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Michigan State Football: Let’s talk about recruiting struggles

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It could be going much better.

Air Force v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Michigan State Spartans fans have (rightfully) been basking in the glory of Tom Izzo and the basketball program’s sudden recruiting resurgence with the recent commitments of all-world prospect, Emoni Bates, and the No. 1 shooting guard in the 2021 class, Max Christie. However, when switching views over to the gridiron, things are looking a lot more bleak.

As of press time, Michigan State and new head coach Mel Tucker have failed to secure a single 2021 commit that ranks in the top 100 of all Big Ten commitments this cycle, based on 247Sports Composite rankings. Schools that MSU has historically out-recruited and out-performed on the field, such as Rutgers, Illinois, Northwestern and Purdue are all represented on the below charts.

In fact, MSU currently ranks dead last out of the 14 Big Ten programs in terms of highest-rated committed player. East Lansing offensive tackle Ethan Boyd is currently the Spartans’ No. 1 player, with a ranking of 663 nationally. MSU is one of only two Big Ten schools (Illinois) that does not yet have a four-star or five-star prospect in the 2021 cycle. Overall, MSU currently ranks 12th out of 14 teams in the conference, in terms of both the 247Sports points system, and average rating. Nationally, Michigan State ranks 58th.

To be fair, there are extremely extenuating circumstances. Recruiting for MSU was also trending downward while Mark Dantonio was still at the helm. When Dantonio decided to retire, that was one day before the official National Signing Day for the 2020 class. Tucker was hired a week later, and immediately tasked with putting a staff together before he could really hit the recruiting trail too hard. That obviously already put him behind schedule. Then throw in a global pandemic, which shut down campuses and put an end to in-person visits with the the coaching staff, and you have quite a predicament.

MSU has gotten creative with this situation with “virtual visits” and recruiting hit its peak in April when the Spartans landed 10 recruits that month and things were looking up. However, recruiting has really slowed down since then. Three-star cornerback Gabe Nealy de-committed from MSU in late May (and since committed to South Florida), and Tucker and company have only landed three commits since April ended, including a punter.

Michigan State still has a chance at a few highly-rated in-state recruits. Belleville four-star linebacker is committing this Friday, and Michigan State made his final four. Unfortunately, all signs are currently pointing toward Buddin picking Penn State. Nothing is a sure thing, but it would be somewhat surprising to see him go with the green and white at this point.

East Lansing’s Andrel Anthony Jr., the top-ranked wide receiver in the state, also recently included Michigan State in his top-four along with Penn State, Michigan and Note Dame. Playing right in the backyard of Spartan Stadium, it is important for Tucker not to let him get away. Recruiting experts have him going green, as 100 percent of his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions show MSU. The same is true for his Rivals FutureCast predictions.

West Bloomfield running back Donovan Edwards and Oak Park offensive/defensive lineman Rayshaun Benny are still high on the priority list for the Spartans, however both players currently seem to be trending toward Michigan, and quite frankly have their pick out of seemingly every major program in the country, so both feel like long shots to become Spartans.

Out of state, three-star safety Jah’von Grigsby could be the next Spartan to commit. The Baton Rogue, Louisiana native is favored to come to East Lansing, but Auburn, Louisville, Kansas and Purdue are also in play. He was expected to commit in late June, but pushed his commitment date back, and posted his top-10 schools yesterday, including Michigan State.

There are also quite a few prospects in New Jersey the Spartans are trying to court. After landing offensive lineman Kevin Wigenton from the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey in April, there are several players from the Garden State to keep an eye on. Two of them are high school teammates in four-star offensive guard Geno VanDeMark and four-star running back Audric Estime (both of whom play at St. Joseph Regional in Montvale, New Jersey). VanDermark recently included MSU in his top-six, while Estime is listed as “warm” toward the Spartans on his 247Sports profile. Rutgers, the home state school, seems to be favored for both prospects at the moment, but MSU appears to be high on their lists as well.

Staying in New Jersey, four-star cornerback Duce Chestnut (Camden) also recently included Michigan State in his top-eight list. Chestnut is listed as the No. 24 cornerback prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Mikai Gbayor, a three-star inside linebacker, is yet another target from New Jersey (Irvington). He has the Spartans in his final list of five.

Mitchell Evans, a three-star tight end out of Ohio, is another name to watch. He also included Michigan State in his recent top-10 list, but the Spartans already have two tight ends committed in the class in Jake Renda and Kameron Allen. Evans was trending toward MSU for the majority of the year, but Notre Dame may have now taken the lead in his recruitment.

Other names to watch:

  • Justin Johnson, three-star (four-star per Rivals), running back, Edwardsville (Illinois) — included MSU in his top-six.
  • Marcus Mbow, three-star, offensive tackle, Wauwatosa East (Wisconsin)
  • Damon Ollison, three-star, outside Archbishop Hoban (Ohio)
  • Michael Myslinski, three-star, center, Bishop Kenny (Florida)

With all of this said, it is important to note that there is still plenty of time left in the cycle, as the early signing period is not until Dec. 16 and the official National Signing Day is not until Feb. 3, 2021. Also, it is much more likely that Tucker finds his stride with the 2022 recruiting class, given all of the circumstances we laid out above. However, it would be nice to land some big recruiting targets in the 2021 cycle.