It was only two years ago that Michigan State polished off its sixth double-digit win season in eight years. And even after two subpar seasons in East Lansing, only Ohio State (9) and Wisconsin (7) have won at least 10 games in a season more times than the Spartans, who have been above tradition-rich programs like Michigan and Penn State in the league’s pecking order.

Michigan State, since Mark Dantonio took over, has been the only true challenger to Ohio State, with three wins over the Buckeyes this decade, the most of any Big Ten team, and it is the only non-Ohio State team in the Big Ten to make the College Football Playoff.

But things change in a hurry, and the future is not bright in East Lansing. It’s quite murky, in fact.

Michigan State ended this decade with a whimper, and as we head into a new one, the Spartans lack momentum and direction. The Spartans have underperformed the last two seasons, and it may only get worse in the coming years thanks to poor recruiting, lack of innovation and rivals improving.

As the Spartans face Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl on Friday, here are three issues they must fix:

Another subpar offense

The offense was the biggest question mark coming into this season, and there weren’t many answers. The Spartans were 125th nationally in yards per play (4.62) in 2018; the Spartans were 110th in yards per play (5.09) in 2019. That’s improvement, but it’s minimal at best, and it surely isn’t anywhere good enough.

The Spartans also don’t have an answer at quarterback for 2020. They should explore the graduate transfer market for a QB, because no one on the roster has shown they are the answer. If Rocky Lombardi couldn’t overtake Brian Lewerke as the starter when the latter threw 23 interceptions in two seasons, then he probably isn’t the guy. Michigan State also had three running backs transfer this season.

Michigan State needs to make considerable changes in 2020.

Poor recruiting class, high number in transfer portal

Michigan State had one of the worst recruiting classes in the Big Ten this season, checking in at No. 11 while being one of two teams without a 4-star recruit. And that’s while being faced with more-than-normal roster turnover.

The Spartans, with the No. 42 class in the country, haven’t had a class ranked this low nationally since Dantonio’s first full recruiting class in 2008. Some of that maybe had to do with some uncertainty regarding whether Dantonio would be back, but some of it is also probably due to two lackluster seasons. And really, three down years out of the last four.

A down class like this won’t necessarily be felt next year, but in two or three years when you expect a class to take over the depth chart, you could see some holes. But it’s hard to imagine Michigan State competing with Ohio State in the same manner when the Buckeyes turned in the No. 3 class in the country this season, with eight top-100 recruits. Michigan State’s top recruit was ranked No. 400 nationally.

It’s a little surprising to look at the recruiting rankings in Michigan and see the top recruit signed with Kentucky, the No. 3 recruit signed with Penn State, the No. 4 recruit signed with Purdue, the No. 7 recruit signed with Ohio State, the No. 8 recruit signed with Indiana, the No. 9 recruit signed with Purdue, the No. 10 recruit signed with Maryland, the No. 11 recruit signed with Purdue and the No. 12 recruit signed with Northwestern. Huh? You’d have to go all the way down to No. 14 to see Michigan State’s top recruit in Michigan.  At least last year, the Spartans had two of the top three and three of the top 10 in their own state.

Maybe this class will surprise us all. Le’Veon Bell, if you recall, was the 115th-ranked recruit — in Ohio! And Bell was Michigan State’s 19th-highest rated recruit of the 2010 class. Kenny Willekes, now a star defensive end, was a walk-on with just one scholarship offer as a prospect. So Dantonio is known to develop unheralded players and turn them into studs. But if that’s the only hope for Michigan State, the odds aren’t in their favor.

It’s interesting to see the difference in recruiting philosophy with Dantonio and, say, Ryan Day. Dantonio has been known to pull scholarship offers if commits visit another school. Day, meanwhile, encouraged 4-star recruit Cameron Martinez to look elsewhere when Ohio State defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley took the Boston College job, understanding how overwhelming it must’ve been for Martinez. Dantonio’s hard-line approach may have worked before, but kids change. He may have to, too.

On top of its recruiting woes, Michigan State currently has seven players in the transfer portal, with only Maryland (11), Rutgers (10) and Purdue (8) having more in the Big Ten.

The Spartans have three running backs in the portal, including the leading rusher from 2018 in Connor Heyward. La’darius Jefferson was the second-leading returning rusher this season, and he is also in the portal after Elijah Collins jumped both of them on the depth chart (and looks to be a solid player). But it certainly hurts the overall depth at a position where you need a ton of it.

Coaching questions

Dantonio made headlines in the offseason by not switching his coaching staff. Instead, he assigned them new position groups. That has not worked. Dantonio is loyal, and that may be his undoing.

A lot of coaches could learn from Ed Orgeron, who was humble enough to evolve and hire a 30-year-old no-namer to revamp his offense. Dantonio is a terrific coach who has built this program into what it is. But the game continues to change, and the best head coaches, like Nick Saban, change with it. Running the ball into stacked boxes doesn’t cut it anymore, especially when the offensive line isn’t a strength to begin with.

Is this going to get better? Dantonio has been noncommittal about staff changes, as he will wait until after the bowl game to announce anything. He typically only hires coaches with whom he has previously worked. He probably won’t go for an outside-the-box hire like Orgeron did with Joe Brady.

If Dantonio remains loyal to his current staff, there may be a lot of unhappy fans who are looking for change.

After being one of the Big Ten’s best programs in the 2010s, this next decade does not look like it will get off to that same rollicking start, unless Dantonio gives this program a makeover.