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B1G 2020: Michigan State Cocktail Party

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The thirteen-year Dantonio Era comes to an end, and Mel Tucker’s tenure begins, at an unprecedented time

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

In These Uncertain Times, it continues to be an objectively terrible idea to move forward with the college football season. Many D-II and D-III conferences have cancelled or postponed the season, but for the time being, the Big Ten will move forward with a conference-only slate; the Pac-12 is reportedly discussing adding a tenth conference game and adjusting their calendar accordingly.

Last Friday, after a second staffer and a player tested positive within the span of a week, MSU’s entire football program went into a 14-day quarantine/self-isolation

This is all mentioned not because you didn’t already know these things, but because at any moment, our musings about this season could turn to sand and waft away on a breeze of disease.

So! Let’s dispel that negativity and talk about...Michigan State football.

Oh.

2019 Recapped: A Wasted Effort

I say that not to disparage the players or coaches or anyone else in the program, who I’m sure all did their level best. No, what I mean by that is this article I’m writing, because I could very easily copy and paste last year’s Cocktail Party, change a few dates, and I’d have a fair summary of the 2019 campaign.

Once again, an early tilt with Arizona State exposed the offense as feeble, though the scheme did at least get a new coat of paint. They rebounded with wins over Northwestern and Indiana, but then hit a five-game losing skid that defined the season and stretched even longer thanks to two byes nestled within it. Granted, starting the stretch with back to back trips to Ohio State and Wisconsin was never going to be easy. But MSU did nothing with its byes, coming off them to get shut down by Penn State and then blowing a massive lead to Illinois. Any chance of salvaging some pride for last season went out the window in a steamrolling by Michigan.

A glass half full perspective could look at the season-ending rally to a Pinstripe Bowl appearance and win as something to hold on to, but by the end of the year, it was plain to see that Mark Dantonio did not have the solutions to get his program back to the heights he achieved with the previous generation of players. And yet, he not only did not retire, but seemed to declare his intent to return in 2020 and possibly beyond.

Until he didn’t. Waiting until February 4th to hang it up, Dantonio permanently and irrevocably damaged his own legacy in the way he left his program swinging in the wind. Athletic director Bill Beekman had to jump on a coaching carousel that had been spinning for months, but for a minute, it looked like the best-case option, Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell, was set to become the second consecutive MSU head coach to springboard into East Lansing after a nice tenure at UC.

Until he didn’t, as Fickell backed out at the last minute and presumably burning some bridges in the process. To his credit, Beekman, making his first major coaching hire, pivoted quickly and brought Mel Tucker to East Lansing. We’ll discuss the particulars of his staff in more detail this week, and at the time, it felt like the choice they had to make. Tucker had withdrawn from consideration before Fickell became the Spartans’ top option, but, well, put a large enough number on the check and you can change a lot of minds.

It’s obviously even harder than usual to evaluate his progress in his first offseason in charge at MSU, though as of this writing it’s certainly fair to say that the early recruiting returns are...uhh...not great, Bob, especially given that landing talent was supposed to be Tucker’s biggest strength. Still, it’s early, and one can fairly conclude it’s kind of tough to build those relationships in this environment.

2020 Schedule, Eyeballed (for the moment)

Again, it’s difficult to imagine this is going to stay the way it is; if the Big Ten goes forward with games, they aren’t going to start half the conference in week 1 followed by multiple weeks off while everyone else just sits around for the first month of the season. Were I to venture a guess, it would make sense to postpone all the Week 1 games, stick another conference game before the existing schedule, and call it good.

September 5: vs Northwestern

September 12: @ BYU (cancelled)

September 19: vs Toledo (cancelled)

September 26: vs Miami FL (homecoming; cancelled)

October 3: @ Iowa

October 10: vs Michigan

October 17: vs Ohio State

October 24: @ Indiana

October 31: vs Minnesota

BYE

November 14: @ Penn State

November 21: vs Rutgers

November 28: @ Maryland

That’s...tough. I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m pretty bearish on this year’s team, and the schedule certainly doesn’t help. MSU might actually catch something of a break with the noncon being scheduled, as that trip to BYU was not going to go well, and even though Miami isn’t MIAMI at the moment, Gregory Rousseau versus this offensive line...yikes.

But yeah, this is, for the time being, a nine-game schedule that could very easily have a 6-game losing streak in the middle of it, and that’s assuming MSU gets past a Northwestern team that’s also retooling its offense. If that feels like me being doom and gloom, by all means point out the game from Iowa to Penn State that you’d bet on MSU to win. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

When talking to a Michigan State fan, mention: Basketball, like, all aspects of basketball; three-peat Big Ten champions, probable top ten team even without Cassius Winston this year, the gathering Infinity Gauntlet of recruiting talent for 2021 and beyond

When talking to a Michigan State fan, don’t mention: most aspects of football, especially recruiting, especially especially in-state recruiting. Hell, why don’t we just call off this football season you guys, you can’t be too safe y’know, and we’d make absolutely sure no harm befalls basketball season that way