Year 3 will serve as a true measurement of progress for Michigan State coach Mel Tucker.

In 2020, his first season, the Spartans crawled their way to a 2-5 record; however, in 2021, they rebounded with an 11-2 finish and Peach Bowl victory over Pitt. Oh, and don’t forget, Tucker is 2-for-2 against Michigan and going for 3-for-3 this fall.

The Spartans head into the season at No. 15 in the Associated Press Top 25 and are considered mild threats to win the Big Ten East. With Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan in the way, claiming top honors in the division will be a difficult task for any team to complete — let alone a team that’s extremely inexperienced on the offensive line and has lost Kenneth Walker III, the 2021 Doak Walker Award-winning running back who fueled the offense.

Though odds may be stacked against the Spartans, there is still a chance that they could end up surprising a few people by the end of the season. It wouldn’t be a total shock to see them in the thick of a Big Ten title race during November.

But if a glorious season is to happen, the Spartans will need to shed some recent bad luck.

Secondary must be primary

In 2021, Michigan State’s secondary — when looking at overall numbers — was the worst among FBS programs, allowing a staggering 324.8 passing yards per game. One season ago, nearly every opposing QB ripped apart the Spartans’ secondary, namely Miami’s D’Eriq King (388 yards, 2 TDs), Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe (488, 3 TDs) and Michigan’s Cade McNamara (383, 2 TDs), who actually set a UM single-game record during that 37-33 loss in East Lansing.

A trend is something that happens often and can be predicted. The Spartans had a problem defending the pass for one season, but every trend has to begin with something, someone or somewhere.

Reliance on transfer portal

Tucker’s Spartans have become known for recruiting … but not on the traditional trail; rather they’re known for scouring the transfer portal. After leaving Wake Forest, Walker had a tremendous season with MSU. This year, the Spartans have two transfer RBs: Jalen Berger (Wisconsin) and Jarek Broussard (Colorado), and they have a handful of others competing for top spots, such as DB Ameer Speed (Georgia).

Eventually, the portal pillaging has to stop, right? A program can’t have sustained success by signing talent from other schools, right? That doesn’t sound like a sturdy business model.

Win Big Ten title

Conference championships lead to more meaningful titles, such as the national variety. In 2015, the Spartans won the Big Ten and made an appearance in the College Football Playoff, only to be blown out 38-0 by Alabama. It’s been 7 years since the Spartans won their league. Prior to 2015, they won it outright in 2013, shared it in 2009. Prior to that recent history, MSU hadn’t won a B1G title since 1990 (when it shared with UM) and hadn’t won it outright since 1987.

Covering

If you’re into betting or just odd stats, you may want to take a look at teamrankings.com, a site that has all kinds of interesting numbers to sift through and discuss.

According to the site, the Spartans aren’t very good at covering the spread in non-conference games, doing so only 46.8 percent of the time. So what does that mean? Let’s say MSU is facing an early-season and most likely inferior opponent, entering the game as 21-point favorites.

Shouldn’t you jump on that? If they’re favored by 3 TDs, they’ll likely do far more damage.

Well, historically speaking since 2010, the answer would be “no, don’t do it.” The Spartans don’t even cover the spread half of the time.

Rest helps? (plus bonus stats)

According to Team Rankings, rest hasn’t always served as an advantage for the Spartans since 2010. They are 14-9 after a bye week during that decade-plus span. For math people, that equals a 60.9 winning percentage. Conversely, MSU has actually been better with a rest disadvantage, going 12-8 since 2010, per Team Rankings.

Here are some other bonus numbers associated with trends since 2010: MSU is 25-27 against ranked opponents (48.1 percent), 24-26 as the underdog (48 percent) and 7-8 as an underdog at home (46.7 percent). What does all that mean? It means that the Spartans have to play better against ranked opponents, regardless of venue, and that they have to find ways to be the spoiler when facing favored adversaries (pretty easy to understand, right?).