When Bill Parcells coached the New York Giants, he famously said (and I paraphrase): “if you want me to cook dinner then I want to shop for the groceries”.
Metaphorically, Parcells was saying “if you want me to build a champion, then I want to draft the players and build the roster”.
Well, Mel Tucker gets to shop for the groceries and stock the pantry because he controls recruiting at Michigan State, and while we were told MT was a brilliant recruiter and elite developer of talent, we are still awaiting to see the results.
After all, Mel Tucker’s breakout, 11-2 campaign in 2021 was done mostly with recruits acquired compliments of Mark Dantonio including but not limited to the following Offensive players: Payton Thorne, Jayden Reed, Jalen Nailor, Conner Heyward, Trenton Gillison, Matt Carrick, Nick Samac, JD Duplain and Blake Bueter and that’s the short list on offense.
On Defense the list includes Jacub Panasiuk, Matt Allen, Jacob Slade, Jack Camper, Drew Beesley, Michael Dowell, Chase Kline, Tate Hallock, Maverick Hansen, Noah Harvey, Xavier Henderson, etc, etc, etc.
And let’s not forget contributions of Matt Coghlin, whose game winning “Kicks” kept the Spartans in the win column time and time again. Lord knows, the Spartans could have benefitted from Matt Coghlin last season.
So, for everyone who wishes to criticize Mark Dantonio for leaving the shelves bare thereby leaving Mel Tucker scrambling for talent, then I suggest they reevaluate the preceding list, because the list tells us Mark Dantonio left the shelves fairly well stocked because those players formed the backdrop of an 11-2 season and after most of those players moved on, Mel Tucker quickly lost his footing.
Of course, Mel Tucker got Kenneth Walker III, but can anyone cite another “game changing” player acquired by Mel Tucker?
The “early signing period” opened on Dec 21 and closed on Dec 23, yet the Spartans only acquired 15, players which was numerically the smallest recruiting class amongst the top 35 recruiting classes in the country.
In other words, 34 teams, or half of all Power 5 teams had larger recruiting classes than the Spartans.
Keep in mind that a normal recruiting class is usually 22-26 players as partial fulfillment of 85 scholarships max, so 15 recruits is way off the mark.
Of course, it’s a simple proposition: the best players want to play for the best teams and thereby compete for championships, but it would be fair to say recruits were not impressed by the fact Mel Tucker laid an egg last season.
The Spartans closed last season with a 3-6 Big Ten record which tied for #10 Big Ten with Nebraska. Meanwhile College Football News (CFN) ranked the Spartans an unimpressive #48 in the country.
In today’s world, prospective recruits are well versed on the recruiting landscape and they shy from the “recruiting pitch” of enhanced playing time on a losing team.
In fact, 8 players decommitted from Mel Tucker’s recruiting offer as losses mounted last season.
To put the Spartans meager recruiting class into perspective, Alabama recruited 28 players, Georgia 27 and Clemson recruited 26.
Meanwhile within the Big Ten, Maryland recruited 24, Michigan 23, Penn State 22, Ohio State 20, even Nebraska recruited 21.
In terms of hard numbers, 11 teams within the Big Ten acquired more recruits than the Spartans, and the fact Mel Tucker only got 15 recruits doesn’t comport with a teams poised to win a championship.
And let’s remember, Mel Tucker complained about a personnel shortage last season but as Head Coach he alone is responsible for that shortage.
At any measure, as we close out 2022 and look forward to 2023, the best programs, got the best players and they acquired those recruits the old-fashioned way.
Recruiting the old-fashioned way.
High school recruiting is still the most reliable means of acquiring top tier athletes, that means conventional recruiting as opposed to the Transfer Portal.
Conventional recruiting has proven successful because it is a disciplined and diligent 2–3-year process whereby each recruit is evaluated athletically on multiple occasions over several years.
That includes school sponsored “summer camps” commencing in the 10th grade and continues each summer with each recruit living on campus for a week or more each summer.
It also includes, coaches visiting the respective High Schools for personal assessment including “in-home” visits with parents, and concludes with “game day recruiting visits”.
The 2–3-year recruiting process ensures optimum fit and mutual commitment of both parties
So, High School recruiting has been successful in one iteration or another since the advent of modern college football in the 1950’s, consequently it remains the most reliable means of evaluating prospective recruits.
It’s also worth taking another look at recruiting rankings.
Of course, 5-Star athletes are judged as elite while 1- and 2-Star recruits usually fall short of making the roster at Power 5 schools.
Here is another look at viable definitions of the “Star” rankings:
- 5-Star athletes are a rare commodity, yet given their talent and skill, it is not uncommon for 5-Star athletes to become super stars in college and/or the NFL, but 5-Star players frequently come with emotional baggage and therefore difficult to manage: note Malik McDowell.
- 4-Star players are generally the game changers or game breakers. They are generally capable of putting the team on their back and single handedly taking control of a game.
- 3-Star players are fairly described as every down, go to work, “carry the mail” players (in the best sense) who form the glue of every team.
- 1- & 2-Star players on the other hand, usually don’t pass muster at Power 5 schools in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC 12 or SEC.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, yet the recruiting rankings have proven exceedingly reliable over time.
So, if you want to build a champion, then the spotlight shines on 4-Star recruits.
In that context, the Spartans signed nine (9) 4-Star players, which seems meaningful, yet numerically 9 recruits pale in comparison to the best teams in the land.
After all, if you want to compete with the best then you need to recruit with the best, but Mel Tucker’s shopping spree for 4-Star recruits has fallen far short and immediately below is a list of 4-Star recruits acquired by the top teams in the land:
- Georgia 21
- Alabama 20
- Notre Dame 20
- Clemson 18
- Florida 18
- LSU 18
- Ohio State 18
- Oregon 15
- Penn State 14
In total, 16 teams signed more 4-Star players than Michigan State.
Transfer Portal proves unreliable:
Of course, there is a lot of ado about the Transfer Portal, but for the most part the Portal remains unreliable
It would be fair to say the Portal is tantamount to “Spinning the Wheel of Fortune” because athletic evaluation and personal assessment is limited.
The very fact there is no “on campus” evaluation either athletically and/or for personal assessment renders a great amount of “guess work” so the Portal can be fairly described as a “roll of the dice”.
And let’s make this point: highly regarded “college starters” are unlikely to transfer to another school in anticipation of starting over.
Of course, transferring is a viable option if the new school is poised to make a Championship run, yet Mel Tucker’s 12-13 Big Ten record over the past 3 years suggest the Spartans are not poised to make a championship run anytime in the near term.
Prospective transfers are also abundantly aware that Mel Tucker has posted 2 losing seasons in the past 3 years and that’s not exactly alluring
And, for every Joe Burrow, Justin Fields and/or Kenneth Walker III who make their mark after “transferring” to a new school, yet there are literally thousands of Transfer Portal casualties, players who simply fail to make the grade at a new school.
So, conventional recruiting remains the best means of evaluating and acquiring prospective players, yet Mel Tucker only acquired 15 players via conventional recruiting, but opted for 11 players to fill the gaps in the Transfer Portal.
At the bottom line: filling holes via the Transfer Portal is not a viable fix:
Given a shortage of players acquired via conventional recruiting (just 15), Mel Tucker has tried to fill the gaps with 11 players from the Transfer Portal.
But as noted previously, most players acquired via the Transfer Portal are unproven commodities with just 1 or maybe 2 years of eligibility remaining, which means player development becomes incredibly important, but Mel Tucker’s staff have proven conspicuously incapable of developing recruits.
Of course, I am not judge and jury, yet history is the best indicator of future success and yet 6 of 11 players acquired by Mel Tucker via the Transfer Portal come with extraordinarily sketchy credentials.
- Defensive Tackle Dre Butler, a sixth-year transfer from Liberty University by way of Auburn and Independence Community College (Butler has been on a 6 year football journey and Michigan State becomes his 4th school)
- Offensive Lineman Keyshawn Blackstock by way of Coffeyville Community College
- Running back Jaren Mangham by way of South Florida and University of Colorado (Michigan State becomes his third school)
- Tight End, Ademola Faleye by way of Norfolk State (Unranked/No Stars)
- Linebacker Aaron Alexander by way of UMass
- Running Back Nathan Carter by way of UConn
You be the judge regarding the likelihood the preceding players are likely to distinguish themselves in the Big Ten.
Of course, the Spartans acquired 5 other players via the Portal as well, and I will note 4 transferred from Power 5 schools (two from Wisconsin and one each from Florida State and Texas A&M), yet none acquired meaningful playing time or posted impressive stats.
In fact, the most notable player acquired by Mel Tucker via the Transfer Portal was Tunmise Adeleye a 4-Star, D-End from Katy, Texas who was initially signed by Texas A&M in 2021. However, he “Redshirted” in 2021 and only appeared in 3 games in 2022, logging just 6 Tackles…and now he comes to Michigan State with just 6 tackles on his stat sheet.
Meanwhile, Ademola Faleye has the least impressive recruiting credentials. He is a 6’7” unranked (No Star) Tight End from Brockton HS in Brockton, Mass. He was recruited by Norfolk State (FCS) in 2021 and caught 9 passes in 2 years, for 93 yards and just 2 TD’s…and yet he comes to Michigan State from Norfolk State after catching just 9 passes in 2years.
In closing, given the players cited, if Mel Tucker was building a National JUCO contender or building a team to compete in Football Championship Subdivision against the likes of Delaware, New Hampshire or South Dakota State, then we might expect some of the players cited to contribute meaningful “game breaking” contributions, but If Mel Tucker thinks these players will change the trajectory of Spartan Football in the Big Ten against the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State, then he’s sadly mistaken..
Let’s be honest, what is the likelihood that players from Coffeyville Community College, Norfolk State, Liberty, UConn and UMass will become game breaking players in the Big Ten?
All things being equal, that proposition is “fool’s gold”.
Yet, here is what Mel Tucker had to say about his recruiting class: “This class, from top to bottom, is very, very strong,”…“It’s a really good mix of experienced guys and high school guys that all have the potential to be NFL guys.”
All NFL guys! Really?
I could be proven wrong, but that statement doesn’t make any sense, because after 3 years, the sample size is getting larger and Mel Tucker’s recruiting acumen is being proven to be desperately inefficient and not up to Championship standards.
Does Alan Haller simply put this scenario on “auto pilot” and hope the trajectory will self correct, or will Haller sit down for a post season review with MT to seek answers for weak recruiting and lack of development from the coaching staff?
Just like every successful business in the world, benchmarks are the measuring tool, so what benchmarks has Alan Haller set for Mel Tucker to ensure Spartan Football gets back to competing for championships?
Or is Alan Haller simply content to let Spartan Football fly on remote control whereby weak recruiting and #10 finishes in the Big Ten are deemed acceptable?
Thank you for reading and I wish everyone the best of good health, hope, happiness, and peace throughout the New Year!