Michigan State was projected to finish last in the East division by the Big Ten media this past July.
Now Mel Tucker is making a fool out of all of them, with the Spartans off to their first 3-0 start since 2015. Michigan State has a win on the road against a conference foe and a ranked opponent. Not to mention all of the Spartans’ victories have come by double-digits.
That’s mind-boggling, considering no one really gave Tucker a chance to have some success this fall. The 49-year old was the hardest coach to figure out going into the season, because he was only at Colorado for one year and Michigan State’s 2-5 campaign in 2020.
However, Tucker has exceeded expectations thus far, and well worth the money the Spartans signed him to. Several players have blossomed under his watch, including quarterback Payton Throne. He has dazzled, with 726 yards through the air, nine touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Michigan State’s rushing attack has dominated early on and running back Kenneth Walker has been the biggest surprise of the Big Ten. The sophomore rushed for 264 yards and four scores in the opening win over Northwestern and added 172 on the ground in the victory at Miami. Backup rusher Jordon Simmons even rushed for 121 yards against Youngstown State. Now Michigan State has had a player eclipse the century mark in rushing in each game.
Jayden Reed was the Spartans’ leading receiver last season, and so far he has picked up where he left off. The junior wideout has hauled in 12 passes for 277 yards and three touchdown receptions.
The offensive line has mauled defensive fronts and dominated in the trenches. All of the unit’s experience is starring to pay off in a big way. Which is why the Spartans can play balanced when needed and opposing defenses must account for the unit’s physicality.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tucker’s team has been just as impressive. The Spartans have allowed 17.3 points per game, which is light years ahead of where the unit was last season. Strong safety Xavier Henderson is the enforcer, with 27 tackles, two sacks and an interception through three games.
In hindsight Tucker appears to have the Spartans a year ahead of schedule, which spells bad news for the rest of the league. With Michigan State’s surge in national credibility, the Big Ten East just became that much stronger. Now the division is arguably the toughest from top to bottom in all of College football.
When the AP Poll releases its’ new rankings Sunday afternoon, expect Michigan State to make an appearance for the first time since September of 2019. That’s a clear sign that the players and staff are buying into Tucker’s vision. The Cleveland native is slowly cementing his foundation, while the rest of the country watches.
Now that Tucker is getting the respect he deserves, the Spartans have become the hunted instead of the hunters. Tucker’s best coaching job will happen over the next few weeks, as Michigan State navigates through the Big Ten meat grinder. That’s when the rest of the Big Ten will find out if the Spartans are contenders or pretenders.
Handling prosperity can be challenging, but Tucker clearly has the Spartans playing with confidence and riding a wave of momentum.