Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 133 of 163

132 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY RYAN TICE Most teams that lose their top two run- ning backs, who combined for 2,144 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns, and have their top returning rusher still suspended indefinitely in June would be worried about their offense for next year. Michigan State must also replace leading receiver Tony Lippett, who accounted for 1,198 receiving yards and scored 12 touch- downs last year, but the Spartans have no such qualms. That is thanks to fifth-year senior quarterback Connor Cook, who has posted a 23-3 record and 46 touchdown throws against just 14 interceptions during his two years as the starter. The unanimous second-team All-Big Ten selection is well on his way to becoming the greatest signal-caller in program history, and ESPN's Todd McShay projects him as the No. 2 overall pick in next year's NFL Draft. Despite the loss of some of his top weap- ons, Cook could be operating behind the best offensive line yet under head coach Mark Dantonio, who has a 53-14 record over the last five years for the most wins by a Big Ten mentor during that timespan. Fifth-year senior All-American center Jack Allen and redshirt junior left tackle Jack Conklin, who graded out as the team's top lineman, lead a unit that should help keep the Spartans scoring points at an impressive clip. Last year's offense ranked seventh nationally in scoring (43.0 points per game). Junior Delton Williams is the aforemen- tioned suspended running back. The 6-1, 225-pounder totaled 316 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, and will compete with fresh faces to front the rushing attack if he returns. Out wide, senior Aaron Burbridge leads the returning pass catchers after he tied for second on the squad with 29 grabs; he boasts 80 career receptions. Classmate Macgarrett Kings Jr. also hauled in 29 passes last year, and he leads all returning players with 404 receiving yards. The duo will be complemented by ver- satile junior R.J. Shelton, who had 148 rushing yards, 173 receiving yards and five scores, and fifth-year senior A.J. Troup, who recorded 113 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Four of the five tight ends who lettered are back, led by returning starter Josiah Price. The redshirt junior has paced the group in receiving the past two years and accounted for six touchdowns last fall, which tied the program's tight end record. The stoppers kept pace with the offense last year, ranking first nationally in rush- ing defense (88.5 yards allowed per game), second in turnover margin (+1.46 per game) and eighth in total defense (315.8 yards al- lowed per game). The unit also boasts sev- eral All-America candidates, led by two-time second-team honoree Shilique Calhoun, a fifth-year senior defensive end. Calhoun is one of three returning start- ers up front, although classmate Lawrence Thomas moves from nose tackle to defensive end with freshman All-American Malik Mc- Dowell ready to step into his vacated spot. Thomas, McDowell and starting defensive tackle Joel Heath combined for 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks last season. The linebacking corps will have to replace productive starter Taiwan Jones in the mid- dle, but fifth-year seniors Darien Harris and Ed Davis return on the outside. Davis was named All-Big Ten honorable mention after he posted 58 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Redshirt junior Riley Bullough logged four tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions, and should move into the open spot in the middle. The losses in the secondary are the big- gest blow. Free safety Kurtis Dummond, last year's Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, and cornerback Trae Waynes, a first- round pick, will be tough to replace, but every other letter winner from the defensive backfield returns. Fifth-year senior R.J. Wil- liamson leads all returning players with 59 tackles and also picked off three passes, but moves from strong safety to free safety. Junior kicker Michael Geiger, who is 29 of 38 on field goals in his career, is back for his third year as the starter. A fifth double-digit win campaign in the last six years is completely plausible, if not expected, with Michigan State's array of returning all-stars. Notes Michigan State has compiled a 24-3 record over the last two years and finished among the nation's top five in con- secutive seasons for the first time since 1965-66 … Picked as the No. 7 team nationally by Athlon Sports College Football Preview, and checked in at No.8 in Sporting News' preseason ratings … Five programs have won at least 11 games in four of the last five seasons: Michigan State, Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon and Stanford. ❑ Returning Players Should Continue Spartans' Success GAME 7 • MICHIGAN STATE • OCT. 17 2015 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2014 Result Sept. 4 at Western Michigan — Sept. 12 Oregon L, 46-27 Sept. 19 Air Force — Sept. 26 Central Michigan — Oct. 3 Purdue W, 45-31 Oct. 10 at Rutgers W, 45-3 Oct. 17 at Michigan W, 35-11 Oct. 24 Indiana W, 56-17 Nov. 7 at Nebraska W, 27-22 Nov. 14 Maryland W, 37-15 Nov. 21 at Ohio State L, 49-37 Nov. 28 Penn State W, 34-10 QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: U-M leads 68-34-5 First Meeting: U-M 39, MSU 0 (Oct. 12, 1898, at Ann Arbor) Last Meeting: MSU 35, U-M 11 (Oct. 25, 2014, at East Lansing) Head Coach: Mark Dantonio, 75-31 at MSU (9th year) and 93-48 overall (12th year) Off./Def. Systems: Multiple/Multiple 4-3 2014 In Review: 11-2 overall, 7-1 Big Ten (2nd East) Final 2014 Ranking: No. 5 by USA Today coaches and Associated Press Returning Starters: 15 (7 offense, 7 defense, 1 specialist) Last Bowl Appearance: 2014 (Goodyear Cotton, vs. Baylor, W 42-41) Big Ten Conference Championships (last): 8 (2013) RETURNING LEADERS Passing: Connor Cook (3,214 yards, 24 TD, 8 INT) Rushing: Delton Williams* (316 yards, 5 TD) Receiving: Macgarrett Kings, Jr. (404 yards, 1 TD) Tackles: R.J. Williamson (59) Sacks: Shilique Calhoun (8) Interceptions: R.J. Williamson (3) * Suspended indefinitely this spring PLAYERS TO WATCH Offense: Connor Cook, 5th-Sr., QB — First back-to-back All-Big Ten second-team quarterback in program history … Ranks in the school's top 10 in nearly every passing category … Named 2013 Big Ten Championship Game Most Outstanding Player and 2014 Rose Bowl Offensive MVP. Defense: Shilique Calhoun, 5th-Sr., DE — Two-time second- team All-American … Boasts 82 tackles, including 29 for loss and 16.5 sacks, in his career … 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. Fifth-year senior defensive end Shilique Cal- houn, the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2013, is a two-time second-team All- America selection. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN STATE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

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