They’re No. 7 in the College Football Playoff rankings and 8-1 overall. Surprisingly, coach Mel Tucker’s Michigan State Spartans are still one of the top teams in college football heading into the final stretch of the season.

Hot start? Sure. Lots of teams have those.

Was it likely that they’d get this far?


They knocked off Miami (FL) and quickly, almost out of nowhere, were sitting at 6-0 weeks later and entering the Big Ten title conversation. After beating Michigan, the Spartans were thrust into the CFP song and dance.

Regardless of its finish, Michigan State looks to be in stable condition under Tucker. The Spartans have benefited from the transfer portal like no other, and they’ve quickly bought into Tucker’s philosophies.

He’s a confident coach who doesn’t seem to sugarcoat too much of what he says.

MSU knows it’s getting at least that much moving forward.

But what about placement within the Big Ten and among national heavyweights? Is this year a sign of consistency, or are the Spartans bound to even out — going back to mediocre seasons of old — at some point in the near future? Back to when 7-win seasons were considered milestones. Back to when beating Michigan, regardless of record, was make-or-break for a fanbase.

John L. Smith stuff.

Or, one step further: George Perles-type of finishes. One of MSU’s most-heralded coaches in any sport, Perles gained major clout for his 1988 Rose Bowl victory. MSU wouldn’t see another one of those until Mark Dantonio snagged one in 2014. Really good years under Perles were 8- and 9-win campaigns — then the 1990s hit, and Perles struggled to win 5 or 6 the rest of the way.

Nick Saban took over in 1995 and won 6 or 7 games each year until breaking through in 1999, when he went 10-2 (including a bowl win). Then he bolted for LSU.

Yeah, that LSU. The same one that is supposedly interested in Tucker.

Tucker’s history will be written by Tucker. However, taking a look at what past coaches have done in East Lansing could provide a good idea of what to expect, should he remain with the Spartans after this season.

From 2007-19, Mark Dantonio was king of the castle in East Lansing. He needed a couple of years to get going, but he is certainly responsible for the success during one of two MSU “golden eras” of football. There have been stretches of great play over several decades, but Dantonio had MSU at its highest perch since the days of Duffy Daugherty, back when the Spartans were a superpower in the 1950s and ’60s.

No MSU coach has ever compared to Duffy, in terms of longevity of success. For 2 decades, the Spartans were almost always a major contender. Of course, college football has changed, and parity is the name of the game. Back when Duffy ruled, there weren’t as many top-tier powerhouses — college football was still growing, and it wasn’t really until the 1990s that every conference seemed to have a big dog in the yard.

Well, the way that college football is structured today — recruiting, the best coaches not staying in one place, etc. — it is safe to say that no team will ever have a stronghold on the rankings like Duffy’s Spartans in the ’50s and ’60s. So with that out of the way, it’s a given that Tucker won’t replicate that type of success with MSU. The game has changed too much and it’s just not possible these days.

What’s more realistic? Doing something like Dantonio did from 2010-2015: and that’s winning at least 11 games in 4 of 5 seasons. During that span, the Spartans were basically the premier program in the Big Ten.

Right now, Tucker seems to be on a similar trajectory as Dantonio, but there’s a twist. There will be similar top-end success, given what’s been shown this year; but there is little reason to think that Tucker will end up building an empire that compares to Duffy’s reign in the middle of the 20th century.

Dantonio Light?

Peak Perles?

Somewhere in there.

Could Tucker stick around for 5 or 6 years, win a Big Ten title or 2, and pop into the College Football Playoff? That’s probably the high end. Could he stick around for 5 or 6 years, chasing what he had done in 2021? Maybe in that 9-win range every year? That seems more probable, given the parity of college football.

Winning 8 or 9 games at a Power 5 school will ensure job security and support for any coach.