Michigan State was a pleasant surprise last year and Mel Tucker is looking to repeat his success. Tucker and the Spartans are the subject of today’s 99 Things. The Spartans finished 11-2 and 9th in the AP poll. Their season included wins over Michigan, Penn State, Miami FL and Pitt. They were led by Walter Camp and Doak Walker Award winner Kenneth Walker III. Walker is now in the NFL so Michigan State will need to replace his production in order to find similar success.
Tucker’s first season in 2020 was far from glamorous. He finished 2-5 averaging only 18.0 points per game. His scoring offense ranked 117th out of 130 teams. His scoring defense was one of the worst in the nation allowing 35.1 points per game. Most experts did not believe Michigan State would be a good team heading into 2021 but Tucker proved every one of them wrong. The Spartans improved on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The offense improved to 39th in scoring offense while the defense improved to 54th in scoring defense.
The biggest task for the Spartans offense is replacing Walker. Michigan State hit the transfer portal and found two running backs with breakout potential. Jarek Broussard transferred from Colorado and brings a wealth of experience and accolades. Broussard is a former Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year after he rushed for 895 yards and five touchdowns during the 2020 season. Colorado only played six games which made his success even more impressive. Broussard took a step back in 2021 rushing for only 661 yards. He still managed 4.7 yards per carry but a fresh start in East Lansing could revive his prior success.
Jalen Berger is the other running back to keep an eye on for the Spartans. Berger is a former four star athlete and Wisconsin Badger who had limited playing time over the past two seasons. He had 60 rushing attempts for 301 yards in 2020. His 2021 campaign saw him only attempt 24 rushes before being dismissed from the Badgers program. Berger will compete with Broussard for playing time in the Spartans backfield.
Tucker’s pass defense was officially the worst in the nation. The Big Ten may not be known for top notch quarterbacks but they all torched the Spartan’s defense. Tucker went to the portal for help adding Ameer Speed from Georgia. Safety Xavier Henderson returns bringing three years of starting experience to the defense. Henderson will be one of the leaders of the defense but will need to show improvements in coverage. He totaled 96 tackles last season but only forced one turnover.
The Spartans have an easier nonconference schedule hosting Western Michigan, Akron and Washington. The Huskies are in a rebuild so Tucker’s team is likely to beat them. The Big Ten slate has Minnesota, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Rutgers and Indiana visiting with trips to Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers and Illinois. Michigan State surprised most of their opponents last year but this year everyone is on notice. Will Michigan State find similar success and reach 10 wins for a second consecutive season?