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Here’s what you need to know about Michigan State before Ohio State plays them

#DISRESPEKT

Goodyear Cotton Bowl - Alabama v Michigan State Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Ohio State football season will be here before you know it, and even if you’ve only been paying semi-close attention this offseason, you’re probably aware of the major storylines with the program. This is going to be an exceptionally young, but talented and athletic team. There’s a lack of proven production at wideout, running back, and defensive back. They return the best QB in the conference, and should at least compete for a Big Ten title.

But you may not know a lot about the specific teams on Ohio State’s schedule. We’ll get into a lot more detail before the actual games, but you may want a primer so you can sound smart at the bar, or at the barbecue, or in the grocery store checkout line.

So take a look at Ohio State’s opponents this year. Next up, the defending Big Ten champs, the Michigan State Spartans.

So, what was the deal with Michigan State last year?

You can be forgiven if you’ve just decided to block this out of your memory, but the Spartans did win the Big Ten last season. Not Ohio State. Not Michigan. And certainly not Iowa (lol). The Spartans may have benefited from Michigan’s tragic inability to punt, and good fortune in other places, but what conference champion doesn’t get a few breaks? Even if they didn’t win on style points, they scored enough point-points to finish with a 12-1 record somehow before the playoffs, a win at Ohio State, and a Big Ten title, en route to a playoff bid. The Spartans were good.

And then they got completely embarrassed by Alabama in the first round of the playoffs. But hey, can’t win ‘em all.

But that was last year. What’s Michigan State’s offense going to be like this year?

Well, it certainly won’t be last year’s unit. Quarterback Connor Cook, one of the very best in school history, is gone. Aaron Burbridge, who had a monster season at wideout last year, is gone. Jack Allen and Jack Conklin, two All-Americans on the offensive line, are gone, along with right guard Donavon Clark. Those are a lot of important parts for an offense that was only okay in S&P+ (58), and doesn’t have loads of elite prospects waiting in the wings to replace them. Some regression, especially given how well Michigan State performed on passing downs last season, seems likely.

But “some regression is likely” doesn’t mean “bad”, or “absent of any weapons”. New Michigan State quarterback Tyler O'Connor certainly showed he can be efficient to win a huge game last season. They also return their top three running backs, including potential star LJ Scott, who was one of the heroes of the Big Ten championship game. There could be some true freshmen who contribute at wideout, and after last year’s recruiting class, Michigan State has no shortage of options, including Donnie Corley, who Ohio State wanted.

This is a unit that will probably be a little short on explosive plays, and won’t be a efficient as last year, but #DISRESPEKT them at your own peril.

What about their defense?

That’s been the calling card for Michigan State football over these last few seasons, and for good reason. But quite a few of the biggest names are no longer on the roster. Shilique Calhoun, a truly terrifying defensive end, is gone. So far four other top defensive linemen. Linebacker Darien Harris is gone. Corner Arjen Colquhoun is gone. That’s a lot of big time production.

But you know who who is still there? Some really dang good players. Malik McDowell might be one of the only returning names on the defensive line, but he’s All-American quality and might be the single best defensive lineman Ohio State faces this year. Riley Bullough is a tackling machine who can clean up a lot of messes left by a young defensive line. Plus the Spartans return three solid safeties from last year’s team.

This year’s team will require young players on the defensive line to step up alongside McDowell, along with new corners to quickly establish themselves, lest the Spartans struggle giving up big plays again. But there’s enough talent here, and a few stars, to ensure that this should be a very solid defense, even if it isn’t quite top 15-ish quality again.

What’s the all-time Ohio State-Michigan State series like?

Ohio State owns a 29-15 lead in the all-time series, but in recent history, it’s been much more competitive. The Spartans are the only team to beat Urban Meyer twice at Ohio State. The teams have split their last six meetings as well.

Is Michigan State going to be good this year?

Almost certainly.

I mean, are they going to make the playoffs again? Probably not, since Ohio State and Michigan are both more talented across the board. Notre Dame will likely prove to be a very difficult game too, but Ohio State and Michigan were more talented last year, and well, we remember what happened.

This team lost a lot of very good players last year. But outside of Bill Snyder, and maybe Kyle Whittingham, nobody has been better at proverbial “coaching up” of three-star type kids than Dantonio at Michigan State, and now they even have a few blue chips, albeit young ones, to play with. Even if they’re not winning a division title, this is still going to be a quite solid football team.

How worried should Ohio State fans be about this game?

Ohio State fans should be concerned about the Michigan State game every season until further notice, especially since it’s not in Columbus this year.