Expectations are high as No. 15 Michigan State hosts West Michigan – NBC Chicago
Expectations high as No. 15 Michigan State hosts West Michigan originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The biggest question for Michigan State No. 15 this season is pretty simple.
How will the Spartans handle the heightened expectations?
There certainly weren’t any for Michigan State last year. The Spartans were unseeded at the start of head coach Mel Tucker’s second year – which followed a COVID-shortened first year – and qualifying for any bowl game would be considered a good season.
All the Spartans did from there was go 11-2, beat the Michigan records, win a New Year’s Six Bowl game by beating Pittsburgh in the Peach Bowl, and help win at Tucker a new 10-year, $95 million contract.
Now, the cost of that success is Michigan State fans expecting as much, if not more, in 2022.
The first test takes place Friday night when Michigan State hosts in-state rival Western Michigan in East Lansing, Michigan.
“The guys work with each other to make sure the guys are doing what they’re supposed to do on the court and off the court as well,” Tucker said. “It’s one of the hardest things to do in my experience with a team. To get guys to step out of their comfort zone and talk to their teammates about what they need to do and how they have to do it on a consistent basis.”
The main reason people think Michigan State won’t fit in 2021 is because they don’t have running back Kenneth Walker, who is now in the NFL after winning the Doak Walker award as a best running back in the country.
Walker has single-handedly carried Michigan State’s offense at times, but there’s still reason for optimism despite his absence.
The Spartans are expected to feature one of the best passing tandems in the country with junior quarterback Payton Thorne (3,240 yards, 27 TDs last year) and senior receiver Jayden Reed (1,026 receiving yards, 10 TDs in 2021) .
Wisconsin transfers Jalen Berger figures to lead a group of running backs who hope to replace Walker’s production with a committee.
Michigan State won 11 games last year despite a porous passing defense, which ranked last in the Big Ten and was among the worst in the nation.
Tucker and the Spartans are hoping some returns to the defensive field with another year of experience and some transfer portal additions in the secondary and at linebacker will make the unit better.
Linebackers Jacoby Windmon (previously at UNLV) and Aaron Brule (Mississippi State), defensive back Ameer Speed (Georgia) and defensive lineman Khris Bogle (Florida) were among those transferred to the Spartans in the offseason.
Michigan State opens against Western Michigan, whose offensive coordinator is Jeff Thorne, the father of Michigan State’s starting quarterback.
The Broncos are coming off an 8-5 season in 2021 and were chosen to finish fourth in MAC West in the preseason poll.
“We’re done talking about each other’s offense and defense,” WMU head coach Tim Lester said after the final practice of fall camp. “We are ready to get to work on the first opponent. We still have a lot of competition at the OL position and at the wide receiver position. We are rotating the guys.”
Western Michigan should have a nice rushing offense this year behind the combination of returnees Sean Tyler and former Michigan State player La’Darius Jefferson, a duo who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 19 combined touchdowns last year.
The Broncos will step into a new quarterback after the graduation of the remarkable Kaleb Eleby and must replace wide Skyy Moore, who was drafted by Kansas City.
Defensively, seven starters return for the Broncos, who haven’t beaten Michigan State since 1919.