April 23, 2024

Michigan’s National Championship Blueprint Provides Hope For MSU

The 2023 college football season could not have gone much worse for Michigan State. The Spartans (4-8 overall, 2-7 Big Ten) failed to qualify for a bowl game for the second consecutive season, finished second-to-last in the Big Ten’s East division and saw their head coach suspended two weeks into the season and later fired in embarrassing fashion.

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Perhaps worst of all, Michigan State had to watch its most-hated rival win a national championship. We’re all aware of the conversations that surrounded Michigan football in 2023 — head coach Jim Harbaugh suspended for (allegedly) lying to NCAA investigators over minor recruiting violations, the sign-stealing scandal which hijacked the college football season, Harbaugh’s second 3-game suspension, etc. Much of Michigan State’s fanbase, rightly or wrongly, will point to those factors to discredit the Wolverines’ accomplishments for the rest of time. But, for a moment, let’s put those things aside and look at what Michigan’s blueprint (and that of national runner-up Washington) means for the Spartans’ football program. For the first nine years of the College Football Playoff, the eventual national champion ranked in the Top 10 of 247Sports’ Team Talent Composite, which measures a team’s total talent based upon the number of five-star, four-star and three-star players that make up their roster. In fact, during those nine years, only two national championships were won by team’s outside of the Top 5 — 2016 Clemson (No. 9) and 2018 Clemson (No. 6). In layman’s terms, this meant that unless a program recruited consistently like a Top 5-10 program, it had virtually no shot at winning (or likely even playing for) a national championship. Prior to 2022, the only exceptions to this rule were 2014 Oregon (national runner-up) and 2015 Clemson (No. 13, national runner-up).

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That rule was broken in 2022 however, when TCU (ranked No. 32 in team talent) played for a national championship. That run by the Horned Frogs was followed up by Michigan (No. 14) playing Washington (No. 26) for the title this past season. For reference, Michigan State ranked No. 27 in team talent in 2023. What does this mean for the Spartans?

Mel Tucker, for all his flaws, proved that MSU can stack Top 25 recruiting classes year-over-year. The jury is still out on whether new head coach Jonathan Smith can match Tucker in talent acquisition, but we know for sure that in terms of coaching and roster development, Smith’s staffs at Oregon State were miles better than Tucker’s at Michigan State. In Corvallis, Smith took rosters ranked No. 49, No. 54 and No. 56 in team talent the last three seasons and had winning records each season, including a 10-3 year in 2022. Smith didn’t recruit at a high level at Oregon State, but he and his staff made up for it by discovering hidden gems and excelling at talent development. That’s a formula that’s also been proven to work at Michigan State. Just ask Mark Dantonio. The winningest head coach in Spartan football history made a career out of plucking overlooked prospects out of Ohio and other talent-rich areas and turning them into All-Big Ten caliber players in East Lansing. Smith’s track record suggests he’ll bring a similar formula of success to MSU.

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While he never won a national championship, Dantonio had a three-year stretch in which he got the Spartans very close. In 2013, prior to the playoff era, Michigan State finished No. 3 in the polls after finishing 13-1 with wins over then-No. 2 Ohio State (34-24) in the Big Ten championship game and then-No. 5 Stanford (24-20) in the Rose Bowl. No. 1 Florida State (13-0) defeated No. 2 Auburn (12-1) for the national title. In 2014, the Spartans finished No. 5 in the polls after an 11-2 season in which they won the Cotton Bowl. In 2015, Michigan State made its only appearance in the four-team College Football Playoff, falling to eventual national champion Alabama and finishing No. 6 in the final polls. That Spartan team which made the CFP was ranked No. 23 in 247Sports’ Team Talent Composite. Michigan State has not won a national championship since 1966 and, if we’re being honest, most believe the Spartans will never win one again. However, has never been closer to proving the doubters wrong than during Dantonio’s incredible stretch from 2013-15.

Being a member of the Big Ten Conference, which alongside the SEC continues to distance itself from the rest of college football, should help MSU recruit at a high level. Smith has shown an ability to develop and win with rosters weaker than the ones he’ll have in East Lansing. Michigan has recruited very well under Harbaugh, but not at an elite level. The Wolverines took very good recruiting classes and developed them into a national contender. Washington hasn’t recruited as well as Michigan or the sport’s elite, but made up for it with outstanding coaching and NFL prospects at quarterback and wide receiver. Does seeing how those two programs reached the national championship game provide hope that Michigan State can do the same? “Yeah, definitely,” Smith said. “That’s where the goal is at, to get [this program] to the highest level. I do think it shows just the quality of play that’s going to be in this Big Ten Conference. Both of those [programs] we’ll be competing against and they’ll be in this conference next year. So, it can be done that way, in regards to developing, knowing that this conference itself is going to be highly, highly competitive.”

Read more at: https://www.sanluisobispo.com/sports/college/article284647970.html#storylink=cpy

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