No one knows what to make of this Michigan State football team. Its season records under Mel Tucker have been consistently inconsistent, all three phases have won them and lost them games (some more than others but I won’t mention how bad this pass defense has looked over three years or how the field goal/extra point has to be better this year).
We’ve seen both sides of the coin.
We know how good this offense can be when they are able to run the ball and the quarterback has time to throw. We’ve seen this defense force turnovers, get after the quarterback and even score a few touchdowns. We’ve also seen what happens when the offensive line wears thin. We’ve seen opposing wide receivers catch a ball, order a hot dog, and cover it in mustard and onions before a defender is able to attempt to tackle him.
Would it surprise anyone is this team went 4-8? Nationally, no, seeing as their Las Vegas Sportsbook over/under is 5.5 wins. But would it shock anyone if they exceeded expectations and won eight or nine ball games? No, we’ve already seen that movie in 2021.
Here’s three reasons this team could win eight games, and three reasons they could lose eight games.
Reason 1 for winning 8: Upgraded roster
The more and more I review this roster, the more I believe that this team can be special. I’ll argue that the Spartans got better at every position with the exception of wide receiver on offense and safety on defense with Xavier Henderson going to the Washing Commanders.
The defensive backfield was completely lost when Henderson was not on the field due to injury and played much better as the season went on when he came back. Defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton did address the loss of Henderson in his Aug. 9 press conference and how while he was a great player, the other players relied on him a little too much on what to do so take away that crutch to lean on, the defensive backs have worked on communication and it’s much better to have four good players just doing their job than one great player carrying the load.
Yes, losing Jayden Reed to the NFL and Keon Coleman to Florida State makes the 2023 wide receiver room worse than last year in terms of talent. As much experience as Tre Mosley and Montorie Foster Jr. have, it still takes talent to win big games. While Keon was expected to be the big downfield target, the lack of proven big receivers could force Jay Johnson to scheme players open and rely less on big shots downfield (which worked in 2021).
But other than that, the offensive line and defensive line are bigger and deeper than any other Mel Tucker team. The Spartans added size and depth means they will be less reliant on their best players having to play too many snaps. This should help close the six-point gap between second half points scored and points against for MSU, averaging only eight points per second half in conference games compared to giving up 14 second-half points per game.
With the most important depth positions wearing thin, there isn’t a strength and condition coach that could have prepared this team for the amount of plays these linemen had to endure over a 12-game season.