MSU mailbag: Gauging Gophers, and future title hopes

Matt Charboneau took readers’ questions on MSU’s future Big Ten title chances in his weekly mailbag.

East Lansing — Things sure can change quickly in college football, and that’s exactly the case for Michigan State.

A week ago the Spartan fans likely were feeling good about the 3-1 start, but wondering how good their team truly could become. After the win over Michigan, the attention has quickly turned to how far this team can go in 2017.

Minnesota comes first, and that’s on the docket this week in the Michigan State mailbag. But the overriding issue is clear — folks want to know if the Spartans will start making reservations in Indianapolis — for this season and beyond.

■ Question: Why is Minnesota predicted to beat State? Makes no sense. Do they even have a receiver left? Our strength is the run D. Who is their QB? — @drewparm

■ Answer: I have to be honest, I’m not seeing a lot of people picking Minnesota to win this game. Of course, I’m sure there will be some folks taking the Golden Gophers, and it’s not like I’ve done exhaustive research on who’s picking who, but it just doesn’t seem to me there is overwhelming support for the Gophers. Why would someone pick Minnesota? That’s a fair question, and quite frankly, I’m not sure I have a good answer.

Minnesota has been good defensively against the run, a place Michigan State has had a hard time finding much consistency. However, the Spartans seem to have the advantage in plenty of other areas. The passing game has yet to break out, but the Gophers are decimated in the back end while the Minnesota offense has been hit or miss, as well. It’s ran the ball well, but the Minnesota passing game has been a mess and Michigan State comes in as the No. 4 overall defense in the nation. It seems to me, anyone picking Minnesota is putting faith in the Gophers being at home, at night, and P.J. Fleck working some sort of magic against a team he’s come close to beating, but never has.

■ Q: Given the attention recently, what was your take on the nighttime start? Did it make a meaningful difference? How did coaches feel about it? — @brad_seattle

■ A: I’m personally getting tired of all the night games, but that’s just because I like to complain. No one involved cares about that, but what they do care about is TV viewers and the trend is becoming to put the best games on at night. I honestly don’t think it makes a big difference to the coaches and players. To be honest, the players know it means primetime television and they like that. The coaches are so dialed in it doesn’t really matter when they play the game.

And while it’s an adjustment to alter the game-day schedule, the late starts are becoming so commonplace that the change in routine has almost become routine. Yes, it’s true that an earlier game last week would have avoided the bad weather, but that’s pure coincidence. The fact is, night games aren’t going away, so teams are making sure they get used to them.

2017 MICHIGAN STATE SCHEDULE

■ Q: With so many young players playing so well, what’s this group's ceiling in 2 years? — @barnhab

■ A: Plenty of questions this week about Michigan State’s future and this one asks about what things will be like when quarterback Brian Lewerke and the sophomore class are seniors. If the progress we’ve seen continues, there’s no reason to think the ceiling isn’t a Big Ten championship and beyond by that point. The Spartans would be an experienced team — barring any early departures — and likely would enter the season with high expectations.

■ Q: Can we win a B1G championship next year? — @linda_heston

■ A: This one moves forward only one year, and it’s a tougher question to answer. Yes, the Spartans can absolutely win the Big Ten title next season, and considering so many young players are seeing significant action in key positions this year, there likely will be some picking the Spartans to do just that next season. However, there are plenty of factors, like replacing Brian Allen in the middle of the offensive line and the leadership of Chris Frey on defense.

And, of course, there’s the fact plenty of other teams will get better, too, namely Michigan. The Wolverines are just as young now, though they have the added task of finding a quarterback. Ohio State and Penn State will be replacing quarterbacks, as well, which gives Michigan State the advantage in the sense that won’t be an issue.

msu-mailbag-gauging-gophers-and-future-title-hopes photo 1

Michigan State’s defense, which includes Chris Frey (23), Josiah Scott (22) and Kenny Willekes (48) could help the Spartans finish the season strong, ramping up outside expectations from the preseason. (Photo: John T. Greilick / Detroit News)

■ Q: Can MSU win the B1G? … Can MSU beat PSU or OSU? — @Hayden10698

■ A: Which brings us to the here and now. How far can Michigan State go this season? It was the subject of several questions this week, so we just boiled it down with this combo question because winning the Big Ten in 2017 almost certainly would mean beating both Penn State and Ohio State. Is there a chance this young Michigan State team could slip up somewhere else? Sure, but the real challenges would be beating the No. 3 Nittany Lions at home on Nov. 4 and then winning at No. 9 Ohio State the next week.

Each game, by itself, would be a tough one to win, but add in the fact they come on back-to-back weeks and it’s a tall task. I still think Michigan State loses those two games. However, I now believe they can win the rest, making the ceiling or this season 9-3, far better than the 6-6 record I predicted back in August.

msu-mailbag-gauging-gophers-and-future-title-hopes photo 2

Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes had a pair of sacks against Michigan. (Photo: Dale G. Young / Detroit News)

■ Q: Will Kenny Willekes update his hudl video by intermixing his sacks against the Wolverines with his rolling picks?! — @hogaboom77

■ A: The basketball highlight tape made me chuckle. Honestly, was there any doubt watching that tape that Willekes would end up playing football in college? Of course, check out the football highlights and the only thing surprising is that Willekes gained so little attention coming out of high school.

Yeah, he was a walk-on, but he’s got the size to play in the Big Ten and a motor that simply doesn’t quit. I’m not sure what the final number will be for him this season, but you gotta figure the two sacks last week against Michigan are just the start.

matt.charboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

Share on
Article MSU mailbag: Gauging Gophers, and future title hopes compiled by www.detroitnews.com

You might also like