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Michigan State Football Inside Top 20 Of ESPN's Future Power Rankings

Mel Tucker's impact on Spartan football is gaining recognition...

Coming off a 2-5 debut season at Michigan State, very few expected head coach Mel Tucker to lead the Spartans to such a vast turnaround one year later in 2021.

Yet, that's exactly what happened, as MSU won 11 games, beat rival Michigan and capped the season with a Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl victory over Pittsburgh.

Now, with the success that Tucker is having on the recruiting trail, Michigan State is beginning to gain national attention, and that continued with ESPN's release of their 2022 future power rankings.

These rankings provide a three-year outlook (2022-2024) for what ESPN considers the Top 25 programs right now in the sport, and are based off the results of previous recent seasons, recruiting rankings and coaching situations.

The Spartans come in ranked No. 18 by ESPN, which feels a little bit low. However, considering Michigan State went unranked in these projections ahead of the 2021 season, and that the Spartans went 16-17 in the three seasons prior to going 11-2 last year, it does make some sense.

Still, there are a lot of reasons for optimism in Spartan football, and Tucker's impact on recruiting, and shaping the roster via the transfer portal, stands above it all.

ESPN's Adam Rittenberg weighed in:

Like Baylor, Michigan State's trajectory changed dramatically in 2021 under a promising second-year coach (Mel Tucker). The Spartans won their first eight games and finished 11-2 with a Peach Bowl championship and a No. 11 final ranking. Tucker received a 10-year, $95 million contract, a financial flex from Michigan State indicating its desire to be a frequent championship contender. After working the transfer portal better than any program in 2021, Michigan State signed the nation's No. 16 recruiting class.

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The Spartans were quite good defending against the run last season, but by now Michigan State fans are well-aware of the struggles the defense had in defending against the pass. Improvement in the secondary ranks as a top priority for Tucker and MSU this fall.

Rittenberg writes:

The next steps are building depth and improving on defense, which seems attainable because of Tucker's background. MSU returns several solid defenders, including safeties Xavier Henderson and Angelo Grose, and linebackers Cal Haladay and Darius Snow. But the Spartans need improved pass coverage after finishing last nationally in pass yards allowed (324.8 YPG). They return four cornerbacks with starting experience last season and add Georgia transfer Ameer Speed to the mix. Senior Ronald Williams likely will start his final season, but Tucker will push competition both at corner and safety, where younger players such as Jaden Mangham could emerge. A better pass rush will help a lot, and MSU turns to Florida transfer Khris Bogle, junior Jeff Pietrowski and others. The interior line projects well with senior Jacob Slade and sophomore Simeon Barrow.

Offensively, Michigan State made great strides in 2021 under the direction of offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, as well as the emergence of quarterback Payton Thorne, who developed into one of the Big Ten's top signal-callers a season ago.

There are concerns with depth along the offensive line, and the loss of running back Kenneth Walker III in the backfield was massive. But the Spartans have the pieces at wide receiver to be able to put up points on the scoreboard.

Rittenberg weighed in on MSU's offensive outlook as well:

Michigan State's offense took a nice step in 2021 and should continue producing, especially with quarterback Payton Thorne around for at least one more season. Thorne quietly set a single-season team record with 27 touchdown passes last year. The Spartans are set up well behind him with sophomore Noah Kim, redshirt freshman Hamp Fay and incoming freshman Katin Houser, an ESPN four-star prospect. Doak Walker Award winner Kenneth Walker III will be missed at running back, and Michigan State hopes transfers Jarek Broussard (Colorado) and Jalen Berger (Wisconsin) offset the production loss, along with young players such as Davion Primm, who stood out this spring. Wide receiver will remain a strength with senior Jayden Reed and junior Tre Mosley leading the 2022 group, along with sophomore Keon Coleman and junior Montorie Foster. Illinois transfer Daniel Barker should lead the tight ends in 2022, and converted wide receiver Maliq Carr will become a bigger factor. Offensive line depth is an immediate concern, as three starters depart. But MSU returns its left side in tackle Jarrett Horst and guard J.D. Duplain. The team also has a 2023 commitment from ESPN 300 guard Johnathan Slack.

In terms of individual areas, ESPN ranks Michigan State at No. 15 in future QB rankings, and No. 18 in future offensive ranking, though the Spartans' defense was not included in ESPN's Top 25 future defense rankings.

Twitter: @mlounsberry_SI