Welcome to 2020, when everything is just a little different. Recruits haven’t been able to step on campus in 10 months, and coaches can’t visit recruits. Sounds like the ideal conditions to turn a program around, right?

Nothing has been easy about Mel Tucker’s 1st year in East Lansing. From installing new schemes without any offseason to dealing with a lack of centralized recruiting efforts, Tucker has been challenged both on and off the field. With the Early Signing Period just days away, he hopes to add some clarity about his program’s future but knows it will be a battle to the finish.

“The indication is that most of the guys that are committed will sign, but we’ll just have to see,” Tucker said. “Recruiting is fluid, and you never know until you know. They’re not signed until they’re signed, but we’re willing to fight for our guys, for the guys we want, through the 16th and beyond all the way through to February. All the way until the 11th hour.”

Michigan State’s Class of 2021 currently sits 41st nationally and 10th in the Big Ten. The Spartans are still looking to close the distance on Michigan and other teams perpetually ahead of Michigan State in the B1G West, but even with such a lousy season on the field, 41st is right on par with how the Spartans have recruited over the past 4 years.

Since the Class of 2017, Michigan State has never finished better than 31st in the nation. This year’s class is poised to finish 3 spots better than last year’s, and classes ranked in the 30s and 40s are typically what Tucker recruited while at Colorado.

Let’s take a closer look at Michigan State’s Class of 2021:

By the numbers

  • B1G rank: 1oth
  • National rank: 41st
  • 5-stars: 0
  • 4-stars: 2
  • 3-stars: 16

Top player: Rayshaun Benny, defensive tackle, 4-star (No. 203 overall)

Benny is the No. 6 recruit in Michigan and 16th overall defensive tackle. He committed to the Spartans on Nov. 9 over the likes of Michigan, Penn State and Kentucky.

Benny was a 2-way player at Oak Park but figures to play on defense in East Lansing. He is the high school teammate of 3-star running back commit Davion Primm.

Class strength: Running back

With 1 4-star running back already committed, this group could get even better if things shake the Spartans’ way on Dec. 16. Audric Estime has already pledged his services to the Spartans. He’s the 12th-best running back prospect and No. 245 overall.

It’s no secret Michigan State could use some options in the backfield, and more help could be on the way in the form of 4-star Ke’Travion Hargrove. Hargrove, a Louisiana native who had previously committed to Louisiana Tech, has since decommitted and left the door open. Michigan State is reportedly among his final 4 choices.

Class weakness: Linebacker

Michigan State is losing a great one when Antjuan Simmons finally leaves, and the answer to replace him doesn’t appear to be in this year’s class. Carson Casteel is the lone linebacker pledge. He is the 78th-best inside linebacker, so not a blue chip by any means.

Recent positive news has been developing, however, in Ma’a Gaoteote. Gaoteote is a 4-star recruit and the No. 11 outside linebacker nationally, but he has been a long-time USC commit. That is, until his older brother Palaie, a current Trojan, entered the transfer portal. As a result, Ma’a opened up his options, and the Spartans are high on the list.

Grading the QB class: C+

Between the play of Rocky Lombardi and Payton Thorne, quarterback play has been a liability for Michigan State. In the search for the next Kirk Cousins or Brian Lewerke, there is a lot of optimism surrounding 3-star pro-style quarterback Hampton Fay out of Fort Worth, but he’s going to need time to develop.

With Fay still likely a season away from playing meaningful football for the Spartans, Michigan State’s best option may be to search in the transfer portal. The Spartans won’t be alone in the Big Ten looking for a transfer QB, so it’s another recruiting battle that Tucker will have to win.

Did they close the borders?

Michigan State secured 3 commitments from players in the top 20 of Michigan, led by Benny, who ranks 6th in the state. The Spartans are still option B in their own state, as the Wolverines have 3 of the top 10.

Perhaps more alarming than Michigan continuing to dominate the local landscape is how Penn State has encroached on their home ground. While the Nittany Lions did next to nothing in their home state, they secured 4 commitments from the top 15 players in Michigan.

Final thought

Beating Michigan in Ann Arbor this season was absolutely huge for Tucker and the future of his program. Depending on how much the Wolverines continue to spiral downward, this offseason will be even better for the Spartans trying to land in-state recruits.

Michigan State will never compete with the blue-bloods of the Big Ten, so it’s all about finding the diamonds in the rough, which is where the pandemic is going to really hurt this class. There was just a lot less film available for high school players this year, so it was that much tougher to find gems.

This will probably be Tucker’s least talented class moving forward, but he’s building a culture in East Lansing that should pay off in the end.