The work on the recruiting trail for 2016 is complete, so barring a few late tweaks or transfers, rosters across the Big Ten are pretty much set with national signing day in the books. The ESPN.com reporting crew is taking a look at what each team in the conference looks like with a new class on the way.
Next up: Michigan State Spartans
Team’s position of strength: Linebackers
The strong tradition of run-stoppers at Michigan State should continue in 2016, and not surprisingly there is a Bullough in the middle of it. Senior Riley Bullough led the Spartans with 106 tackles last fall and returns as the unquestionable leader of the defense next year.
Head coach Mark Dantonio expects Ed Davis to be by his side. Davis, an All-America candidate before blowing out his knee in training camp, has applied for a sixth season of eligibility and could be the team’s most explosive linebacker if his recovery goes well. Davis’s absence in 2015 gave underclassmen Jon Reschke and Chris Frey a chance to learn on the job. Their experience gives the Spartans a well-balanced group that should help ease the learning curve for a young defensive line in front of them.
Team’s biggest need heading into signing day: Wide receivers
Producing back-to-back Big Ten receivers of the year creates a little bit of a problem in the long run. Eventually, you have to replace them. Aaron Burbridge more than filled Tony Lippett’s shoes during Michigan State’s run to the College Football Playoff. Burbridge’s exit left the cupboard a little bare in January. R.J. Shelton is a candidate to step in as the go-to option in 2016, but it was important to stock up on a new group that could potentially contribute early in this year’s recruiting cycle.
How Michigan State addressed the need: Dantonio thinks he’s found both short-term and long-term solutions on the edge of the offense with the four freshmen that will start their careers in the fall. Two of them, Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers, are already on campus and the coaching staff thinks they will have a chance to be impact players in 2016. Justin Layne and Trishton Jackson won’t arrive until the summer, but Layne is a four-star prospect and Top 300 player in the class, according to ESPN. If Michigan State continues trending toward the more diverse offense it showed in 2014 (rather than only pounding away with its strong supply of tailbacks), these four guys can be a big part of the future in East Lansing.
Biggest need remaining: Defensive line
The Spartans lost three starters on the defensive line from their Big Ten championship team this year. While there are some talented underclassmen eager to replace them, you can never have enough big and explosive bodies in the trenches. Newcomers Josh King and Mufi Hunt, a 2014 signee who deferred for a year to go on a Mormon mission after injuring his knee, may have a chance to get on the field next fall. Auston Roberston, the No. 2-ranked player in Indiana, could also help bolster the position group if he lands with the Spartans after figuring out some recent legal issues.