Can Michigan State make it to .500 in Year 2 under Mel Tucker?

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·Betting analyst
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The most rewarding aspect of sports betting is finding value in the least likely places. Mel Tucker never stood a chance in his first season with the Spartans. Hired in mid-February, recruiting contact was shut down shortly after. Tucker started building his culture, but the results on the field were not up to anyone's expectations. 

The Spartans' 2-5 season came with some small victories. A 27-24 upset of Michigan was the highlight for fans, but there wasn't much else to cheer. Finishing a season thrown together at the last minute was an accomplishment in itself. Tucker's Spartans fought until the end despite being outscored 91-36 in their final two games.

The Michigan State head coach gets a full redo in 2021 with a more traditional offseason. There is good reason to be optimistic about the future, as recruiting has become a top emphasis for the program. 

Tucker hired Saeed Khalif away from the Wisconsin Badgers. His new director of player personnel helped Wisconsin ascend to high as 16th in recruiting from 46th at the start of his tenure. It's up to Tucker to grow confidence within the program by building off last season.

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker speaks during the Big Ten football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium on July 23, 2021. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
Michigan State coach Mel Tucker speaks during the Big Ten football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium on July 23, 2021. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

What does the next step look like for the Spartans?

Michigan State returns nine players from an offense that averaged only 18 points per game, which ranked 116th out of 130th FBS teams. The good news is that Tucker was aggressive in obtaining talent through the transfer portal at the skill positions. 

The WR group is a strength with Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed. Nailor averaged 19.8 yards per catch and will serve as the offense's biggest playmaker. Wake Forest transfer Kenneth Walker adds explosiveness to a running back group that ranked 125th in EPA per rush. They brought in Anthony Russo from Temple to push freshman QB Payton Thorne. Chemistry could be an issue early in the season for the offense but I do expect the unit to show marked improvement.

The defense will have several new faces as Tucker has started to mold the roster into his own. After allowing 35 ppg in 2020, they return three starters to a strong defensive line and added multiple transfers from Power Five programs to bolster the secondary. How quickly they can gel as the Spartans implement a new 4-2-5 scheme will be a big factor in how their season starts.

Strike early when betting on Michigan State

A rebuilding program never has the luxury of circling wins prior to the season. Tucker's Spartans will be out to prove themselves each and every week. 

I do think they have a great opportunity to set the tone for the season in their opening night matchup at Northwestern. The Wildcats just named Hunter Johnson starting QB and only returns four starters to an offense that was 97th in success rate. Michigan State is live as an underdog in this matchup. They are currently +4 underdogs and +155 on the moneyline to win the game outright. It's a revenge game for Northwestern, but I do feel like they are being overvalued by the market based on last season.

Michigan State over 5 wins?

Another betting opportunity with Michigan State is on the win total. Set at five games, the schedule is conducive to at least reaching this number. The Spartans would have to finish 6-6 to cash our bets and finish 4-8 to be graded as a loss. 

If the Spartans upset Northwestern, a 2-0 start to the season is likely with some very favorable opponents left. Western Kentucky, Rutgers, Purdue and Maryland give them four winnable games and a path to 6-6. That level of consistency might be a little too much to ask for a rebuilding team. 

I see Michigan State as a five-win team that grades the wager as void, but I do not think 6-6 is not out of the question. If you are more comfortable in Mel Tucker's second season, the odds are -120 to bet Michigan State over 5 wins. My best bet for the Spartans is +4 opening night at Northwestern.

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