The Michigan State Spartans took a massive leap in coach Mel Tucker’s second season at the helm.
After going 2-5 in a Covid-shortened 2020 season, Tucker’s Spartans finished 11-2 last year, and the fiery head coach was rewarded with a 10-year, $95 million contract extension.
MSU surprised everyone last year, and its stellar season was highlighted by wins over Michigan, Penn State, and Pittsburgh in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
Michigan State has a more challenging schedule this year, including road games against Michigan, Penn State, and Maryland. The Spartans will also face Wisconsin and Minnesota from the Big Ten West Division, neither of which will be a picnic.
And they’ll have to do it all without last year’s Heisman Trophy candidate and lead running back Kenneth Walker lll, who is now with the Seattle Seahawks.
It will be a tough road for the Spartans to come out of the East Division, let alone win the Big Ten Championship this year. Let’s look at the odds available at Michigan’s online sportsbooks and see how MSU stacks up this season.
Michigan State Big Ten Championship Odds
|Ohio State Buckeyes||-200||-215||-220||-250|
|Penn State Nittany Lions||+1400||+1600||+1600||+1400|
|Michigan State Spartans||+2500||+2800||+2500||+2500|
|Minnesota Golden Gophers||+3000||+2800||+2500||+2500|
|Illinois Fighting Illini||+20000||+15000||+20000||+20000|
|Rutgers Scarlet Knights||+50000||+50000||+50000||+50000|
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Michigan State Spartans Preview
Michigan State may have lost a few big names, but by all accounts, the team has reloaded with some stars from the transfer portal. The running game was the team’s strength last year, and the passing game was serviceable, but the defense really struggled — particularly against the pass.
The Spartans ranked last in the nation in pass defense. To be a true contender this season, the secondary will need to improve by leaps and bounds.
The running game was the team’s strong suit last year, and the Spartans want to continue that trend going forward. Walker is gone, but the Spartans picked up a couple of good backs to fill the void in Jarek Broussard and Jalen Berger.
Payton Thorne is coming off a 3,233-yard, 27-touchdown season and will be back at QB. He’ll have top receivers Jayden Reed and Tre Mosley returning and highly touted Illinois transfer Daniel Barker at tight end.
If the Spartans’ recruiting class pans out, this should be an offense that can once again compete with anyone.
MSU’s pass defense was a glaring weakness last year and a point of emphasis in the off-season. The Spartans started by adding Georgia cornerback Ameer Speed, which should help tremendously.
The secondary was young last year and was also plagued by injuries. With another year of experience under its belt, and a little luck avoiding the injury bug, this should be a much-improved unit going forward. If Michigan State is going to do anything this year, it will start with the secondary.
The Spartans should be decent up front again after leading the Big Ten in sacks last season. They were also second in the conference in tackles for a loss. Despite losing a few faces, the big boys should be fine again this year. Senior Jacob Slade is back, as is 285-pound sophomore Simeon Barrow.
The linebacking corps will welcome Jacoby Windmon from UNLV to play the middle, and the team’s second-leading tackler Cal Haladay is back. The Spartans also added Mississippi State standout Aaron Brule, who should see a lot of time this year.
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Will the Spartans Win the Big Ten Championship?
The Spartans are a long shot to win the Big Ten Championship this year despite going 11-2 last season. It might be too much to ask for the team to go from dead last in the country in pass defense to a viable contender this year, but stranger things have happened.
Mel Tucker prides himself as a defensive coach, so you know he didn’t take that stat lightly and will be doing everything in his power to ensure it’s not a repeat performance.
There could be some value in taking the Spartans at +2500 or so to win the conference, but with both Ohio State and Michigan standing in their way in the East, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
AP Photo/Jay LaPrete