Michigan State Football: A preseason rankings history

Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker looks on during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in East Lansing.
Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker looks on during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, in East Lansing. /

Every year the AP and coaches (and literally every sports media outlet) will put out a preseason poll with what teams they think are the best. While every college football champion has been at least ranked in the top 25 since BYU went from unranked to national champions in 1984, Michigan State football seems to have a very different relationship with preseason rankings.

The first number will indicate where they were ranked on the preseason AP/Coaches poll (higher of the two numbers will be listed), the second number is where they peaked in the middle of the season, and the last number is where they finished in either the AP, Coaches, or College Football Playoff ranking.

2008: Not ranked (NR) – 17 – 19
2009: Never ranked
2010: NR – 6 – 7
2011: 17 – 9 – 12
2012: 13 – 10 – NR
2013: NR – cracked the poll at No. 24 in Week 9 – 3
2014: 8 – 6 – 5
2015: 5 – 2 – 6
2016: 12 – 8 – NR
2017: NR – 13 – 15
2018: 11 – 20 – NR
2019: 18 – 18 – NR
2020: Never ranked (received votes Week 9) but it’s the COVID-19 season so who cares?
2021: NR – 3 (CFP) – 8
2022: 14 – 9 – NR

Yes, Mark Dantonio and Mel Tucker are different coaches, but the pattern remains the same: Michigan State does some of its best work when left off the preseason polls. Five seasons of going from unranked to ranked in the final poll and seven times finishing the season higher than their preseason ranking.

When there are high expectations? Not great. The Spartans have six seasons where they finished worse than their preseason ranking although to be fair, one of those seasons is 2015 where they were fifth in the preseason, won the Big Ten, then got railroaded by eventual national champion Alabama who had 12 eventual first-round NFL draft picks on the roster and both the AP and Coaches poll had Ohio State ranked ahead of MSU even though MSU won the head-to-head matchup. But I digress.

I think everyone knew that Michigan State was going to take a step back in 2022, but Tucker and Co. fell below even what everyone thought the floor of this team would be.

We’ve gone over the 1,000 reasons why it was a disaster, but if we look at the history of the Michigan State football program, they are in perfect position to bounce back this season. Since 2008, the Spartans have finished in the top 15 every year when finishing the prior season unranked, and starting the new season unranked, three of those being top 10 finishes. It’s data, it’s science, so put your mortgage payment on the Spartans having another surprise year.

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