No, now is not the time to panic in East Lansing.

This time next year? Then Michigan State fans can have that thought in regards to Mel Tucker.

The Spartans fought in College Park against Maryland for 4 quarters last weekend. Michigan State battled against Taulia Tagovailoa, Mike Locksley and a Terps offense that’s averaging 35 points per game.

Michigan State looked competent in its 27-13 loss to Maryland. Yes, a loss hurts the Spartans’ chances of playing in a good bowl — and possibly any bowl. But after looking lost against Minnesota and Washington, the Spartans at least stabilized.

The “what have you done for me lately” approach is out of control these days. Expectations are high, leashes are short.

Take Florida as a fresh-in-the-mind example.

Dan Mullen entered 2021 with a 29-9 record and 3 top 15 finishes with the Gators. He was fired before the team’s season finale against Florida State.

Some folks around East Lansing would love to see Tucker leave, or at least refund some money, before kickoff this Saturday. Not sure what sane coach would take over a couple days before a visit from No. 3 Ohio State, though.

But the tough-talking Tucker isn’t winning any press conferences lately.

After leading Michigan State to an 11-2 record capped off with a Peach Bowl victory over Pitt, Tucker will be lucky to finish above .500 this season.

And you know what? That’s fine. Things sometimes have to get worse before they get better.

Michigan State is rebuilding. Prior to the start of last season, Tucker went hard in the transfer to fix both sides of the ball. He succeeded so well he may now be a victim of that success.

But that’s the past. Kenneth Walker III is gone, and there is no IV for the time being. Out of sight, out of mind.

That’s how MSU fans have to look at the big picture. As much as they want someone like Jarek Broussard or Jalen Berger to be a carbon copy of Walker, it’s not going to happen. At least not right away.

The reality is that MSU still has an uphill climb. Tucker knows that. He also knows that fans are frustrated with a 2-3 start.

“Fans want to see good football,” Tucker said postgame. “We haven’t played that.”

Fans often look at wins and losses to gauge a program. For MSU, it’s about finding consistency. If the Spartans end the season 6-6, yet improve defensively, they’re trending in the right direction.

Offensively, maybe Saturday was a step. Quarterback Payton Thorne threw for 221 yards and a touchdown. He completed 61.4% of his throws and didn’t have a turnover for the first time this season.

Could Thorne have been better? Sure. Could his receivers have been more consistent in terms of holding onto the football? Certainly. In the 4th quarter, Thorne missed 2 wide-open receivers in the end zone. Two drives prior, a pair of Spartans had drops leading to a punt.

Tucker deserves blame for a third consecutive loss. The defense missed open-field tackles. On more than one occasion, the offense could have taken a shot downfield to give the team life, but Tucker elected to play it safe.

A lesson learned for future days. For the present, Tucker will need to shake it off, start fresh and go back to the drawing board.

Losses will sting, but failing to improve in the little areas is what keeps teams from ever reaching their peak.

Despite being a preseason Top 25 team, MSU proved in its loss to Washington that it’s not ready to contend with the big wigs for a B1G title. Heck, the Spartans would be lucky to count themselves among the “average” programs in the conference.

Tucker’s job is to prove he can handle adversity and turn the Spartans around with time. Time is the key word here. Time to recruit. Time to develop. Time to establish a stable culture.

That won’t happen overnight. And it’s something Spartan Nation will need to realize heading into what probably will be a massacre against Ohio State.