times in the Top 25.

• MSU held nine opponents under 100 yards rushing in 2017 (Bowling Green had 67 in season opener on Sept. 2; Iowa had 19 on Sept. 30; Minnesota had 74 on Oct. 14; Indiana had 95 on Oct. 21; Northwestern had 64 on Oct. 28; No. 7 Penn State had 65 on Nov. 4; Maryland had 83 on Nov. 18; Rutgers had 14 on Nov. 25; Washington State had 24 on Dec. 28), and No. 7 Michigan had just 102 yards on Oct. 7.

• Michigan State led the FBS in 2017 by allowing opponents to rush for more than 10 yards just 30 times (second: Washington with 34). In addition, MSU allowed opponents just seven rushes of 20-plus yards, third fewest in the FBS (BYU with three, Washington with six).

• MSU held Iowa to just 19 rushing yards, the fewest by the Hawkeyes against the Spartans since 1999 (7 yards) . . . the 19 rushing yards were also the fewest by an Iowa team since Sept. 24, 2005 (-9 against Ohio State) . . . MSU’s defense now has two of Iowa’s five lowest single-game rushing totals since 2005, as the Spartans limited Iowa to 23 yards on Oct. 5, 2013.

• Stopping the run has been the main theme for MSU on defense in the Dantonio era, and it led to ranking No. 1 in the NCAA FBS in rushing defense in 2014 (88.5 ypg). Since the Big Ten began awarding stat champions in all games in 1985, Michigan State (2011-14) became only the second team in conference history to lead the league in rushing defense four years in a row (Michigan, 1990-93). MSU’s 88.5 rushing yards allowed in 2014 was the eighth-lowest total in school history. The Spartans have ranked in the Top 25 in rushing defense seven times in the last nine seasons, including a run of five straight years in the top 11 (2011-15). MSU led the Big Ten and ranked No. 2 in the FBS in rushing defense in 2017 (95.3 ypg).

• In 145 games under Dantonio, Michigan State has held its opponent under 100 yards rushing 72 times (49 percent). MSU is 63-9 (.875) in those games, including a 53-4 (.930) record since 2010.

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