Less Than 10 Wins Simply No Longer Acceptable For Michigan State Football
Year No. 2 at Michigan State was magical for Mel Tucker.
The Spartans were the story of college football through the first two months of the 2021 season, running out to an impressive 8-0 start, capped by a thrilling 37-33 comeback win over arch-rival Michigan in a showdown of Top 10 teams.
A year removed from the dreadful 2-5 COVID campaign, Tucker's MSU program looked like it had arrived well ahead of schedule courtesy of an 11-2 record, complete with a Peach Bowl win.
It was a special season if not only because it was such a pleasant surprise for the Green and White.
But 2022 will be entirely different.
Achieving Success Is One Thing...
Thanks to some shrewd transfer-portal moves and even shrewder in-game moments, Tucker's second year at State proved to be a confidence-inspiring one. Getting there certainly wasn't easy, but it'll be even tougher to keep it up.
Tucker's predecessor at MSU liked to say that achieving success is hard enough, but maintaining it is an even taller task. You can bet that Tucker, a man who himself is fond of football maxims, is aware of that adage.
The proof is in the pudding.
Tucker was busy yet again in the transfer portal this past offseason. He added multiple front-seven bodies for the Spartans' defense, which failed to produce a significant or consistent pass rush against top foes, like Ohio State and Michigan, in '21. Tucker also got some help for his secondary, which finished "dead-ass last," to use his own words, in the nation in pass defense last year.
Michigan State will again look to transfers for production in the run game. Jalen Berger, formerly of Wisconsin, and Jarek Broussard, recently departing Tucker's old haunt in Colorado, have the unenviable task of replacing Kenneth Wallker III.
Tucker's hard work in the portal suggests he knows that his fanbase, athletic department, and donors now expect results like those in 2021 instead of hoping for them.
Expectations Have Changed
Mark Dantonio proved Michigan State has the resources and abilities to sustain a football program of national prominence. Tucker has now shown he has the chops to replicate that success.
On top of that, MSU football has earned the backing of the kind of high-powered donors that top-flight college football programs need in order to compete. Billionaire alums Mat Ishbia and Steve St. Andre, among others, have contributed eye-popping amounts of money to Spartan football since Tucker took over. That support has turned up another notch since the success of '21.
Between the big-money support and heightened fan expectations, Tucker is a victim of his own success.
The Contract Changes Everything
But don't feel too bad for Tucker. The results he got last year — and a college football coaching carousel that completely reset the market in terms of pay scale — landed him a 10-year, $95 million contract extension. In 2022, the only college football programs who will be paying a head coach more than MSU are Alabama and Georgia.
Translation: The pressure is on for Tucker.
Things are different now at Michigan State. Tucker's knack for leveraging the transfer portal may only be outdone by his ability to recruit, which has elevated the MSU program's national image among prospects to a level heretofore unseen. Combined with a fanbase spoiled by an 11-win campaign, an apparently endless supply of billionaire donations and support, and an athletic department that seems to be forward-thinking and engaged in a way only the best ones are, it's a recipe for a college football program of impeccable expectations.
The resources invested in Tucker and his program have exponentially raised MSU's profile, stakes, and standards.
Michigan State could improve upon many areas in 2022 where it was deficient a season ago. The Spartans could shore up their pass defense, generate consistent pass rush against Big Ten heavyweights, have an offensive line capable of imposing its will on opposing front-sevens. They might even hang with Ohio State for an entire game, instead of falling behind by seven touchdowns before halftime.
The Spartans could accomplish all of that and still very possibly own a win-loss mark that doesn't stack up to last year's. They could very well be a better team with a worse record. And despite that kind of progress — vastly improved program depth and increased talent profile — Michigan State fans could call 9-3 in 2022 unacceptable.
And they'd be right. Because the head coach is now compensated among the very best — and very best-paid — in his profession. And college football programs don't pay their coaches damn near $10 million to win just 8 or 9 games.
The money alone that Michigan State has invested into Tucker and his program makes anything less than a bare minimum of 10 wins an utter disappointment.