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Michigan State Giving Serious Consideration to Being Back at Some Point

Kyle Koster
Michael Hickey/Getty Images
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Mark Dantonio built Michigan State into a juggernaut and then allowed the program to forfeit too many gains. A long and fruitful marriage came to an unsatisfying conclusion amid some choppy seas and Mel Tucker was tasked with building trust and victories in East Lansing. A pandemic-altered rookie campaign yielded four losses but two treasured wins: on the road against reviled Michigan and one at home against previously unbeaten Northwestern. Last season was bizarre and the most choose-your-own-adventure to date. The Spartans fanbase, like all the others, happily counted the good stuff and convinced itself the bad didn't count.

Expectations this fall were far below the championship level Dantonio maintained until he didn't. A seven- or eight-win campaign would be a step in the right direction, signaling this gut rehab was far ahead of schedule. Early returns suggest the bar may have been set too low. Tucker's team dismantled Northwestern on the road on the strength of transfer Kenneth Walker III's 264 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Last week, sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne threw four scores himself as the offense racked up 408 first-half yards against a clearly overmatched Youngstown State side as MSU rolled.

Insert all the necessary caveats and skepticism about the competition here. But the numbers and eye test don't lie. This is an incredibly fast and explosive attack with actual weapons. State hung its hat on the running game and winning the line of scrimmage during its brief interlude among the sport's elite. Through two contests they are averaging 299 yards/game and 8.0 yards/carry. Two different players have posted 100-yard efforts. Thorne has been judicious in his decision-making and established a productive rapport with Jayden Reed — evidenced by the duo's 75-yard and 85-yard scoring connection last week. Wideouts Jalen Nailor and Tre Mosley have already exhibited ability to high point the football and move the chains.

All of this may not be cause for celebration yet, but it's better than the alternative. Tucker is remaking the program the way he wants to, leaning into toughness and playing the transfer market more frequently than anyone in the nation. At the very least, Spartans fans should be basking in the glory of a fall Saturday not ruined by an inept performance by the green and white — a tradition that became all too familiar the last half of the decade.

A real test looms tomorrow against the Hurricanes in Miami. Vegas oddsmakers have, in their infinite wisdom, instilled the home team as a six-point favorite. It's a perplexing line because if MSU continues to play competent offense and any form of defense, there's zero chance of a blowout. One could argue this is way more of a toss-up than the experts think.

There's no arguing that a win like this would signal a new and brighter day for the Michigan State football program. Not a blindingly bright day, but enough to put a nice glow on shoulders and warmth on faces. With Nebraska, Western Kentucky and Rutgers to follow, there's a non-zero chance Tucker can pilot his team to a shocking 6-0 start.

We'll know a hell of a lot more about what MSU is and what they aren't in about 27 hours. Even the slightest hope, the smallest of authentic optimism and excitement, is a victory.

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