Christmas wish list for Michigan State football
Outside of the fact that Michigan State was able to play football this year and pulled off the upset of Michigan, the season couldn’t have concluded fast enough. The Spartans have been and will continue to be busy in the transfer portal as Mel Tucker tries to rebuild the program.
There’s a lot of things the Spartans could use this Christmas to speed up the rebuild process, but these are the 6 biggest wishes after Santa leaves a lump of coal at Jim Harbaugh’s house:
1. A consistent QB
This wish may have already been granted in the form of Temple transfer Anthony Russo. Russo is a 6th-year super-senior who leaves the Owls ranking among the top 4 in Temple history in career passing yards (6,287), completions (536) and touchdowns (44). He’ll likely be the starter in 2021, but he’s finished beyond that.
With Rocky Lombardi in the transfer portal, that leaves Payton Thorne and 3-star recruit Hampton Fay as the potential long-term answers at the position. Thorne completed his first 11 passes against Ohio State and had moderate success against Penn State, but is he the QB of a conference-winning team? Probably not. Until Fay has an opportunity to show what he’s got, the best Spartans’ fans can do is cross their fingers that one of these guys outperforms his recruiting ranking.
2. Hark! Harold Joiner is heralded
Joiner is one of the many new faces expected to join Michigan State next season from the transfer portal. The running back was heavily recruited by Mark Dantonio in the Class of 2018 before ultimately signing with Auburn, but now the Alabama native is set to join the Spartans for the foreseeable future.
Joiner was the 152nd overall prospect in his class and the No. 5 running back recruit. While Jordon Simmons finished the season on a high note for Michigan State, the Spartans ranked 122nd out of 127 FBS teams in rushing at 91.4 yards per game, the lowest season total in program records dating to 1947. For a team that doesn’t know what it’s getting at QB, a strong running back would be a welcome addition.
3. A nasty defensive line
Replacing Kenny Willekes’ production was always going to be a challenge, but this year’s defensive line and defense as a whole was soft. The Spartans ranked 91st in the country with just 1.7 sacks a game, the lowest mark for the program in the last 4 seasons. Drew Beesley and Michael Fletcher were the only players with more than 2 sacks.
A lack of pass rush was a big contributor to the worst scoring defense in the program’s record books, allowing 35.1 points a game. Learning a new defensive scheme certainly didn’t help the DBs, but not having to cover receivers as long next season will go a long way in the Spartans finally holding a team to fewer than 20 points.
4. Special teams
Kicker Matt Coghlin was solid. He connected on 9 of his 12 field goal tries, including a 51-yarder. Outside of Coghlin, special teams were either a net negative or did nothing to contribute to a win. Michigan State finished in the middle of the league in punt and kickoff returns and almost never set up the offense with a short field. Instead it was usually Bryce Baringer and Mitchell Crawford punting in the shadow of their own end zone, setting up opponents with short fields or giving way to punt return touchdowns (2). Jayden Reed has the tools to be something like Rutgers specialist Aron Cruickshank, so hopefully 2021 is finally the season the Spartans end the drought of not scoring on kick returns.
5. Normal spring activities
There may not be a team in the Big Ten facing more roster turnover than what the Spartans are having this offseason. Offsetting the 18 players who signed last week and a handful more possibly signing in February, the Spartans have already lost 9 players to the transfer portal and have added 3, in addition to whatever transpires over the next few weeks. Tucker already had one nonexistent offseason, so the sooner he and his assistants can begin working with their new roster, the less Michigan State will have to iron out the wrinkles at the start of next season.
6. A lifetime contract for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor
No pandemic, depleted roster nor new MSU head coach could prevent Harbaugh from botching another game against the Spartans. Since Harbaugh joined the Wolverines in 2015, Michigan State is 3-3 against Michigan. Regardless of how things are or could get with football in East Lansing, the media’s focus will always be on whatever tire fire is under Harbaugh’s hot seat. This year was pretty terrible for Michigan State but it will always have that 27-24 win on Halloween.