Athlon Sports has released their college football top 25 for the 2019 season and the rankings include both Michigan and Michigan State. In fact, the rankings include seven Big Ten teams (four from the Big Ten East).
Athlon has Michigan at No. 4 and winning the Big Ten East.
Here is their rationale for the Wolverines having a huge season.
“Predicting the champion of the Big Ten East Division was one of the toughest picks for Athlon Sports this offseason. A couple of factors swung this debate in favor of Michigan. Urban Meyer retired, the Wolverines have an edge at quarterback with Shea Patterson returning for his senior year, and most importantly, the game is in Ann Arbor this season. Everything is in place for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan to break through and win the division and claim a berth in the CFB Playoff in 2019. That doesn’t mean the Wolverines are short on question marks entering this season, however. Harbaugh is handling the play-calling duties to Josh Gattis – a first-time offensive coordinator – and Michigan is planning to go up-tempo and use more spread/RPO looks to utilize Patterson’s talent. A healthy Tarik Black, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Mike Sainristil form a deep group of options at receiver and should benefit from the switch in offensive style. The uncertainty surrounding running back Chris Evans’ status for 2019 means the Wolverines need former walk-on Tru Wilson, and freshmen Christian Turner (redshirt) and Zach Charbonnet (true) to handle the bulk of the carries this fall. The offensive line showed marked improvement under assistant Ed Warinner in 2018 and could be the best in the Big Ten with four starters back. Michigan’s defense allowed 103 points over the final two contests last season and a run to the playoff will require coordinator Don Brown to get this group back on track. The bad news: Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, Devin Bush, David Long, Brandon Watson and Tyree Kinnel are gone. That’s a lot of talent to replace in one offseason, but the cupboard isn’t bare. Kwity Paye, Aidan Hutchinson, Central Michigan transfer Mike Danna and hybrid end/linebacker Josh Uche should keep the pass rush performing at a high level. Josh Ross will get the first opportunity to replace Bush in the middle of the linebacker unit, while this position group would benefit from a bounce-back season by Khaleke Hudson. Lavert Hill is poised to rank among the top corners in the nation, while Ambry Thomas is the favorites to fill the void left behind by Long on the other side. Incoming freshman Daxton Hill is expected to push for a starting job at safety. Trips in Big Ten play to Wisconsin and Penn State are challenging, but Michigan gets three of its biggest games – Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State – in Ann Arbor.”
As far as Michigan State goes, Athlon has them at No. 16, which would place them fourth in the Big Ten East.
Defense led the way for the Spartans in 2018 and will anchor coach Mark Dantonio’s team once again in ’19. Michigan State led the Big Ten by limiting opponents to 4.5 yards a play, 17.2 points a game and just 77.9 rushing yards a contest. Eight starters are back from that suffocating group, including end Kenny Willekes (8.5 sacks), linebacker Joe Bachie (102 tackles), and cornerback Josiah Scott. All three players will be in the mix for All-America honors this fall. Tackles Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk are an underrated duo up front. While the defense dominated last season, Michigan State only won seven games and finished 2018 by losing three out of their last four contests. Offensive issues were largely to blame for the sluggish ’18 season, and this unit will determine whether or not the Spartans can contend for the Big Ten East Division title. Quarterback Brian Lewerke regressed last fall after a promising 2017 campaign. However, Lewerke’s struggles last year were largely due to a shoulder injury suffered in the first half of the season. Assuming Lewerke is back to full strength, it would be a huge boost for a unit that averaged only 18.7 points a game in 2018. Brad Salem was promoted to play-caller and a few tweaks could be coming to the scheme and overall pace of this unit. The Spartans have a solid receiving corps in place, but the offense needs more consistency out of the offensive line and ground game. Of Michigan State’s six losses last season, four came by 10 points or less. Modest improvement on offense could lift Dantonio’s team to nine wins in 2019.