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2017 Big Ten football preview: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock throws the ball away under pressure from Michigan State’s Chris Frey (23). Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Location: East Lansing, Michigan

2016 season: 3-9 (1-8)

Head coach: Mark Dantonio

2017 record: 2-0

All time record vs. OSU: 15-30

What has happened thus far in 2017:

This is a do-or-die season for Michigan State and coach Mark Dantonio, who might be on the hot seat following his worst season since he became head coach in 2007 and the preseason dismissal of four of the program’s highest-rated recruits in its 2016 class due to a sexual assault investigation. To have the type of season the Spartans need to have in the Big Ten East Division — with Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and a rising Maryland program — is a difficult task.

But so far, the Spartans have done something they couldn’t do last season — defeat the teams they’re supposed to. Michigan State has wins against Bowling Green and Western Michigan under its belt with Notre Dame, Iowa and a road game at Michigan on deck after a bye week in Week 3.

Impact Player:

Senior linebacker Chris Frey from Upper Arlington is the latest edition in a line of All-Big Ten linebackers at Michigan State. After leading the team in tackles (96) in 2016, Frey returns as one of two captains for the Spartans, leading a defense that would be the reason Michigan State makes any noise in the conference this season. The central Ohio native leads the nation’s 11th-best defense with 1.5 sacks, ranks second with 12 total tackles and tied for second with 1.5 tackles for loss.

Strengths:

Michigan State is a young team at every position, but its front seven is the centerpiece of what can keep the Spartans relevant in the Big Ten. From 2015 to 2016, Michigan State’s sack total decreased from 37 to 11. So far this season, the Spartans have tallied five sacks this season, albeit against two Mid-American Conference teams.

A formidable secondary and a menacing front seven made Michigan State Big Ten champions in 2013 and 2015. With just one returning starter in the secondary, ability to pressure the quarterback is paramount to the defense’s success.

Weaknesses:

The Spartans’ offensive line struggled in Week 2 against Western Michigan, despite paving the way for 296 rushing yards from Michigan State’s three tailbacks and redshirt sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke. The O-line has yet to face a strong defensive front and already has allowed 14 tackles for loss, 97th in the country. Michigan State is searching for a permanent answer at running back and a go-to receiver, so the offensive line will be a major storyline moving forward.

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