Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, December 14, 2017
What a difference a year makes.
This time last year, the Spartans had put away their equipment following a dismal 3-9 season. If that wasn?t bad enough, Michigan State then endured off-field issues and ultimately saw 12 players leave on their own or be dismissed. It was a stunning turn of events for a Spartan program that had won the Big Ten and gone to the playoff in 2015. But MSU changed the narrative in 2017 by going 9-3.
Kudos to Mark Dantonio, who may have done his best coaching yet in his 11 seasons in East Lansing. What made the revival all the more remarkable was the fact Michigan State had a relatively young squad, as 67 percent of the roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores. That bodes well for the future. The defense was the biggest surprise in 2017, ranking No. 4 in the Big Ten (297.8 ypg) and No. 2 vs. the run (101.3 ypg). And MSU also was sparked by the emergence of quarterback Brian Lewerke, who became a deadly dual-threat. This surprisingly successful season by a young Spartans squad means MSU has a great chance to be in the thick of the East Division race again in 2018.
Record: 9-3 overall; 7-2 Big Ten/T2nd in East
Bowl: Holiday vs. Washington State
High point: While a 27-24 win vs. No. 7 Penn State was nice, it doesn?t get any sweeter than beating Michigan if you are Mark Dantonio. And that?s exactly what he did-again-this season, taking a 14-10 decision vs. the No. 7 Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Brian Lewerke hit 11-of-22 passes for 94 yards and a TD and ran 15 times for 61 yards and another score to spearhead the triumph in the Big House. That makes Dantonio 2-1 vs. Jim Harbaugh and 8-3 vs. Michigan.
Low point: A 39-31 triple OT loss at Northwestern was difficult to swallow. But nothing was worse than the late-season 48-3 drubbing suffered at Ohio State, which outgained Michigan State 524-195. Losing in Columbus is no disgrace, but few could have envisioned the Spartans getting smashed by the Buckeyes, especially with MSU coming off a home win vs. Penn State. And Ohio State was coming off a mystifying 55-24 loss at Iowa. Head-scratching stuff. The victory gave sole possession of first in the Big Ten East to the Buckeyes.
Offensive MVP: QB Brian Lewerke. The 6-3, 212-pound sophomore came into his own in 2017, emerging as one of the top dual-threat signal-callers in the Big Ten. He is hitting 58 percent of his passes for 2,580 yards with 17 TDs and seven interceptions. And he also has run for 433 yards, second among Big Ten quarterbacks. The best is yet to come for Lewerke.
Defensive MVP: LB Joe Bachie. The 6-2, 233-pound sophomore ranks fifth in the Big Ten and 56th in FBS in tackles per game (8.4), as Bachie leads the team in tackles (92) and forced fumbles (2). He also ranks second on team in tackles for loss (8.5) and interceptions (2), as well as ranking third on team in sacks (3.5). Not bad for a first year starter, as Bachie earned consensus third-team All-Big Ten honors.