Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Michigan State Football Midseason Bye Week Awards Part One

October 15, 2019
MSU football players during the game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on October 12, 2019. The Spartans lost to the Badgers 38-0.
MSU football players during the game against Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on October 12, 2019. The Spartans lost to the Badgers 38-0. —
Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

The Michigan State football team is reeling coming off of two blowout losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin before entering this week's bye week. Sitting at 4-3, a shot at playing in the Big Ten Championship Game seems unrealistic. But, with five games left, there is still enough time to turn what's quickly turning into a disappointing season into a successful year.

The Spartans host No. 7 Penn State next Saturday before going on their second bye week. Then, Michigan State hosts Illinois before traveling to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan. The Spartans close the year out with a trip to Rutgers before hosting Maryland on senior day. Most of those games are winnable, and should give MSU a shot to not only become bowl eligible, but maybe play in a Florida postseason game. But first, that starts with turning things around during the off-week.

The State News will take a look at the highs and lows through Michigan State's seven games this season, which one can use as storylines to keep an eye on as the season rolls into the final month.

Breakout Offensive Player:

Considerations: RB Elijah Collins, TE Matt Seybert, TE Trenton Gillison

WINNER: Elijah Collins

Seybert was the closest to taking this award from the redshirt-freshman running back, but he may be in line for a different award later on in the week. So, that made Collins the most logical choice as being the breakout player on Michigan State's offense.

Collins broke on to the season in the Spartans' blowout win against Western Michigan in Week 2, where the Detroit native made his first-career start. Since then, two running backs have entered their names into the NCAA Transfer Portal because Collins has solidified himself as MSU's best back.

Collins registered two carries during his redshirt season last year. Through seven games in 2019, he's ran for three touchdowns and almost 500 yards on 98 carries.

His best game to date was against the Broncos, but his first collegiate touchdown came against Arizona State the following week. That started a three-game streak (ASU, Northwestern and Indiana) where Collins found the end zone.

Last week against Wisconsin was a bit of a struggle, as it was for the entire MSU football team. Collins carried the ball eight times for only 16 yards. But, he is still on pace to rush for over 800 yards this season.

Collins should be a force for the remainder of the season and beyond with three years of eligibility left.

Comeback Player Of The Year:

Considerations: P Jake Hartbarger, QB Brian Lewerke, DE Kenny Willekes

WINNER: Brian Lewerke

After a season-ending injury in MSU's second game of the season last year, Hartbarger was granted a sixth year of eligibility. In his last college season, he has been one of the best punters in college football, sitting at 14th in the nation, averaging 46.5 yards per kick. Willekes broke his leg against Oregon in last year's Redbox Bowl and then decided to come back to East Lansing for his senior season. His 46 tackles are good for third on MSU's defense, while his leads the team with four sacks.

But, Lewerke gets this award due to his full body of work this season. This may be a controversial decision, as Lewerke has his fair share of doubters. At times this season, his play has validated those claims. But, the numbers speak for themselves.

His 1,596 passing yards leads the Big Ten. His 11 touchdowns are third best in the conference. And this is on top of having the most drops by his receivers than any other quarterback in college football.

Lewerke's health last year put the Spartans in a tough spot, bouncing back and forth between himself and backup Rocky Lombardi. The fifth-year senior entered this season with momentum, throwing for 10 touchdowns and one interception in MSU's first five games.

Lewerke's play against Ohio State and Wisconsin has regressed a bit, throwing for just one touchdown and two interceptions during that span, but he is still on pace for 2,736 passing yards and 18 touchdowns — which would both barely fall short of his total from 2017 (2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns).

Best True Freshman:

Considerations: OL Devontae Dobbs, RB Anthony Williams Jr., WR Julian Barnett

WINNER: Julian Barnett

This award was tough to pick a clear winner. All three nominees have seen portions of game time. But, Barnett was the final decision based on the potential he's shown with the ball in his hands.

The Detroit native has made only three catches for 53 yards in his first season in East Lansing, but his speed and ball catching skills are easily visible. Barnett has already played in more than four games this season, which means he won't be able to redshirt this year. And if MSU continues to struggle this year, his opportunities on the field may increase.

Barnett looks the part of a receiver that can blossom with time in Michigan State's system.

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