East Lansing, Michigan (CBS Detroit)- The Michigan State Spartans are still trying to rekindle the high water mark of their three season run from 2013-2015 when they went 36-5 and reached the inaugural edition of the College Football Playoff.

Under head coach Mark Dantonio, the defense has continued to be a strength, ranking among the best units in the country last year in keeping opponents out of the end zone. The problem was, the offense was one of the worst in the country in scoring. Entering 2019, the defense looks to be good once again, but the big question comes on the offensive side of the ball.

“Well, they were 7-6 last year and they scored about 18 points per game. I don’t know how you want to look at it, but the quarterback Brian Lewerke is back, which sounds good except for the fact that he wasn’t that good last year,” said CBS Sports college football host Brent Stover. “They had one of the best defenses in the country last year and their d-line this year will be stout. It will be one of the best units this year but the question is can they score points? Can they move the ball? Can they stretch the field vertically?”

Lewerke, as Stover mentioned, is back. After a solid sophomore campaign, Lewerke took a step back last season as a junior completing just over 54 percent of his passes for a little over 2,000 yards with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was battling an injury throughout much of the season, and offensive line struggles in front of him didn’t help.

The good news is, along with Lewerke, the offense has top rusher Connor Heyward and fellow back La’Darius Jefferson returning. And, on the outside, receivers Darrell Stewart Jr. and Cody White are back. Throw in seven different offensive linemen that have seen playing time in the starting lineup and there are signs that the offense could come alive this season.

If the offense does figure things out, they won’t necessarily have to be world beaters in order for the Spartans to pose a threat. As Stover says, their defensive line could be one of the best in the country with the combination of Kenny Willekes outside and Raequan Williams inside. Then there’s Joe Bachie, who Stover says is “going to be one of the best in the nation” again this season.

With all of the noise being generated by the rival Michigan Wolverines and their preseason number seven ranking, the Spartans seem to be flying a bit under-the-radar this season, which seems to be exactly the way Dantonio likes it. However, even if the offense takes a leap forward and the defense remains strong, the schedule presents big tests. Even with a better team, they could still end up no better than 9-3.

“Looking at their schedule, the Michigan game is on the road, Ohio State is on the road and Wisconsin is on the road,” said Stover. “Realistically they could be a good team and that is still three likely losses right there.”

The 18th-ranked Spartans open their season against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane at home on Friday, August 30th at 7:00 p.m. The full schedule can be found below.

8/30 vs. Tulsa, 7:00 p.m.

9/7 vs. Western Michigan, 7:30 p.m.

9/14 vs. Arizona State, 4:00 p.m.

9/21 @ Northwestern, TBD

9/28 vs. Indiana, TBD

10/5 @ Ohio State, 7:30 p.m.

10/12 @ Wisconsin, TBD

10/26 vs. Penn State, TBD

11/9 vs. Illinois, TBD

11/16 @ Michigan, TBD

11/23 @ Rutgers, TBD

11/30 vs. Maryland, TBD

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