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Buy or Sell: 2020 Michigan State Spartans Football

June 22, 2020

In the coming weeks, Brandon Vogel and Derek Peterson are running through Big Ten programs for a “Buy or Sell” kind of opponent preview. We’ll keep the list here for those just jumping in and want to recap:

  Brandon Derek
Indiana Hoosiers Buy Sell
Maryland Terrapins Sell Sell
Michigan Wolverines Buy Sell

Who would have thought that following a season of offensive disappointment, simply playing musical chairs with your assistant coaching staff wouldn’t lead to any substantial improvement? A second straight 7-6 season saw the end of the Mark Dantonio era in East Lansing. Now, new head coach Mel Tucker needs to find himself a new quarterback, some new weapons at wideout, and a defense that can hold the line while the offense figures things out. Buying or selling the Spartans? 

Brandon Vogel: Sell 

The Spartans have been on a relatively steady decline since 2014. That team, which went 11-2, represented the apex of the Dantonio era with an SP+ rating of 24.1. The 2015 team that made the College Football Playoff was more than a touchdown worse (though still good) at 15.6. A year later, Michigan State was down to 7.4 points better than the average team, followed by a two-year uptick and then back down to 7.2 at the end of 2019. That’s where Tucker takes the baton. It’s not a bad starting point. The Dantonio years show that, with a clear identity and good player development, Michigan State can be a consistent contender in the Big Ten. That’s also the expectation now and the Spartans will likely have a hard time meeting it in 2020. Michigan State has to replace more than 60% of its receiving yards from last year and nearly all of its passing yards. The defense lost half of its total tackles, tackles for loss and passes defended. This was going to be a young team in transition under the best of circumstances in 2020. The actual circumstances, however, might have been a worst-case scenario for this program at this juncture. Tucker wasn’t hired until Feb. 12. Michigan State completed zero spring practices. The players have practiced none of the plays they’ll be asked to run this fall. Eventually, I could see Tucker being a solid hire for the Spartans, but I’m expecting the start to be about as rough as one could imagine. This could be the easiest “sell” in the Big Ten for me, through no real fault of anyone involved with the Spartan program. 

Derek Peterson: Sell 

This offseason, Michigan State was thrust into a decision with not much time to make it; Mel Tucker is either going to continue the overall upward trajectory Mark Dantonio put the program on or Michigan State will slip back to “little brother” status. I like Tucker. There was good done in his first season at Colorado. It’s a retooling year for the defense in East Lansing, which won’t help the daunting task that is fixing a non-starter offense. Last season, the Spartans were bottom-30 in points per game, points per play, yards per play, yards per carry, and touchdown-to-turnover ratio. Michigan State is also bottom-30 nationally in returning production. For Tucker, it’s going to be about getting new guys on the field and figuring out who’s going to be part of his plans moving forward. This is a team with a small senior class. Sparty is in for a rebuilding year that could very well look worse than the last two seasons. Brian Lewerke has left the program and the quarterback options are all guys Tucker inherited rather than selected. Defensively, Tucker’s bend-don't-break philosophy contradicts what’s made Spartan defenses great of late. He’s probably going to need some time to reset the field, this has “bridge year” written on it in big, bold print.  

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