EAST LANSING — Michigan State spring football begins Tuesday, and most Spartan fans would agree that’s not a day too soon after the basketball team’s shocking defeat in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Mark Dantonio and his team can relate to ending a season on a sour note, some 2 1/2 months removed from a 38-0 College Football Playoff semifinal defeat to Alabama.
The Crimson Tide outplayed and outcoached the Spartans on New Year’s Eve, also exposing areas MSU needs to address this spring.
Here are four pressing questions entering the start of spring drills, some that won’t be answered until next fall:
How will the offensive line improve?
Michigan State’s offensive line injuries in 2015 are carrying over. An undisclosed number of players underwent offseason surgery and will miss part if not all of spring drills.
The three most valuable offensive linemen from last season are departing — All-Americans Jack Conklin and Jack Allen, along with versatile Donavon Clark, who was the only lineman to start every game last season.
MSU needs to improve its offensive line play after the team ranked 93rd in the nation in rushing last season and failed to protect its starting quarterback from injury.
What will be the offensive identity?
The identity will largely be determined by the starting quarterback, as co-offensive coordinators Jim Bollman and Dave Warner design and call plays based on who is under center.
Dantonio said in February he doesn’t expect to name his starting quarterback until September.
That’s fine, but MSU has to know whether it will lean toward the pro style offense Connor Cook directed or trend toward more of a spread, read-option approach.
The Spartans have shown elements of both in their offense, but the sooner MSU can determine its identity, the better it will execute.
Can young receivers learn the playbook?
Dantonio has said he expects Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers to make an impact, but projecting receivers’ success has not been easy in this offense.
Coaches have said they’ll limit the amount the freshmen receivers need to learn, simplifying in an effort to get the most talent on the field.
In recent years, Michigan State’s freshmen receivers have struggled to find consistency. MSU can’t afford for that to happen this season, but having a new quarterback will make things even more challenging.
Will the Spartans avoid off-field issues?
Two of the players who had off-field issues last offseason, Delton Williams and Macgarrett Kings Jr., also saw their performances drop off from their previous seasons.
Two players who had in-season issues, Montez Sweat and Mark Meyers, were missed in key games.
Dantonio believes MSU’s discipline and chemistry creates a sort of synergy that enables the Spartans to compete for championships.
As small of a margin for error as last year’s team had — 6-1 in games decided by seven points or less — the 2016 team can afford even fewer mistakes after the exodus of 11 starters.
Position group previews