Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, January 6, 2016
Michigan State closed out its season with an uninspiring 38-0 loss to Alabama in this year's College Football Playoff semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl.
Despite the loss, this was an outstanding year for Mark Dantonio and the Spartans, finishing 12-2 and winning a Big Ten championship.
With the graduation of Connor Cook, Shilique Calhoun, Jack Allen and several other key players from this year's team, the Spartans will have a number of important questions that need to be addressed heading into next season.
Here is a look at five burning questions facing Dantonio and the Spartans in 2016.
Who will be the Spartans' starting quarterback?
After a memorable career in East Lansing, Connor Cook has graduated and will take his talents to the NFL. Now the question becomes, who will replace him as the Spartans? starting signal caller? Tyler O?Connor and Damion Terry are the likely choices, as both gained valuable game experience in MSU?s 17-14 win over Ohio State this season. O?Connor will be a redshirt senior in 2016 and probably has the best grasp of this offense. Terry, who will be a redshirt junior, is a dual-threat quarterback who brings an added element with his ability to run the football, something MSU really hasn?t had since Drew Stanton was leading this offense. Brian Lewerke will be a redshirt freshman, while incoming freshman Messiah deWeaver is a big-time prospect who could be a future star. In the end, experience will likely win out, with O?Connor or Terry set to call the shots for the Spartans? offense in 2016.
How does the offensive line look with Jack Conklin leaving early for the NFL Draft
Jack Conklin announced on Wednesday that he will forgo his senior senior and declare for the 2016 NFL Draft. That leaves the Spartans with three voids to fill on their starting offensive line, as both Jack Allen and Donovan Clark were seniors. Brian Allen and Kodi Kieler will be the lone returning starters on MSU's offensive line, although Benny McGowan does have starting experience. Miguel Machado is a junior college transfer entering this third season at MSU. He could end up starting at offensive tackle or guard, along with senior Brandon Clemons. Dennis Finley is another possibility, although he is still recovering from a broken leg he suffered in his only start of the season, against Purdue on Oct. 3.
Will Mark Dantonio and the Spartans be able to retain their staff?
Whenever a team wins a conference title and finishes among the best in the nation, assistant coaches are going to be in high demand. For the most part, Dantonio has done an incredible job of retaining staff members since arriving at Michigan State back in 2007. With the emergence of Connor Cook throughout his Michigan State career, and the improvement of the defense in the second half of the season (outside of the Alabama game), you have to imagine that several of MSU?s assistants will be attractive coordinator, and maybe even head coaching candidates.
Who emerges at wide receiver?
The Spartans? offense will be faced with the task of replacing their top two receivers in Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr., who were both seniors this season. That duo combined for 125 receptions for 1,777 yards and 12 touchdowns this year. R.J. Shelton is the top returning receiver. He hauled in 43 catches for 503 yards and four touchdowns this season, but was primarily used in a slot receiver role. Josiah Price is one of the top returning tight ends in the nation and should help in the passing game. Look for either Felton Davis or Monty Madaris to step up and have a breakout season for the Spartans in 2016. They also have an outstanding group of wide receivers coming in as true freshman.
Who becomes the new defensive star?
Darqueze Dennard, Trae Waynes, Shilique Calhoun. Who is the next star for this suffocating Spartan defense? The early guess has to be defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who is already a budding star and a potential preseason All-American next year. Riley Bullough has All-Big Ten potential, and the return of senior Ed Davis should give this defense a big boost. Vayante Copeland could be the next standout defensive back to wear the green and white. He was a starter heading into this year, but suffered a season-ending fractured vertebra in the Spartans? Week 2 win over Oregon. With McDowell leading the defensive line, Bullough and Davis at linebacker, and Copeland, Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson in the secondary, this has the potential to be an incredible MSU defense next season.