Mark Dantonio built Michigan State into a juggernaut and then allowed the program to forfeit too many gains. A long and fruitful marriage came to an unsatisfying conclusion amid some choppy seas and Mel Tucker was tasked with building trust and victories in East Lansing. A pandemic-altered rookie campaign yielded four losses but two treasured wins: on the road against reviled Michigan and one at home against previously unbeaten Northwestern. Last season was bizarre and the most choose-your-own-adventure to date. The Spartans fanbase, like all the others, happily counted the good stuff and convinced itself the bad didn't count.
Expectations this fall were far below the championship level Dantonio maintained until he didn't. A seven- or eight-win campaign would be a step in the right direction, signaling this gut rehab was far ahead of schedule. Early returns suggest the bar may have been set too low. Tucker's team dismantled Northwestern on the road on the strength of transfer Kenneth Walker III's 264 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Last week, sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne threw four scores himself as the offense racked up 408 first-half yards against a clearly overmatched Youngstown State side as MSU rolled.
Insert all the necessary caveats and skepticism about the competition here. But the numbers and eye test don't lie. This is an incredibly fast and explosive attack with actual weapons. State hung its hat on the running game and winning the line of scrimmage during its brief interlude among the sport's elite. Through two contests they are averaging 299 yards/game and 8.0 yards/carry. Two different players have posted 100-yard efforts. Thorne has been judicious in his decision-making and established a productive rapport with Jayden Reed — evidenced by the duo's 75-yard and 85-yard scoring connection last week. Wideouts Jalen Nailor and Tre Mosley have already exhibited ability to high point the football and move the chains.