Spartans quite literally lived and died by the sword. It is fitting, then, that the chief Spartan of the present day is doing the same at a figurative level.

The history book of Mel Tucker’s Michigan State career has yet to be completed. This thing could still go as many different directions as a Choose Your Own Adventure story.

However, there is one chapter that’s already evident. Tucker’s 2021 Michigan State team was the first to show how a college team could be built after the NCAA eliminated the rule requiring players to sit out a year after transferring.

Running back Kenneth Walker III needed just 1 season to become one of the program’s most revered players after Tucker plucked him from Wake Forest.

Tucker has continued to utilize the portal the past 2 years, as have the vast majority of his peers. But this season looks like it will be the first in which he sees that the transfer portal can taketh just as much as it giveth.

If not for the exploits of Deion Sanders’ players at Tucker’s former employer, Colorado, the talk of college football in Week 1 would be Tucker’s former player, wide receiver Keon Coleman.

Coleman scorched LSU’s secondary in his first game at Florida State — 9 receptions for 122 yards and 3 touchdowns.

For Michigan State fans, Coleman’s breakout was effectively a double whammy. He and quarterback Payton Thorne left MSU after spring football, entering the portal on the last possible day. Now his first performance since leaving East Lansing has him in the center of the Biletnikoff Award radar screen.

One thing Michigan State fans can’t do? Blame Coleman for leaving after what we witnessed from both the Spartans and the Seminoles in Week 1.

Coleman’s transfer is a near carbon copy of what we saw a year ago with Charlie Jones.

Jones read the writing on the wall at Iowa, and it screamed “Get out!” like the house in The Amityville Horror. He transferred to Purdue for his senior season and became an all-American. More importantly, Jones also became a fourth-round draft pick. Those pathways weren’t possible at Iowa.

The same logic applies to Coleman this year.

It seems clear that Michigan State is using this season as an exercise to have its starting quarterback fully prepared for 2024, whether it turns out to be Noah Kim or Katin Houser. Combined with the Big Ten’s No. 4 freshman class, that formula could get the Spartans back to a high level next year.

But none of that does Coleman much good in the present. His short-term and long-term futures are better served at Florida State.

There, he is the centerpiece of a Playoff-contending offense. Coleman, like Jones last year, seems bound for all-America status. And his draft stock is helped by playing with a veteran quarterback rather than a youngster learning the ropes.

And while Coleman’s defection stings, all is not doom and gloom for the 2023 Spartans.

Michigan State’s rebound year still in play

Coleman is a demonstration of what it’s like to lose a player with the impact of a Kenneth Walker. But it’s not as if the incoming door of the portal has slammed in Tucker’s face.

The returns are early, but the Spartans may have the running back they need to at least fill 1 of Walker’s shoes. Connecticut transfer Nathan Carter rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, ranking 3rd in the B1G in rushing yardage behind Wisconsin’s tandem of Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Big deal! It was Central Michigan!”

A Michigan State running back exceeded 110 yards once all of last season — Jalen Berger’s 119 yards against Indiana. For a team that cratered from 6th to 12th in the B1G in rushing yardage last season, that qualifies as a positive step forward.

Notably, Carter is also a sophomore, which means he should be a piece of what Tucker could build for next season. Michigan State isn’t built to compete with Michigan or Ohio State or Penn State this year. 2023 is about making the forward progress for that to be possible in 2024.

Kim’s first start at quarterback may serve as a pretty good preview of what this Michigan State season will be.

He was, generously put, shaky in the beginning.

Kim opened the game 3-of-10 for 29 yards, drawing boos from a Spartan Stadium crowd that was either mad at him or mad at Tucker or mad that Houser didn’t get the start. Probably all 3 of those things.

It got worse before getting better, with an incompletion to open the next possession that dropped Kim to 3-for-11. When a quarterback’s completion percentage is lower than former Piston Andre Drummond’s career free-throw percentage, you might be in trouble.

But much like Drummond himself, Kim is apparently more of a rebounder. After Central Michigan took a 7-3 lead with 1:51 left in the first half, Kim led the Spartans on a 7-play, 84-yard touchdown drive. It took a mere 57 seconds for Kim to get Michigan State back on top, and that’s where the Spartans stayed.

After his brutal start, Kim completed 15-of-20 passes for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns.

All of that is a microcosm of what this Michigan State season is likely to be. Ugly at times. But moving forward.

There will be pain in seeing Coleman tear it up at Florida State, but there should be no bitterness. He did what’s best for him. And in the long run, the playing time his replacements will receive better serves Michigan State.

When the Spartans are finally able to mix it up with the B1G’s big boys again, the experience they gain in this bridge year will prove most valuable.