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Michigan State 2018: Players to Watch

Michigan State goes from one of the most inexperienced teams last year to one of the most entering this one. Many rose to prominence in a redemptive 2017 season.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Washington State vs Michigan State Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Never underestimate the power of the chip on Mark Dantonio’s shoulder.

After a disastrous 3-9 season in 2016 and the ensuing offseason that saw ugly episodes of sexual assault and racism, it was fair to wonder if Michigan State could continue its remarkable run to the top-tier of the conference.

Hell, Bill Connelly wondered if they could even make a bowl. The 2017 Spartans, yet again, made a fool out a lot of “experts.”

Now, the 2018 team returns 21 starters from a 10-3 outfit and feature five players on our “Enemy’s Best Shot” series. (This will feature some repeats.)

Quarterback — Brian Lewerke

After breaking his leg in the 2016 loss to Michigan, Lewerke returned to fuel the country’s No. 17 S&P passing offense last year.

He passed for 2,793 yards at a 59 percent clip, including 20 touchdowns to just seven picks. His ability to protect the ball proved crucial in the 14-10 victory over Michigan in the monsoon, throwing no interceptions to John O’Korn’s three.

He also ended up as the team’s No. 2 leading rusher, gaining 559 yards (4.5 YPC), including several long runs to catch defenses off guard.

He finds himself with several preseason accolades, including the Walter Camp and all-conference watch lists.

Wide receiver — Felton Davis

Davis looks to find consistency in 2018, doing the majority of his work on the stat sheet in three contests.

His 776 yards receiving are bolstered by 100-yard games against Iowa, Penn State and Washington State. He peppered the rest of the schedule with a few one or two-catch outings, including a lone reception for nine yards against Michigan.

However, he does consistently use his 6-foot-4 frame to box out defenders for jump balls, nabbing nine touchdowns.

Much like Jourdan Lewis and Aaron Burbridge in 2015, expect a war between Davis and Lavert Hill (or David Long).

Nose tackle Raequan Williams

To quote from the “Enemy’s Best Shot” post on the defense:

“At 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, Williams forms a immovable Spartan phalanx in the interior.

“The former spearheaded the No. 2 rushing defense in the country last season, and despite spending most of his time eating blocks to free up aggressive linebackers he manages to fill up stats sheets anyways.

“He accounted for 31 tackles, 6 TFL’s and 2.5 sacks.”

Special accommodations go to Mike Panasiuk, the 3-tech to Williams’ nose tackle. The interior trio of Ben Bredeson, Cesar Ruiz and Mike Onwenu need their offseason gains to be legitimate. If the hype is just that, they will have literally massive problems moving the 600 pounds of green beef.

Linebacker — Joe Bachie

The junior linebacker is free to roam with the help of the aforementioned tackles.

With that freedom, he racked up 100 tackles, including 7.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. He made his way onto the national scene, shifting momentum against Michigan by stripping Ty Isaac in the first quarter.

He later stalled a promising Michigan drive in the rain by intercepting O’Korn.

He was second on the team in interceptions with three.

As pointed out in the earlier post, Bachie struggled against the athleticism of the Ohio State backfield. He would’ve lost even in two-hand touch football, as the Buckeyes racked up 335 rushing yards.

With the reinstatement of Jon Reschke, he possibly gets an experienced backup to spot him, a luxury he didn’t have last year with the youth and depth issues.

Even if the the disgraced Reschke isn’t game ready, Bachie looks to build on an impressive starting debut.

Safety — David Dowell

Dowell was another key defensive playmaker in Michigan State’s two season-defining upsets.

Against Michigan, he accounted for three of the Wolverines’ five turnovers, including two picks and a fumble recovery.

He followed that gem with two interceptions against 2018 Heisman-hopeful Trace McSorley in the 27-24 weather-delayed upset.

He added 51 tackles to that already impressive resume, and teams up with Khari Willis to reenact the vintage Michigan State “No Fly Zone.”

As a side note, the perception that Michigan State wins with 3-star recruiting is rubbish. Three of the five players named on this list are former 4-star recruits per 247.

The meme of the untalented Spartans needs to stop, unless Michigan fans want to keep pouring kerosene onto the Dantonio hatred fire.