For many years, B1G 20XX’s whole idea was put everything in an article that someone would need to functionally chat up a coworker or client at some summer shindig if you know they’re a fan of a given team.
The thing is, I ran out of decent intros based on that concept years ago, but Michigan State’s dramatic roster churn inspires something entirely new: your branch/office/division/whatever just got a complete personnel facelift, made up of equal parts retirement and post-leadership change purge.
So now, even though the place is familiar, even the remaining old-timers have very little notion of what to accept. In fact, the surest sign someone is talking out of their ass is when they start speaking with any confidence about what to expect from the new reality. But let’s muddle through as best as we can here, shall we?
What Happened In 2020?
Think of the clip from Marvel’s Endgame where Luis is explaining the past five years to Ant-Man as you read this.
End of 2019 season: MSU is thoroughly mediocre again. They need season-closing wins over Rutgers and Maryland to clinch bowl eligibility, and win an unloved Pinstripe Bowl. Mark Dantonio more or less commits to returning, kind of acknowledging as he does so that he has some work to do to get things back on track.
February 2020, almost two full months after MSU’s last game of 2019 season: Dantonio retires out of left field. MSU’s athletic department actually composes themselves pretty quickly, makes a play for obvious Plan A Luke Fickell, supposedly had a tentative agreement, but Fickell ends up saying no.
MSU quickly pivots to then-Colorado head coach Mel Tucker, who had publicly withdrawn from the search earlier, with a sufficiently lucrative offer to get him to change his mind and leave Boulder for East Lansing.
March 2020, roughly one month after Tucker is hired: the beat drops when the NBA starts cancelling games, followed by (among other things) various college basketball conferences, then the entire NCAA tournament.
Summer and fall 2020: Not only does all in-person recruiting activity come to an immediate halt, but offseason practice and meeting activities are also out of the question. The Big Ten, trying really hard to be thought of the same way the Ivy League is, postpones the football season indefinitely, then backpedals and eventually reinstates it on a conference-only basis.
2020 Season: Between a new coaching staff with new schemes, that staff being hired much later than most new coaches, a near-total inability to install those schemes because of the COVID-derailed offseason, and, oh yeah, the previous coach slacking off recruiting his last couple years on the job, Michigan State mostly looks like a half-prepared, under-talented team against any competently-coached opponent.
They also play Michigan and Northwestern.
2021: What To Expect
This is where we bring that post-merger company environment back into focus. Leadership is saying good stuff - but then, if they weren’t, that would be a Fort McHenry-ass red flag, now wouldn’t it?
We’ll get into what to look for on each side of the ball over the next couple of days, but for now, suffice it to say that Michigan State has had seventeen players transfer in, twenty-five players transfer out, and three more pass on the free eligibility to try the NFL draft (for an up-to-date account of those moves, consult SBNation’s Michigan State blog,The Only Colors, here).
If that number of guys leaving seems very high, it is. But, despite that mass exodus, there’s still a decent amount of production returning on both sides of the ball; a whole lot of those departures are guys who were buried on the depth chart or, frankly, recruiting reaches by Dantonio who were unlikely to contribute much.
Good luck accurately handicapping this team given how different it’s going to be from last year.
August 28: BYE
September 4: @ Northwestern
September 11: Youngstown State
September 18: @ Miami (FL)
September 25: Nebraska
October 2: Western Kentucky
October 9: @ Rutgers
October 16: @ Indiana
October 23: BYE
October 30: Michigan
November 6: @ Purdue
November 13: Maryland
November 20: @ Ohio State
November 27: Penn State
So. The noncon is two near-certain wins (Western Kentucky is not its old Jeff Brohm version anymore) and a near-certain loss (D’Eriq King is going to HURT).
Crossovers are Northwestern, Nebraska, and Purdue. Although it’s a common mistake everyone makes to assume their team should beat Northwestern, MSU kind of did do that last year. Nebraska and Purdue are both in high-pressure seasons for formerly-ballyhooed coaches
They could plausibly lose every game in-division, depending on how well Michigan’s new defensive scheme gets installed. More likely, they get outclassed by Ohio State and Penn State, but at least keep it close against everyone else.
Gun-to-my-head record prediction? I’d call it 5-7. Ohio State is the only definite L at this point, and even if Penn State and Miami are longshots, this coaching staff still showed enough ability last year to make chicken salad (as the saying goes) that I think the talent injection gets put to its full potential.