College Football Betting: Michigan State’s Hiring of Mel Tucker Reeks of Desperation
Mark Dantonio proved that you didn’t need top 10 recruiting classes or a high powered offense to be a perennial top 10 program. Under his watch, Michigan State put together a six-year record of 65-16 from 2010-15; a run most programs, including their rivals down the road, would die for. And even after falling flat in 2016 at 3-9, Dantonio rallied the troops the following season for 10 wins including victories over Michigan, Iowa, and Penn State.
But the margin for error shrunk with off-the-field issues and the three most talented programs in the Big Ten within MSU’s division. Sustainability was going to be tricky. Take a look at the trajectory of the last three seasons, straight up, against the spread, and recruiting within the Big Ten.
2019: 7-6 SU, 4-9 ATS
2018: 7-6 SU, 5-8 ATS
2017: 10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS
Big Ten Recruiting Ranking
But the current state and the future of the program are no longer issues for Dantonio who abruptly resigned last week. While it may have came as a shock to some, others felt the move was correlated to alleged recruiting violations that could hamper the program moving forward. There’s also a rumor that he decided to bail because the university hired a search firm and he wasn’t going to have a hand in picking a successor after he finished the 2020 season. If true, that’s a ballsy move for someone not named Swinney or Saban.
Without a head coach, Michigan State had to move fast. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell said no thanks. Dantonio’s former defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi, passed as well. The university then went after Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell who all but said dumpster fires aren’t his thing; this after actually interviewing. And a trustee getting all pouty pants over Fickell’s hard pass makes Michigan State look somehow worse that it already does.
That brings us to who they ended up settling on, and yes, hiring Mel Tucker qualifies as settling. Tucker originally said he was staying at Colorado but after some convincing (i.e. a truckload of money) he was apparently swayed enough to leave for East Lansing.
Tucker posted a very nondescript inaugural season at Colorado. The Buffaloes went 5-7 despite taking advantage of down seasons by Stanford, Washington, and Nebraska. According to Football Outsiders’ F+ rating, the Buffaloes finished 82nd nationally, behind the likes of Liberty, UAB, and Arkansas State. They weren’t bad but weren’t good either; a mediocre program that showed no signs on the surface that Tucker was knocking on the door of taking the program to new heights any time soon. Yes, it was a Year 1 situation, but he’s walking into another one as well with MSU players transferring, recruiting down, and sanctions potentially forthcoming. Not to mention a daunting schedule. Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State are obviously on the slate but so is a trip to BYU as well as a tough draw from the Big Ten West with Iowa and Minnesota. It’s early, but there’s only four games (home games vs. Northwestern, Toledo, Miami-OH, and Rutgers) where the Spartans will be sure-fire favorites.
If Dantonio steps down at the end of last season, regardless of whatever coaching acumen he may or may not have, there’s no way Tucker is a top 10 candidate. In fact, you almost feel bad for him walking into such a volatile situation. Had he stayed at Colorado, there was at least some stability and the potential to take a step forward in Year 2. But $5.5 million per year is something a lot of coaches are more than glad to take, regardless of the situation. It’s just unfortunate Tucker won’t be around to see his contract extended.