Is its experience enough to make Michigan State a title contender?
Harbaugh has yet to beat Ohio State, which is a black mark on his résumé, but he is also a disappointing 1-2 against biggest state rival Michigan State since returning to the Wolverines. The Spartans, fresh off a surprising 10-3 comeback season in 2017, are the most experienced team in the nation, making Mark Dantonio’s squad a trendy Big Ten title candidate, and a potential playoff team.
Michigan State welcomes back 92 percent of its offensive production from last year’s roster, which ranks third in the nation and first in the Big Ten. Quarterback Brian Lewerke completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions and added 559 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. L.J. Scott ran for 898 yards and eight scores as a junior, and every receiver that caught more than 20 passes returns, including Felton Davis III, who led the team with 55 receptions, 776 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Spartans return 91 percent of last year’s defensive production, which is also tops in the conference and ranks fifth nationally. Michigan State will have each of its top five tacklers back, including all-around linebacker Joe Bachie, playmaking safety Khari Willis and top pass rusher Kenny Willekes. Overall, 10 of the top 11 tacklers from last season are expected to return.
Overall, that’s 92 percent of last year’s production. No team in the nation is in a better position in terms of returning experience, and given Connelly’s research shows 86 percent of teams that return 80 percent or more from the previous season “improved their adjusted scoring margin by at least six points,” Michigan State has a chance for a very big year.