Those teams up North


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File- This Nov. 4, 2017, file photo shows Michigan State running back LJ Scott (3) being  tackled by Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in East Lansing, Mich. Scott enters his senior season with some impressive career rushing stats: 2,591 yards and 25 touchdowns. A good final season could put him in the top four on the school’s career list in both categories but he also has room for improvement. He was part of a team-wide fumbling problem that plagued the Spartans last year.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

File- This Nov. 4, 2017, file photo shows Michigan State running back LJ Scott (3) being tackled by Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in East Lansing, Mich. Scott enters his senior season with some impressive career rushing stats: 2,591 yards and 25 touchdowns. A good final season could put him in the top four on the school’s career list in both categories but he also has room for improvement. He was part of a team-wide fumbling problem that plagued the Spartans last year. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)


File-This Dec. 28, 2017, file photo shows Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke throwing during the first half of the Holiday Bowl NCAA college football game against Washington State. Last year was Lewerke’s first full season as the starter, and there was a lot for the Spartans to be excited about. He threw for 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions and also ran for 559 yards and five TDs. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)


Spartans could be a force in rugged Big Ten race

By NOAH TRISTER

AP Sports Writer

Thursday, August 16

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — It’s a familiar story at Michigan State: The Spartans are talented, tenacious — and a bit under the radar in the Big Ten.

After a 10-win season in 2017, coach Mark Dantonio’s team returns quarterback Brian Lewerke, running back LJ Scott and several other key contributors on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Spartans still have to fight for attention with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin, but if a few breaks go their way, it’s not hard to envision them winning a conference title.

“I think it’s inches. I’ve always said that around here — you’ve got to find the inches,” Dantonio said. “The difference between a completion and knocking the ball out is about two inches. The difference between overstriding on the offensive line and taking a six-inch step is the difference between success and failure.”

Michigan State has three Big Ten titles since 2010 and made college football’s playoff in 2015. After a total collapse in 2016 that included a 3-9 record, the Spartans quickly returned to form last year. A 48-3 loss to Ohio State last November suggested the gap between Michigan State and the nation’s elite was still somewhat significant, but the Spartans shouldn’t be judged just on that one blowout. They won at Michigan and beat Penn State, and their bowl was a 42-17 rout of Washington State.

Now they return 10 starters on offense and nine on defense. Although that includes cornerback Josiah Scott — who is now expected to miss time with an injury — it’s still a wealth of returning talent for a team that was in the mix for the Big Ten title until late last season.

A year ago, the Spartans had to prove their program wasn’t falling apart after the poor 2016 showing. The feeling is different in 2018.

“This year, we’re just ready to play,” wide receiver Felton Davis said. “We know what we’ve got, we know what we can do.”

SCOTT’S RETURN

LJ Scott enters his senior season with some impressive career rushing stats: 2,591 yards and 25 touchdowns. A good final season could put him in the top four on the school’s career list in both categories — but Scott also has room for improvement. He was part of a team-wide fumbling problem that plagued the Spartans last year.

SETTLED IN

Last year was Lewerke’s first full season as the starter, and there was a lot for the Spartans to be excited about. He threw for 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions and also ran for 559 yards and five TDs.

“I thought he sort of took off,” Dantonio said. “He got better and better as the season went. I think what he had to improve on is knowing where to go with the football, his reads, being consistent with that, and then also, a little bit of patience. He got out of the pocket. He made things happen.”

UP FRONT

Center Brian Allen was the only starter the Spartans lost on offense, so there are plenty of returning players on the offensive line. The defensive line might be even better, with defensive end Kenny Willekes (seven sacks last season) and nose tackle Raequan Williams leading the way.

DARK CLOUD

Although there are high hopes for the Spartans, the university as a whole is still reeling from the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, which has put any athletic success for the school in perspective. Also, an ESPN report early this year questioned how the Michigan State athletic department handled assault allegations against football and basketball players over the years, so the Spartans will be under scrutiny off the field this year even if they have success on it.

SCHEDULE

The Spartans open their season Aug. 31 against Utah State. Once they start conference play, they will have to deal with a Big Ten that appears extremely deep, but if Michigan State can pull out a win at Penn State on Oct. 13, then the Spartans should have plenty to play for when they host Michigan (Oct. 20) and Ohio State (Nov. 10) down the stretch.

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Michigan-Notre Dame leads off games to watch in 2018

By NOAH TRISTER

AP Sports Writer

Friday, August 17

Remember last year, when everyone was eyeing the season-opening Alabama-Florida State game as one of the most anticipated matchups?

The third-ranked Seminoles lost that game and several more, barely finishing with a winning record.

Even late in the season, a huge showdown between two top teams might not mean as much in hindsight. Consider the Iron Bowl between No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Auburn. The Crimson Tide lost but still went on to win the national title.

So predicting the most important games of the regular season is a tricky proposition, but with that caveat out of the way, there are several matchups that already stand out when looking through this year’s schedule. Here are a few of those games to watch in 2018:

Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 1)

Jim Harbaugh is 28-11 since taking over the Wolverines. That’s a clear improvement from where Michigan was, but a bit underwhelming considering the hype and expectations that accompanied Harbaugh’s arrival. Specifically, the Wolverines have struggled against their big rivals, going 1-5 against Ohio State and Michigan State. This year’s Michigan team has the potential to be terrific after adding transfer quarterback Shea Patterson , but it also faces a brutal schedule that includes road games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. Win this opener against the Irish, and it’s a big step forward for Harbaugh’s program. Lose, and the honeymoon is well and truly over.

LSU vs. Miami (Sept. 2)

The Hurricanes took a 10-0 record into their regular-season finale in 2017. Then a loss at Pittsburgh started a three-game losing streak that took some of the shine off Miami’s resurgence. Both LSU and Miami may have tougher games down the road in conference play, but the winner of this early-season showdown in Arlington, Texas, will earn some immediate buzz.

Oklahoma at TCU (Oct. 20)

TCU takes on Ohio State in a huge nonconference matchup Sept. 15. If the Horned Frogs win that one, then this showdown a month later with the Sooners becomes even more intriguing. TCU had one of the nation’s top rushing defenses last year, but Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson gained 151 yards on the ground against the Horned Frogs .

UCLA at Oregon (Nov. 3)

Chip Kelly’s debut season at UCLA includes a trip to Oregon to face the Ducks. Even if neither team turns out to be a title threat in the Pac-12, this should be quite a scene when the star coach takes on his former team. See also: Dan Mullen and Florida playing at Mississippi State on Sept. 29.

Auburn at Georgia (Nov. 10)

These Southeastern Conference rivals split two meetings three weeks apart toward the end of last season. Auburn won 40-17 in November, only for Georgia to take the rematch 28-7 in the SEC championship game. There’s every possibility that this matchup could impact the title race in both SEC divisions.

Wisconsin at Penn State (Nov. 10)

Given the uncertainty surrounding Urban Meyer at Ohio State , it may be Wisconsin that is the Big Ten’s most likely playoff team. The Badgers appear to have a smooth path through their division, but they’ll have a lot to prove in a pair of crossover matchups against teams from the East. Wisconsin plays at Michigan on Oct. 13 and has this trip to face the Nittany Lions.

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

File- This Nov. 4, 2017, file photo shows Michigan State running back LJ Scott (3) being tackled by Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in East Lansing, Mich. Scott enters his senior season with some impressive career rushing stats: 2,591 yards and 25 touchdowns. A good final season could put him in the top four on the school’s career list in both categories but he also has room for improvement. He was part of a team-wide fumbling problem that plagued the Spartans last year.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/08/web1_121170688-8cad58e5963f46438b33151d4cac9c99.jpgFile- This Nov. 4, 2017, file photo shows Michigan State running back LJ Scott (3) being tackled by Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in East Lansing, Mich. Scott enters his senior season with some impressive career rushing stats: 2,591 yards and 25 touchdowns. A good final season could put him in the top four on the school’s career list in both categories but he also has room for improvement. He was part of a team-wide fumbling problem that plagued the Spartans last year.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

File-This Dec. 28, 2017, file photo shows Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke throwing during the first half of the Holiday Bowl NCAA college football game against Washington State. Last year was Lewerke’s first full season as the starter, and there was a lot for the Spartans to be excited about. He threw for 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions and also ran for 559 yards and five TDs. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/08/web1_121170688-f5e950e55a4742cf8ccfa1400b0ea433.jpgFile-This Dec. 28, 2017, file photo shows Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke throwing during the first half of the Holiday Bowl NCAA college football game against Washington State. Last year was Lewerke’s first full season as the starter, and there was a lot for the Spartans to be excited about. He threw for 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions and also ran for 559 yards and five TDs. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File)

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