Column: MSU's youthful roster exceeded expectations in rebound from 2016 season
The script has officially been flipped.
Following MSU’s 40-7 victory on the road over Rutgers Saturday, the Spartans ended the regular season with an overall record of 9-3, six wins better than their infamous 3-9 mark from just a year ago.
Entering the season, the Spartans were left with a roster permeated with inexperience after 37 letterwinners and 18 starters departed from the program.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke, who had some in-game experience last season before suffering a season-ending broken tibia against Michigan, entered his first regular season as a starting signal-caller.
Both the offensive and defensive line lost three starters after last season. As a result, the O-line featured two freshmen as starters, while the D-line was highlighted by three starting sophomores and one senior.
The receiving corps lost starting wide receivers RJ Shelton and Monty Madaris, along with tight end Josiah Price, and MSU’s secondary was left with an immense void after four starters left the team, including two who are currently in the NFL.
With an abundance of youth expected to play a vital role on the team throughout the season, not many predicted the Spartans to have the regular season that they had. But the team did.
And, well, they were right.
While the team dabbled with the staring quarterback role last season, looking to find “the one,” Lewerke remained the starter throughout the 2017 regular season and completed 233 of 396 passes for 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions, along with finishing second on the team in rushing with 486 yards and five touchdowns.
Through 12 games this season, three of the Spartans’ top-five leading receivers are either freshmen or sophomores, with sophomore wideout Darrell Stewart Jr. leading the underclassmen with 486 yards receiving, which is second on the team, followed by true freshmen Cody White with 449 yards receiving and Hunter Rison with 223 yards.
Defensively, sophomore safety David Dowell ended the regular season with five interceptions, which placed him second in the Big Ten Conference and tied for seventh in the Football Bowl Subdivision. True freshman Josiah Scott and sophomore Justin Layne, who transitioned from wide receiver to cornerback midway through the 2016 season, each surpassed expectations at the cornerback position.
This year’s senior class was given a team that was broken and seemingly not all together after an embarrassing 3-9 season, which left the Spartans ineligible for a bowl game for the first time in head coach Mark Dantonio’s 10 years with the program, but the seniors, led by co-captains Chris Frey and Brian Allen, rallied the team back together throughout an offseason filled with off-the-field issues and questions on how this team would respond from the harrowing 2016 season and put the Spartan football program back to where it should be.
While MSU isn’t headed to Indianapolis for a chance to win the Big Ten Championship title, which was one of the team’s goals entering this season, the Spartans showed signs that that they are ready to get back on the national radar.
After showing so much promise this year with one of the nation’s youngest teams, the team will likely only expect and strive for one goal next season: a Big Ten title.