When we last saw the Michigan State Spartans, they were dashing Northwestern’s College Football Playoff hopes with a 29-20 victory over NU that broke the hearts of Wildcat fans near and far. Now in their second year under head coach Mel Tucker, Sparty is trying to build on a 2020 campaign in which they showed some promise with two signature wins but mainly exhibited some growing pains under a new coaching staff. Here are three things you need to know about MSU:
Their 2020 starting quarterback transferred
In the 2020 season, Michigan State started the year with Iowa native Rocky Lombardi under center. Lombardi contributed to State’s 2-5 record with his high turnover average and low completion rate. After head coach Mel Tucker benched Lombardi mid-season in favor of backup Payton Thorne, Lombardi decided to transfer to Northern Illinois. Thorne went on to finish the season out as the quarterback for the Spartans, but his performances did not guarantee him the job in 2021.
Heading into the new season there is a void at the quarterback position and Tucker, less than a week out from their opening game, is yet to announce the starting quarterback. Tucker and staff have announced that the QB battle is between the returning Thorne and Temple transfer Anthony Russo, though little insight has emerged from East Lansing on which player is more likely to land the starting gig.
Mel Tucker is looking for a bounce back year in his second season as Head Coach
Despite the fact that Michigan State beat Northwestern last season, the Spartans did not have an incredibly successful year as a whole in 2020. While every team in sports had to deal with them, the Spartans may have been hit especially hard by the restrictions brought about by the pandemic. It is already difficult enough to acclimate to a new environment and to try and win over a new team, but that task seems nearly impossible when you have to maneuver it over Zoom. Having more flexibility in regards to team activities means that Tucker is most likely more comfortable in the head coach position.
When watching 2020 Michigan State play, there was an evident lack of fluidity on both sides of the ball for the Spartans. There are many reasons to be optimistic about the 2021 season if you are a Michigan State supporter, most of which stem from Tucker having more time in-person with the team to shape it into his own.
69% of their 2020 production is returning
Michigan State is reloading in the 2021 season in a big way, returning 69% of its 2020 production according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly. This is noteworthy, as the chemistry and experiences built from the Spartans’ 2020 season may prove to be the difference in close games that go down to the wire. Talented receivers Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed are among the returning players, which may help ease the transition from one starting QB to another for MSU.
A lack of cohesiveness was one of the factors that contributed to State’s underwhelming 2020 campaign, but by returning so many players, its effect in 2021 should be more limited. This may be one of the Spartans’ biggest advantages over the Wildcats, who return the second-least production in the FBS at 39%, according to Connelly.