No respect in the polls: does Mel Tucker have an answer or excuses?

Note: this is another in a series of articles trying to assess and define Mel Tucker’s coaching tenure. In this edition, we take an in depth look at preseason polls, underscored by curious comments from Mel Tucker. I hope you find it informative.

This is Mel Tucker’s 4th season and preseason polls are less than optimistic.

According to predictions from Athlon, CBS, CFN, ESPN, and USA Today (to name just a few), the Spartans are garnering precious little respect because not a single polling service ranks the Spartans within their Top 50.

Think about that…the Spartans are not ranked in the Top 50 by any of the credible polling services yet a bounty of non elite programs supersede the Spartans in the polls.

For example:

  • ESPN ranked 50 teams and the Spartans were not in the Top 50, yet ESPN ranked Coastal Carolina #44, Liberty #46, and James Madison #47.
  • CFN ranked the Spartans #51, while Cincinnati was ranked #43, Boise #46, and Central Florida #49.
  • Meanwhile Athlon Sports ranked the Spartans #52 yet ranked South Alabama #38 and Troy #42.
  • CBS ranked the Spartans #58 yet ranked Tulane #22 and SMU #53.
  • And USA Today ranked 60 teams, yet the Spartans were unlisted and “unranked”, which means at least 60 teams in the country were given more respect than the Spartans, including Texas San Antonio #29 and Toledo #51 (talk about disrespect)!

It’s essentially unanimous, nowhere can you find a polling service which ranks the Spartans in its Top 50 which also means none of the polling services predict the Spartans will finish better than #5 Big Ten East and/or #10 Big Ten overall.


Spartan fans are numb, and Mel Tucker remains a coaching mystery:

This is Mel Tucker’s 4th season, yet where is the progress?

It seems Mel Tucker shifted the transmission into reverse!

It also seems Spartan fans are numb to the decline of Spartan Football under MT, after all, when did you ever think you would see a day when Coastal Carolina, Liberty, James Madison, South Alabama, Texas San Antonio, Toledo, and Troy would garner more national respect than the Spartans?

Of course, Athlon, CBS, CFN, ESPN, and USA Today are just a short list of highly regarded polling services which are casting aspersions at Mel Tucker.

Let’s remember, the dismal rankings shout a message that Mel Tucker has failed to instill confidence that he can correct course after posting a 3-6 Big Ten record last season or after compiling a dismal 12-13 Big Ten record since taking over the Spartans.

The Polling Services of course don’t waste a lot of energy “splitting hairs” by ranking teams projected to finish #25 or worse, yet we can all agree that being ranked #50 (or worse) is a sign of disrespect and such disrespect is decidedly aimed at Mel Tucker and his coaching staff.

The dismal rankings cast aspersions on all facets of Mel Tucker’s coaching staff including deficiencies in recruiting, roster management, player development, play calling and clock management.

So, it’s highly unlikely Mel Tucker will go on a magical winning streak in 2023 because the polls are usually accurate to the 80th percentile given that their rankings are based upon profound number of metrics and a myriad of statistical data.

So, with all the data in hand, the ranking services are clearly making a collective statement they are “unanimously” unimpressed with Mel Tucker, and/or his coaching staff and highly skeptical MT can correct course.

And here are a few metrics that facilitate their rankings.

The Spartans return just 5 Starters from a feeble Offense that averaged less than 95 YPG Rushing in Big Ten competition (#12 out of 14 Big Ten teams) and scored less than 20 PPG (#10).

Meanwhile, the Spartan Defense returns just 6 starters from an equally dismal Defense that yielded nearly 210 Yards per game Rushing in Big Ten competition (#14 out of 14) and yielded nearly 31 PPG (#12).

In other words, it is clear to the pollsters that Mel Tucker’s team yields nearly 115 more Rushing yards per game than it gains, and yields nearly 10 more points per game than it scores, and you don’t have to be a sophisticated pollster to determine that’s a losing proposition.

But does Mel Tucker have answers?


Answers or excuses? A troubling comment by Mel Tucker:

In a recent interview, Mel Tucker commented that several people advised him not to take the Spartans job.

In fact, here is a direct quote from Mel Tucker:

“When this opportunity came up, I had several people tell me do not take that job, you go into the conference eighth or ninth walking in the door and you have no facilities,” (unquote).

Let’s repeat that comment.

“When this opportunity came up, I had several people tell me do not take that job, you go into the conference eighth or ninth walking in the door and you have no facilities,” (unquote).

Given that Mel Tucker is on the proverbial “hot seat” amongst pundits and pollsters after posting 2 losing seasons in 3 years, is he trying to establish a set of excuses?

If Mel Tucker received such advice, then the fact Mel Tucker reiterated that information is beyond curious! After all, Michigan State and its supporters are paying Mel Tucker nearly $10 Mn per year to fix problems, not cite potential problems from anonymous sources.

So, why would Mel Tucker put forth such a comment 3 years after taking the job?

Let’s be honest, citing anonymous sources does not reflect well upon Mel Tucker and does not lend itself to his credibility. In fact, MT’s curious comments sound remarkably like an excuse or an attempt at CYA (you know, that’s an acronym for…cover your rear end).

After all, MT made it sound like taking the Spartans Head Coaching job would entail some long and arduous journey to respectability with little hope of succeeding.

Yet, to their credit, most readers are more than a little suspicious regarding information received from anonymous sources because credibility (or lack thereof) lies with the source.

So, on behalf of Spartan fans everywhere, I want put forth the facts and correct the record, because metrics (numbers and stats) don’t lie, and metrics speak louder than words.


Here are the indisputable facts!

The organization MT inherited from Mark Dantonio was solid and stable and considered by knowledgeable football observers throughout the land to be a formidable football force.

In fact, over 13 seasons, Dantonio’s Big Ten record included three #1 finishes: (2010, 2011 and 2013); two #2 finishes (2014 and 2015), and two #3 finishes (2008 and 2017).

We can also note, Dantonio’s 13-year tenure included:

  • 3 Top 5 AP finishes: 2013, 2014 and 2015
  • 4 Big Ten Division Championships: 2010; 2011; 2013; 2015.
  • 3 Big Ten Championship Game appearances in 2011, 2013 and 2015 while winning the Championship game in 2013 and 2015.
  • 6 Bowl victories including 2014 Rose Bowl
  • Rush Defense ranked Top 10 nationally five times, including #1 (2014, 2018) and #2 (2013, 2017).
    • And for good measure…
  • An invitation to the College Football Playoff in 2015.

And while Coach D’s last 3 years included a slight drop from his championship run, nevertheless he compiled a 16-11 Big Ten record from 2017 to 2019 including two bowl victories, a 10-win season in 2017 and 7 victories in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

So, let’s be clear, it was disingenuous and dishonorable for MT to cite unknown sources who advised him: “…do not take that job”…especially without citing any facts and especially given the impeccable list of achievements bequeathed to Mel Tucker by Mark Dantonio.

After all, the fact Mel Tucker repeated comments from unnamed sources without citing facts essentially disparages the Michigan State program.

Let’s remember, during Mark Dantonio’s last 10 years (2010 to 2019) only two Big Ten teams…just 2…Ohio State and Wisconsin compiled better Big Ten records than Michigan State yet that’s the team Mark Dantonio handed to Mel Tucker.

In fact, the Spartans W/L record from 2010 to 2019 was better than Michigan, better than Penn State and better than Iowa all of which have been to the Big Ten Championship Game. So why would Mel Tucker put forth such a comment from an anonymous source?

Once again, here is what MT said:

“…I had several, several people tell me do not take that job…you go into the conference eighth or ninth walking in the door…,” (unquote).

When Mel Tucker cites “several people” is he referring to recognized authorities such as Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Urban Meyer, Kirby Smart or perhaps Barry Alvarez?

Or, to the contrary, is Mel Tucker referring to head coaches from the likes of Alleghany State and Slippery Rock? After all, sources matter.

So without further ado, let’s dispel MT’s curious comment as nonsensical and unequivocally wrong, yet why did MT make such a comment? And for what reason? Didn’t Mel Tucker check the history of the program he was inheriting?

And let’s also address the fact anonymous sources told Mel Tucker…you have no facilities…” (unquote).

This is still Football and football is not a Country Club sport.

Michigan State has never boasted “Country Club” style amenities such as those at Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M…or the grand amenities at Oregon which are made possible by NIKE Tycoon, Phil Knight.

Good for those schools who indulge their players with luxury amenities such as fancy locker rooms and player lounges, yet most “Elite” players are interested in whether the respective Coaching staffs can get them to the NFL which is the case at Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, or Oregon, or we could also cite Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

So far, not one of Mel Tucker’s recruits have been invited to the NFL Combine yet that’s due to a lack of player development and that is attributable to Mel Tucker and his staff, not due to a lack of fancy locker rooms and lounges.

So, let’s make this point: a fancy Locker Room or Player Lounge has never made a block, made a tackle or scored a Touchdown.

Nevertheless, the Spartans still have impressive facilities and just christened a fancy new Locker Room and Player Lounge, so we are about to see if that will facilitate Mel Tucker posting a winning season.

At any measure, Mel Tucker’s statements should make Spartan fans angry because the entirety of his statement is shameful for a Head Coach being compensated nearly $10 Mn per year while three (3) of his Coordinators fetch more than $1Mn each!


At the bottom line: Mel Tucker is out of time and out of excuses.

This is Mel Tucker’s 4th season; yet he has posted 2 losing seasons in  3 years, so if MT has the capability of consistently competing for championships, then he needs to correct course and demonstrate that ability now.

No more excuses regarding injuries, recruiting, roster depth, portal transfers, lack of facilities and so on because it all comes down to a basic truth: losing doesn’t get better with time and if Mel Tucker and his staff are incapable of building a championship caliber team…or if the job is too big (as anonymous sources warned him)…then maybe he should step aside.

As cited, polling services study a bounty of metrics when ranking more than 130 FBS schools and their accuracy is unprecedented and in that context the polling services are totally skeptical that MT and his coaching staff will finish better than #50 in the land which essentially translates to another losing Big Ten season.

So, if Mel Tucker wants to change the opinion of the skeptics, then he needs to post a winning record against Power 5 opponents and that means the season doesn’t start until the Spartans host #11 Washington on Sat, Sep 16.

With respect to Central Michigan and Richmond which the Spartans host on Sep 1 and Sep 9 respectively, those teams are nothing more than warmup exhibitions.

Let’s be clear, the success of this season does not lie with beating the daylights out of CMU, a MAC team which is ranked #114 in preseason polls, or driving up and down the field and padding the stats vs Richmond which is an FCS school from the Colonial Athletic Association.

After all, last season the Spartans beat the daylights out of Western Michigan and Akron, then lost 7 of their next 10 games to Power 5 opponents.

So, the test for Mel Tucker and his staff lies with posting a winning record vs Power 5 schools, which means 9 teams from the Big Ten plus University of Washington.

Sound easy?

Let’s remember, last season Mel Tucker only beat one team which posted a winning Big Ten record and that was Illinois (5-4) which was still in transition under second year Head Coach, Bret Bielema.

So, the task is tall for MT.

Is Mel Tucker capable of posting a winning record vs ten (10) Power 5 opponents? That means a minimum record of 6-4. The pundits are highly skeptical and history is on their side.

In fact, given 4 years as a Head Coach both at Colorado and Michigan State, MT can only claim one winning season and that was facilitated when Kenneth Walker III chose Michigan State.

But, unless there is another KWIII waiting to get in the game (and a check of the roster says there is no such replacement) then it’s going to be a long, long wait until Mel Tucker enjoys another winning Big Ten season, and Spartan fans will be left waiting and wondering.

We’ll see how patient Spartan fans are by the end of September. If the Spartans go 0-3 vs Washington, Maryland and Iowa, then Alan Haller might need to give away tickets for the remaining home games vs Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State.

At any measure, Spartan fans deserve a team that consistently competes for Big Ten Championships and finishes in the Top 15 nationally each season, not a team predicted to finish #50 or worse.

Relentless? We’ll see. Yet, if Mel Tucker is unable to deliver a winning record this year, then maybe he should step aside.

Thank you for reading.

Dayne Thomas

I always welcome your comments and opinions and of course you can always click to read previous articles and related stories. New readers can also subscribe.