Michigan State opened the year with everyone’s expectations remarkably low. There was almost no one outside of East Lansing who was predicting the Spartans to make it to a bowl game; and after a 2-5 2020 campaign no one can blame them. Fast forward to today and the Spartans have shattered everyone’s expectations, they beat Michigan in an all time classic and are headed to Atlanta for a New Year’s Six game.
But for all their triumphs this season, there were some glaring drawbacks as well. They had no business beating Nebraska or Rutgers. Even with a potential Heisman trophy finalist, there were times where the offense was as stagnant as Spartan Statue. And then of course, there was that embarrassment of a game vs OSU.
So here we are, Mel Tucker has followed the Dantonio formula of taking a bunch of no name guys at the beginning of the year and turning them into winners. But now the question has to be asked; Where is the bar for Mel Tucker? Both in terms of recruiting and the team’s expected success, high should the expectations be?
We all know about the extension that Mel Tucker is reportedly going to receive at the end of the year. I believe that every penny of that extension has been earned. If you beat Michigan two years in a row and continually outperform expectations with another coach’s 2 & 3 star players, you deserve a long term extension.
But MSU wants to become a destination school. They want to be the place transfers have their eyes on when they enter the portal. They want to be in the running for more 4 and 5 star recruits, not just in the midwest region, but nationwide. And when Tucker leaves whether it’s in 2 years or 20, they want to be a desirable coaching destination.
So let’s imagine the Spartans go 8-4 the next three years with 2 wins vs OSU/U of M combined. Will that be enough? How high should the bar be? If Mel Tucker continually pulls in the 12th-14th best recruiting class; is that enough? The answer has to be no.
If MSU wants to be an elite program they have to ACT like an elite program. Seven to eight wins can no longer be enough. A recruiting class that resides consistently outside the top 10 cannot be enough. They need to be hungry for more if they want to be taken seriously on a national level. Continually taking 2 & 3 star players to victories as underdogs in big games makes for a great story. It makes for great headlines and it makes for great memories. But 2 & 3 star players are probably not going to make the CFP and they are surely not going to win it. Perennial contenders like Alabama, OSU and Georgia all have one thing in common, they are snagging the big recruits consistently every year and they are maximizing their potential to win big games.
So while the Spartan faithful have become used to the underdog story, it’s a chapter of their program they are going to have to turn the page on if they want to make it to the next level. Time will tell if Mel Tucker can make those changes and bring the program to new heights.