Spartans may slide a bit

Michigan+State+running+back+LJ+Scott+scores+a+touchdown+putting+them+in+the+lead+with+27+seconds+left+in+the+fourth+quarter+during+the+Big+Ten+Championship+against+Michigan+State+in+Lucas+Oil+Stadium+in+Indianapolis%2C+Indiana+on+Saturday%2C+Dec.+5%2C+2015.+The+Spartans+defeated+the+Hawkeyes%2C+16-13.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FAlyssa+Hitchcock%29

Joshua Housing

Michigan State running back LJ Scott scores a touchdown putting them in the lead with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter during the Big Ten Championship against Michigan State in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015. The Spartans defeated the Hawkeyes, 16-13. (The Daily Iowan/Alyssa Hitchcock)

By Jordan Hansen

[email protected]

Part 10 of The Daily Iowan’s summer Big Ten football previews

After a run to the College Football Playoff it’s likely Michigan State will take a step backward this season.

In addition to the 38-0 drubbing  the team took at the hands of eventual national champion Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, it was also the last game in Spartan uniforms for 13 starters.  Michigan State loses a huge chunk of its offensive and defensive lines, including starting quarterback Connor Cook.

It likely won’t be a long hiatus from the top — head coach Mark Dantonio has the nation’s 17th-best incoming recruiting class — and overall, the program is in a good spot.

The Spartans are slowly becoming national contenders each year but still are not quite at that “blue blood” status yet. Losing in that fashion to Alabama sets Michigan State back a bit and provides plenty of recruiting ammunition for SEC schools.

In-state rival Michigan’s return to prominence, as well as the continued dominance of Ohio State, also has potential to cause a bit of Spartan backsliding. Recruiting battles with the two other powerhouses in the Eastern Division likely will get nasty, making life even more difficult for Dantonio.

However, the Michigan State coaches make their money coaching solid defense, which is what the program has come to be known for. The Spartans had one of the best defenses in the nation throughout the year, which culminated in a clash for the ages with Iowa in the Big Ten Championship.

The Spartans do return six defensive starters, which is a solid place to begin building. Most of the Michigan State secondary will return to campus this season, and it is probably the best unit on the team.

On offense, the team returns sophomore running back L.J. Scott, who led the team with 699 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Those are incredible numbers for any freshman, and with the Spartans wanting to run the ball (they do), expect more from him this year.

A good defensive team with a solid running game can go far, and that has been the basis for much of what Dantonio has tried to do during his time as head coach. Michigan State passed more last year than it had in recent memory, though that was mostly a testament to just how good Connor Cook was for the Spartans during his time under center.

Senior Tyler O’Connor is the early favorite to win the job, and help from other parts of the team will take a lot of weight off of his shoulders. There certainly are other candidates, and it’s not a done deal, but it does seem to be a likely conclusion.

This season, Michigan State will probably have to weather some blows from some of the better teams in the conference. But if the team can scrape together another 10-win season, it should be considered a success for this group.

Follow @JordyHansen on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis of the Iowa football team.

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