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As Fall Camp Begins, Michigan State Football Embraces Raised Expectations

The Spartans aren't shy about stating their goals...

Michigan State is set to kick off fall camp, and while some have tempered expectations for the Spartans heading into the 2022 season, that is far from the attitude coming out of the Duffy Daugherty Football Building.

Head coach Mel Tucker was clear about MSU's goals for this upcoming season: win every game on the schedule, and finish first in the Big Ten Conference.

"We have shifted our culture at Michigan State," Tucker said at the podium during Big Ten Media Days. "It's a culture that is rooted in a relentless mindset in everything we do. 

"Culture is how we live and behave every single day, a culture of accountability, attention to detail, sense of urgency, connection, being authentic, being real, and good old-fashioned hard work. You roll your sleeves up and figure out a way to get the job done."

Michigan State has left its 11-2 record from 2021 in the history books. The head coach and the players don't want to hear about it anymore. All focus and attention is on the road ahead.

“We’re out in the summer working, lifting, running – you know, doing all that, and none of that is for 11-2 in 2021," senior safety Xavier Henderson said. "We’re working for 2022.”

Tucker said that MSU "took a step in the right direction" in 2021 by finishing 11-2 and winning the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. But the head coach has also stated on multiple occasions that 2021 wasn't good enough, and that "nobody cares" what the Spartans did a year ago.

"We just keep chopping wood every single day. Like I said, we've got something to prove," Tucker said. "We're not where we want to be."

There's no denying that a major part of Michigan State's success last season was the fact that Tucker hit a home run in the transfer portal in tailback Kenneth Walker III.

At one point during the 2021 season, College GameDay's David Pollack implied that MSU would have been "at least a three-loss team" without Walker, heading into the Ohio State game. Pollack called Walker "the best player in college football" and backed his campaign for the Heisman Trophy.

With Walker gone, most people expect Michigan State to take a step backward in 2022. But, that doesn't matter to Tucker.

"The voices inside of our building need to be louder than the voices outside the building," the head coach said. "We're staying focused on the task at hand."

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The task at hand is ending a Big Ten title drought that was extended to six years following 2021.

 “We haven’t won the Big Ten championship since 2015, and that’s too long," quarterback Payton Thorne said. "Like coach said, 11-2 last year, that doesn’t put any wins in the win column this year. We’re not carrying any over. We’re 0-0 right now."

As mentioned above, 2021 was a stepping stone for the Spartans. At this time last year, Michigan State hadn't experienced the fruit of their labor yet. Now, after an 11-win season, the Spartans know their process works, and that has set a new standard for the team entering fall camp in 2022.

“I just think there’s a better understanding of what our standards are, and that’s throughout our team – offense, defense, young guys, older guys, transfers," Tucker said. "Guys know what to expect, the players know the level that they need to compete at, day in and day out, within our program. They know what works, they know what doesn’t work.

“I think there’s a better understanding, a broader awareness of what it takes to compete at a high level in this conference. We’re further ahead as a program than we were a year ago, in every facet, including strength and conditioning, and in our overall culture. It’s really strengthening the culture and cementing it, as opposed to building it.”

Thorne said that he's felt a difference among his teammates this offseason as well.

“There’s definitely a different vibe around the facility," the quarterback said. "Last year, we thought we had a good team and, obviously, we did have a pretty good team. Didn’t finish, ultimately, where we wanted to in the end, but this year we have a new standard. So, it’s definitely different this year than it was last [year].”

Michigan State isn't resting on last season's success. Thorne said the players are embracing the new and are ready to test themselves against the best in the country in 2022.

"We have a new team, just as everyone else in the country does," he said. "We got new players, and we lost some players, so we have a new team and we have a good team, I believe. And a team that, our goals are the same as they were last year and our standard is set now.”

Senior wide receiver Jayden Reed summed things up pretty succinctly:

“I want to win a Big Ten championship. I want to win the national title," Reed said. "That’s the whole purpose of all of this, so I’m excited for that.”

Twitter: @mlounsberry_SI