The Replacements: Top Five Spartans to replace

The Replacements: Top Five Spartans to replace

Michigan State is coming off a confounding season in which it went from a 12-2 mark and playoff spot in 2015 to a 3-9 record. It was an epic plummet for this proud program. The Spartans had many issues in 2016, including inconsistent quarterback performance and spotty play in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

Add it all up, and Michigan State endured its first losing season since 2009. And it was the first time the program missed a bowl since 2006. Mark Dantonio and company will move ahead, but they will have to do so without these five key players.

LB Riley Bullough. He garnered All-Big Ten honors for the second year in a row, as he was a third-team pick by the coaches and media in 2016. Bullough finished second on the team in tackles for loss (6.5 for 13 yards) and third in tackles (76) despite missing three games. His 8.4 tackles per game average led the Spartans and tied for eighth best in the Big Ten. Bullough leaves campus with 214 career tackles, the latest in a long line of Bulloughs to enjoy success in East Lansing.

DT Malik McDowell. He arrived on campus amid a lot of hype and delivered. Now, McDowell is off a year early to the NFL, where he is projected to be a first-round selection. He led the Spartan defensive line with 34 tackles, including a team-best seven for losses (31 yards), in nine games. He started in eight games (five at nose tackle; three at defensive end) before missing the final three games with an injury. McDowell will leave East Lansing having collected 90 tackles, including 24.5 for losses and 7.5 sacks, in 36 career games. He was a versatile athlete who could start any position on the defensive line.

SS Montae Nicholson. A hard-hitter in the back-end of the defense, Nicholson opted to run pro early after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and media after finishing second on the team with 86 tackles in 11 games in 2016. Nicholson also had an interception, two pass break-ups and forced a fumble. For his career, Nicholson finished with 200 tackles and four interceptions from his strong safety position.

TE Josiah Price. He is the school’s all-time leader for touchdown receptions by a tight end with 21. And he made 104 catches for 1,238 yards to rank third among Spartan tight ends all-time. Last season, Price finished second on the team with 38 receptions for 387 yards with five TDs. As a result, Price was named third-team All-Big Ten by the coaches for the second straight year and also earned honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades by the media.

WR R.J. Shelton. He leaves campus after earning second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches. Shelton had 116 career catches for 1,471 yards and scored 16 touchdowns (11 receiving, four rushing, one kick return) in 52 career games, including 23 starts. The 2016 team MVP had a team-high 53 catches for 789 yards with five TDs last seasons.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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