Michigan State Football: What Mel Tucker is doing deserves praise

Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker talks to players during a timeout during the second half against Ohio State at the Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020.
Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker talks to players during a timeout during the second half against Ohio State at the Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. /

Mel Tucker only won two games in his first strange and severely altered season as the head coach of Michigan State football.

While those wins did come as four-touchdown underdogs on the road at Michigan, as well as one against a top-10 ranked Northwestern team, the rest of the games were not close, and Michigan State essentially didn’t look competitive in any of their losses. After the loss to Ohio State, Tucker had a fiery press conference, mentioning that there were going to be changes to the roster.

Those changes did indeed come, as Tucker was one of the busiest coaches in the transfer portal, both sending guys out and bringing players in. A good portion of the players he shed have gone to lower-level schools in the MAC, while the players he brought into the program were guys who came from higher-level places, like the SEC, and didn’t really get fair shakes at their previous schools, like running back Harold Joiner at Auburn, and linebacker Quavaris Crouch at Tennessee.

When you look at the recruiting classes that Tucker is bringing in, on paper, they don’t appear to be much different than the classes that Mark Dantonio was bringing together in his last few lackluster seasons. Dantonio’s recruiting took a nosedive after the 2016 recruiting class, and the player development was not as good as it was in his prime years, and the program suffered as a result of it.

Tucker inherited a roster of players who belonged at places that were not Michigan State, and the destinations they’re landing are proof of this.

Tucker’s 2021 class was only ranked 45th in the country, and just 10th in the Big Ten, according to 247Sports. However, looking at some of the offer sheets from the commits, they’re significantly better than the offer sheets that Dantonio’s recruits were receiving.

Tucker flipped four-star linebacker Ma’a Gaoteote from USC, he landed safety A.J. Kirk over Ohio State, he landed four-star receiver Keon Coleman over Oklahoma and Auburn, and cornerback Chuck Brantley chose Michigan State over Florida State. So while some of the star rankings might not look much different, these aren’t Dantonio-level players that Tucker is recruiting. He’s beating out big-time programs for these players.

Tucker’s staff has also stressed landing bigger players, especially on the offensive line. Every offensive lineman he has recruited so far is 6-foot-5 or taller. In fact, almost every player in both of Tucker’s classes is 6-foot-0 or taller. Dantonio recruited undersized players who weren’t very athletic, and Tucker has done the opposite.

Tucker’s 2022 class doesn’t look much different from the 2021 class, star rankings-wise, but it’s more of the same with recruiting players with good offer sheets.

The second-year coach and the staff had their biggest win on the recruiting trail so far by flipping four-star quarterback Katin Houser from Boise State who went on to dominate the Elite 11 finals. MSU also looks to be in good position with four-star defensive tackle Alex VanSumeren, who is the younger brother of current Spartan linebacker Ben VanSumeren, who Tucker flipped from Michigan, as well as four-star defensive back Dillon Tatum, and three-stars Jack Nickel and Ryan Baer.

Tucker has been hitting the recruiting trail hard, and it looks like it’s going to start resulting in some victories soon.

While Tucker has done a good job on the recruiting trail so far, he’s also lost a couple of players who should have been Spartans. He lost four-star running back Audric Estime on Early Signing Day, when he decided to sign with his dream school, Notre Dame, instead. He lost a shocking battle with Michigan when four-star defensive tackle Rayshaun Benny decided to flip to the rival on National Signing Day out of the blue. But so far, Tucker’s work on the recruiting trail has been more good than bad.

The best way to bolster recruiting is for Tucker and the Spartans to start winning some games on the field. Recruits can see that Tucker is building a winning program, and they’ll want to be a part of it.

Another thing that will benefit them with recruits is developing players and putting them in a position to be drafted into the NFL. They didn’t do that this year, as none of their prospects were selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. There are some players currently on the team who could be picked next year, however, like Jayden Reed, Jacub Panasiuk, and A.J. Arcuri.

Now, is it too early to say that Tucker is going to have Michigan State back in the College Football Playoff? Absolutely. The team only won two games last season. But, it seems that the way Tucker is recruiting, and how he used the transfer portal, the team could be back to being competitive in the Big Ten sooner than we might think. That might not mean competing with Ohio State, but it could potentially mean playing well enough to be in high-level bowl games and consistently being above .500.

We don’t know what Tucker’s ceiling is with the Spartans, but this offseason has been a rather successful one for Michigan State’s head ball coach.

There’s reason to be excited about what Tucker is building at Michigan State. He landed a lot of instant-impact transfers at positions that were thin before, which will allow the team to be competitive this season. There is already a decent bit of talent on this roster, and it’s up to his staff to develop it, which they’ve proven they can do at other schools, and already here in East Lansing. Tucker is recruiting high-level athletes who fit his system, and he and his staff will develop them into great college players.

While things weren’t great last season, this offseason should give Spartan fans hope, and a whole lot of optimism, that this Michigan State team under Tucker can be back out of the basement of the Big Ten, and competing in the conference once again.

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