Michigan State Spartans Football Offseason Preview
The Michigan State Spartans were not expected to contend for the Big Ten championship last season. They had just undergone a brutal 2020 pandemic season under first-year coach Mel Tucker. Their offense was a mess. The program was trying to find its footing after the largely successful tenure of previous coach Mark Dantonio crashed and burned, putting Tucker in a position to sift through the wreckage and search for solutions in the midst of the pandemic. Entering 2021, expectations were low for the Spartans, but Tucker’s use of the transfer portal and his offseason work created a substantial transformation.
Michigan State beat Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, the only loss the Wolverines suffered in conference play this past season. The Spartans also took care of Penn State and were able to win 10 games. They lost to Ohio State in the battle for the Big Ten East Division championship, but they reached the top five in the national rankings in November and were able to gain a spot in the Peach Bowl, one of the New Year’s Six bowl games. It was a spectacular season by any reasonable standards. Tucker was given a very lucrative new deal to stay at Michigan State after it was rumored that LSU and other high-profile programs were in the running for his services. Michigan State football took a big leap forward in 2021, and it will try to maintain that standard in 2022.
Key Personnel Lost
Running back Kenneth Walker should have been a Heisman Trophy finalist, but he was not invited to the Heisman award ceremony. Nevertheless, Walker’s dynamic season was the main reason Michigan State made the Peach Bowl and turned around the fortunes of the program. Walker had a huge season opener in a win at Northwestern which set the tone of the year. He built off that first effort and continued to be a reliable workhorse running back for Tucker and the whole team. Not having Walker immediately forces the Spartans to start from square one in the running game. It also means the Spartans will probably have to rely more on the passing game to generate offensive production, at least in the first few games of the season.
Important Incoming Freshmen
Cornerback Caleb Coley might not start, but he will be part of the rotation at cornerback after a year in which Michigan State’s pass defense was acutely bad. Everyone around the Big Ten knew that the way to beat Michigan State was to throw the ball on the Spartans, who did not have strong and convincing answers in their secondary. Coley will try to rectify that problem.
Key Position Battles
Safety and cornerback are the most obvious position groups where Tucker and his staff need to identify quality and cultivate improvement. Michigan State was eviscerated by Ohio State and the Buckeyes’ elite receivers in a November blowout. Ohio State’s depth at receiver was magnified when the Buckeyes lost two receivers for the Rose Bowl game against Utah and still scored 48 points with backups making big plays. Michigan State, if it wants to beat Ohio State, has to have capable corners and safeties, so that’s what becomes priority number one in sorting out the 2022 roster.
Biggest Offseason Goal(s)
Getting a clear idea of what is possible – and which players are best – in the secondary will be a foremost goal for Tucker and Michigan State in the offseason. Improvements at offensive line and receiver will also be important, but the secondary is by far the ultimate item of concern.