Six months ago, if you knew a Michigan State fan who said they felt good about where this football program was, you either know a fool or a liar.
The on-field product in 2016 was disastrous enough, plummeting from a College Football Playoff berth to 3-9. A wave of players transferred, and then 4 more were defenestrated in the wake of hideous sexual assault charges - made, if possible, even worse playing out as they did before the backdrop of the Larry Nassar revelations, a scandal which may yet cause heads to roll higher up in MSU’s AD and general administration.
So expectations going into 2017 were appropriately modest: get to bowl eligibility and give the fanbase reason to believe this program’s issues were correctable.
Looking back over the schedule now, when every score still kind of means something, the overriding feeling has to be relief. Relief that whatever the hell happened in 2016, the storm seems to have passed. Relief that a coaching staff under a lot of justified scrutiny got 10 wins out of one of the youngest rosters in FBS. Relief that despite losing the Megaphone, this team took back its three other trophies. Relief that having to sit through the crappiest football weather season in recent memory (other than Iowa) was for the most part rewarded by a team that was usually better, better prepared, or both when compared to the opponent, especially in the bowl game.
Which isn’t to say there wasn’t some heartburn in getting here. Almost allowing Minnesota back in the game, failing to deal with Northwestern’s crossing routes, the whole OSU thing. But other than True National Champion UCF, no one came out of this season without regret - what do you want to bet Auburn fans are advancing the theory that Bama’s title is meaningless without that Iron Bowl win?
Looking ahead to next season, there has to be great optimism in the greenhearted of this conference. Number of starters lost? C Brian Allen, LB Chris Frey, DE Demetrius Cooper...and that’s it.
There were, to be sure, other departures - DC and associate head coach Harlon Barnett leaving for Florida State is a mildly disconcerting, if not entirely surprising, sign that MSU’s financial commitment to its program may need bolstering. But other than that, the two prominent departures to this point, Messiah deWeaver and Hunter Rison, are leaving in search of playing time. Such is the sign of a healthy program - that talented young players see a depth chart they do not believe they can pierce, rather than bailing for fear of the program collapsing or being booted for criminal conduct.
It was fun for football to be fun again.