2016 season review: Michigan State suffers first losing season since 2009
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This was a challenging season for Michigan State, which experienced a swift fall from grace in 2016. The Spartans fell from their perch as Big Ten champ and playoff participant in 2015 to a 3-9 mark this season that included a stupefying seven-game losing streak. In fact, Michigan State lost nine of its last 10 games.
The Spartans missed the postseason for the first time since 2006 (4-8 record), ending a nine-year run. And it was MSU’s first losing season since going 6-7 in 2009.
There were some good individual efforts, highlighted by WR R.J. Shelton, TE Josiah Price, G Brian Allen, S Montae Nicholson, CB Darian Hicks, RB L.J. Scott, LB Riley Bullough and DT Malik McDowell, who has declared for the draft.
But the problems for Michigan State were numerous, beginning with uneven play in the trenches on both sides of the ball. And the offense struggled to replace quarterback Connor Cook, as three different quarterbacks made starts—Tyler O’Connor, Brian Lewerke and Damion Terry. And on and on it went in a very disappointing season in East Lansing for Mark Dantonio, who just finished his 10th season.
Record: 3-9 overall, 1-8 Big Ten/6th in East
High point: It came way too early, in the second game of the season on Sept. 17. That’s when Michigan State traveled to Notre Dame and dumped the No. 18 Fighting Irish, 36-28. That made the Spartans 2-0 and thinking big. But, it all went downhill from there, as Michigan State lost nine of its last 10 games beginning with a 30-6 beat down by No. 11 Wisconsin in Spartan Stadium the week after winning under the Golden Dome. The Spartans would start 0-6 in the Big Ten.
Low point: There were too many to recount. A 24-21 OT loss at Indiana on Oct. 1 was tough, as the Spartans lost the Old Brass Spittoon for the first time since 2006. MSU lost 32-23 to Michigan on Oct. 29 for just the second time in the last nine meetings. Is the script flipping in this bitter rivalry? And a 54-40 evisceration vs. Northwestern on Oct. 15 was brutal, as the Wildcats scored the most points ever by an opponent in Spartan Stadium. And it was the most MSU had allowed since 2003. But, let’s go with the 31-27 loss at Illinois on Nov. 5. This was a 2-6 Illini club that was starting third-team quarterback Jeff George Jr., who threw a touchdown pass with 1:25 left to give Illinois the lead. Then, with 19 seconds left, the Illinois’ defense came up with a fourth-down stop at its own 15-yard line to secure the win. It was the first time Michigan State had lost to the Fighting Illini since 2006. Even worse: This was the Spartans’ seventh loss in a row and meant MSU was off to its worst Big Ten start ever. And the defeat assured Michigan State of a losing season.
Offensive MVP: WR R.J. Shelton. The 5-11, 202-pound senior caught 53 passes for 789 yards with five TDs to rank among the Top 10 receivers. Not bad for a guy who played with three different quarterbacks. Shelton was second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches.
Defensive MVP: LB Riley Bullough. He missed three games, but the Spartan legacy still enjoyed a strong season. The 6-2, 227-pound senior paced the squad with 8.4 tackles per game and often kept the defense together through some tough times. Bullough was a consensus third-team All-Big Ten pick.