This past summer, the sportsbooks in Las Vegas set the over/under on wins for Michigan State football at 4.5 for the 2021 season.
Mel Tucker and the Spartans have far exceeded those expectations, doubling that win total already with one regular season game still to play.
Given that context, it would be easy for the Spartans to get complacent, to accept that this season has already been a success, no matter what happens this weekend against Penn State or in their bowl game.
But Tucker isn’t having any of that.
“Hey, this is a great season. No one expected you to do anything.’ That doesn’t register with me and it doesn’t register with our team,” Tucker told the media on Monday. “We’re not playing with the house’s money, so to speak. That’s not our attitude.”
Tucker said he heard the talk before the season that Michigan State wasn’t expected to be bowl eligible, and he’s heard the talk in recent days that – with nine wins – the Spartans already have done enough.
“I talked to them about external expectations,” Tucker said. “Because, if I’m hearing it, I know that they’re hearing it. The expectations that we have here, and that we have had from the beginning, prior to the season starting, was that there were high expectations for us ,internally.”
This is part of the “outside noise” that Tucker wants his players to “block out” on a weekly basis. It’s one of his go-to phrases each week. Whether it’s positive noise or negative noise, the head coach doesn’t want his players buying into it.
“Although the expectations outside of our room were not as high, that doesn’t mean that we’ve done enough,” Tucker said. “We still have more games to play. So, it’s about being the best that we can be and reaching our full potential. And it’s always been that.”
That expected win total of 4.5 games didn’t matter to Michigan State – the Spartans approach has been steady, week in and week out, no matter the opponent in front of them.
“We told them there wasn’t a team on our schedule that we thought we didn’t think that we could beat, and there wasn’t a team on our schedule that we didn’t think could beat us,” Tucker said.
This is the approach that Tucker has to take with his team. No matter what the outside expectations are for the program, there’s a standard inside the building that Tucker and his staff demand to be met.
That’s a healthy approach for the program itself, but those of us outside the program can look at things in a different light.
What Tucker, his staff and the Spartan players have done this season is impressive, not matter how the season closes out. Should Michigan State fall this weekend against Penn State, a 1-3 close to the year would certainly be a disappointment given the 8-0 start, but the evidence of what Tucker is building in East Lansing would still be visible.
That’s a responsible and healthy outlook for fans and media when looking at this 2021 campaign, but only for those of us outside the program.
Tucker and the Spartans have their own standard and expectations to rise to, and they aren’t satisfied with what’s been done yet.