Michigan State football: 5 biggest questions remaining 1 week before kickoff

We’ve reached the one-week mark. Next Saturday, Michigan State football will kick off its 2017 season against Bowling Green.

For fans, it will be welcome after the turmoil of the offseason, the beginning of a chance to improve on the 3-9 finish in 2016. But the Spartans will be young and unproven. Plenty of questions remain about what to expect.

So with a few days remaining, let’s run down the biggest ones.

5. Will the kicking game be a liability?

After the graduation of four-year starting placekicker Michael Geiger, Michigan State has a pair of candidates, Matt Coghlin and Cole Hahn, who haven’t yet taken a kick for the Spartans. They’ll battle for the starting spot. Not only that, but MSU needs to find someone who can handle kickoffs after Kevin Cronin (also graduated) sent 6 out of bounds in 2016. The Spartans think highly enough of Coghlin and Hahn to put them on scholarship, but they have to prove themselves.

4. How good can this group of cornerbacks be?

It tells the tale of Michigan State’s cornerbacks that sophomore Justin Layne is the reliable veteran. Alongside him, freshman Josiah Scott will likely be the starter. Tyson Smith has five career starts, but he has yet to make his first appearance post-stroke. And sophomore Josh Butler has impressed the staff, but he played primarily special teams in his lone season so far. If the “No Fly Zone” is to be reconstructed, it will take surprise performances from unproven youngsters.

3. Can the Spartans get after the quarterback?

Thirteen teams in the Big Ten posted at least 21 sacks last year. Michigan State had 11. That’s 0.9 per game. Demetrius Cooper spent much of his offseason trying to earn his scholarship back following legal issues, and now he’ll need to step up in a big way. He led the Spartans with 2.5 sacks in 2016. Former walk-ons Dillon Alexander and Kenny Willekes will also be called upon in a big way, and Michigan State hopes it will be unleashing a secret weapon on third downs in Brandon Randle.

2. Will the passing game take a step forward?

Again, inexperience is the word that comes to mind. Brian Lewerke has played in four games. The three likely starting receivers — Trishton Jackson, Darrell Stewart Jr. and Felton Davis III — have caught passes. But Lewerke has only connected with the trio two times total. The talent is there, but the connection and chemistry needs to be proven. It might take time, but Michigan State fans will be looking for consistent improvement. Thankfully, a strong running game gives them something to lean on.

1. How will the Michigan State players conduct themselves off the field?

Off-field conduct has to be the top priority. Michigan State could lose every game, but if the players stay out of legal trouble, it will be a step toward cleaning the program’s image following the stain of four players being charged with sexual assault. That might not be good enough for fans, but it should be.

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