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The Only Colors July Q&A (Part I): How would a canceled season affect recruiting? Who starts in the secondary? Is Xavier Tillman returning? And much more

You asked great questions, we answered to the best of our ability.

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NCAA Football: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

We asked you to submit your Michigan State Spartans questions, and we received an overwhelming amount of well-thought out questions. Due to the high volume of these submissions, I will be breaking up the responses into two separate posts in an effort to answer every question. So, if you don’t see your question here, look for the second chapter of this post in the coming days. For now, let’s dive right into Part No. 1.

Disclaimer: I did it again. I went way overboard with some of these answers, so be prepared for some lengthy answers below.

Sean from Illinois asks:

“If there is no fall football, how much does that impact recruiting since players still will not know how the offense runs, coaching style, etc.”

Our answer: This is a very good question. I can’t predict the future, but I would assume Michigan State, and most schools throughout the country who aren’t named Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, LSU, etc., are going to have to find ways to get creative with recruiting if there is no 2020 season and in-person recruiting continues to be shut down. Michigan State has already done this with their “virtual visits” and shiny new graphics that are sent out to recruits. MSU is in a particularly vulnerable position because, as you’ve mentioned, we are yet to see how the new coaching staff employs its personnel packages, calls plays and the overall scheme on offense and defense. There will also be no recent season to base any sort of success on, so the “what have you done for me lately” mindset will have to be thrown out the window. Granted, if there is a 2020 conference-only season, the Spartans are likely going to struggle anyway, so may not be a bad thing.

While there would probably be some negative effects on recruiting if the season were to be completely canceled, I wouldn’t anticipate it being a huge hinderance on the 2022 class and beyond. MSU has already begun recruiting prospects in that cycle, and It’s not much different than what Mel Tucker and the staff are dealing with now for the 2021 group — which admittedly isn’t the strongest class as of yet, but these players who have committed already have not yet seen what the coaching style, scheme, play-calling, etc. at MSU looks like. Some of them haven’t even been able to visit campus yet. Of course, it would be possible to see what Tucker and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson did at Colorado, or what Scottie Hazaelton ran at Kansas State through film sessions or YouTube clips, but it won’t be exactly the same. The one thing the coaching staff has consistently said is that they’re going to base their scheme around the personnel on the roster, and that they’re going to show “multiple” looks. There will need to be a lot of trust between the program and potential recruits, and if the recruits believe what the staff is selling to them, then they will come to East Lansing. Another thing I’ve often been told Tucker, including from people within the program, is that he is extremely real. So he’s going to tell these kids what exactly he’s thinking, how he wants the offense or defense to run, how he plans to use that particular player and if he sees early playing time in their future or not.

So long story short, a canceled season is of course going to cause additional problems, and can affect recruiting to some degree, but I don’t think it is going to derail recruiting momentum or anything like that. I expect the 2022 class to be a stronger one for Tucker and company.

Dersh from Chicago asks:

“How are we all going to keep ourselves entertained this fall?”

Our answer: This is a question I’ve been thinking about often, but I am trying to stay as optimistic as possible. I live and breathe football — I played it all four years in high school; I’ve coached it at the youth level; I’ve watched both college and NFL football since the age of 10 or so; I play fantasy football, I played flag football for years; my wife calls me a walking encyclopedia of football facts and so on. So, I can’t fathom a fall without football, but a canceled or delayed season is looking more and more like not only a possibility, but a probability. Safety comes first, though, and we need to remember these are amateur college athletes, most of which are teenagers or in their early 20s. If their safety isn’t guaranteed, it’s not worth the risk. The LSJ’s Graham Couch had a good piece on the messy ethics and greed behind forcing a season to be played as things currently stand.

I can see a scenario where we have no college football, but we do have NFL football, as those are professional athletes who are paid (and the NFL and the NFLPA have now agreed on a deal to proceed with the 2020 season for now). So, some of you who solely watch the college game may need to jump over to the pros to get your fix.

Also, as managing editor of this site, I am concerned about what the future may hold. Without a football season, it’s going to be a struggle to consistently pump out compelling content and maintain our vibrant, engaged community. I feel like we’ve weathered the storm really well since the pandemic shut sports down in March, but without a football season, we’re going to have to get really creative. Prepare for us to transition into a television and entertainment website or something along those lines. In fact, I’ve already started practicing on our Twitter account:

I’m joking, of course, but we may be in for a very strange fall. So far throughout quarantine I’ve been keeping myself entertained by spending quality time with my wife, writing often, playing video games, doing yard work (which is still no fun), binge-watching shows I’ve already seen 100 times and trying out new ones, and taking up jogging as my gym has remained closed. Maybe other options for entertainment to consider is bringing back board games, spending more time just talking with family and reading. Or maybe learn how to play the guitar through virtual lessons, or whatever instrument of choice.

Gator from Novi, Michigan asks:

“Who do you expect to be the starters in the (defensive) backfield? I have Xavier Henderson (of course), Tre Person, Julian Barnett, and Shakur Brown. What say you?”

Our answer: I agree with you for the most part, but a name you didn’t mention who I expect to nab one of the starting outside cornerback spots is Kalon Gervin. Gervin was a four-star recruit and the 20th-ranked cornerback in the 2018 cycle out of Cass Tech in Detroit. He played in three games as a true freshman and was able to preserve his redshirt. Then in 2019 he played in 10 games and drew the start against Ohio State, playing 158 defensive snaps and recorded eight total tackles last season. He enters his redshirt sophomore season in 2020 as a mostly unproven player, but may have the highest upside in the secondary, along with Barnett.

I expect Barnett, who is making the transition back to defense after spending his true freshman season at wide receiver, to battle it out with Brown for the other outside cornerback spot. All three are going to play (assuming we have a season), and are going to play a lot of snaps, though. I think Barnett makes more sense on the outside as he has much better height and length with his 6-foot-2, 189-pound frame. He should also has the ability to mirror routes after spending so much time running them. It will be interesting to see how exactly the new staff uses Barnett and if he gets any snaps on offense. Brown is smaller in stature at 5-foot-10, 183 pounds and could be an ideal fit in the slot in nickel and dime packages, but also has the skillset to play on the outside as the boundary cornerback.

Henderson is a lock to start at strong safety. After appearing in all 13 games as a true freshman, he entered the starting lineup as a sophomore in 2019 and started every contest last season, recording 83 tackles with five pass breakups and two interceptions. He is the most sure thing in the defensive backfield. As for Person, he seems to be next in line so start at free safety, replacing David Dowell. Safeties coach Mike Tressel praised Person this offseason, and hinted toward him being the frontrunner to start there. Person is undersized as a safety at 5-foot-10 and just 167 pounds, but is experienced having played in 28 career games with four starts at cornerback. He made the switch to safety last season, playing 206 snaps.

So I think it will look like this, but Gervin and Barnett can be interchangeable on the short side or wide side of the field, and Brown could get some outside reps on the boundary:

Field Cornerback: Gervin
Boundary Cornerback: Barnett
Nickelback: Brown
Free Safety: Person
Strong Safety: Henderson

MEH from Rapid City, South Dakota asks:

“Why is it that athletes feel they deserve more pay and benefits for playing and wearing a helmet when turning pro than any veteran who wears a helmet and sacrifices life, limb, blood and family.”

Our answer: First of all, if you’re a veteran, from the bottom of my heart thank you for your service, and thank you to all who have served or are currently serving. I’ve long thought that those who have enlisted in the active duty military, along with first responders, who risk their lives every day should be compensated much higher than what they are actually paid (although, obviously it varies based on rank and experience). To answer your question, though, and I think you probably already know the answer, it all comes down to revenue. The NFL and NCAA (and NBA, NHL, MLB, etc.) are multi-billion dollar industries, and the players are directly responsible for bringing fans into the seats and generating gate revenue/ticket sales (although not in 2020), endorsement/advertisement deals, jersey/merchandising sales, etc. I know the amount of money professional athletes make to play a sport is something the common person like myself could never comprehend — I about fell about of my chair when I saw Patrick Mahomes’ new deal — but it is what it is.

Television and marketing deals are usually the biggest piece of the pie for these leagues (the NCAA made $867.53 million from this alone in 2019), which again is a direct impact of the entertainment value on the field, which the players provide. This is also why you are seeing a big push from college athletes and those who support them for Name, Image and Likeness legislation for amateur athlete, as the NCAA has been profiting billions of dollars off of them for years (granted these players are have gotten their education, room & board, meals, etc., paid for, which certainly isn’t free). While the NCAA is now seemingly more open to allowing this, they are pushing back with restrictions and “guardrails.” It definitely seems to be trending toward compensation for NIL in some degree, but who knows how it will shake out at this point.

MSUFrank from Lansing, Michigan asks:

IF we were playing a normal football schedule this year. My minimum expectations for Tucker’s first year would have been 6-plus victory, a bowl game and beat UM. I’m not saying that was possible, it was just my minimum expectations to say it was a good first season and the future is bright. Mark Dantonio unexpectedly earned a bowl game his first season. Am I being in reasonable in my expectations?”

Our answer: I don’t think you’re too off base, Frank, but I would not expect a win against Michigan this season — the talent gap is too wide at this current juncture. Granted, anything could happen in that rivalry game. Had the original regular schedule been played, I thought Michigan State had an absolute ceiling of seven wins, with a floor of probably four wins. But the consensus from the fanbase seemed to be right about six wins, and if so, a low-level December bowl game would have definitely been in reach. Now with a conference-only season ahead, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Spartans only get three or four victories in the 10 games played. I know the height of Dantonio’s tenure made the Spartan faithful raise expectations every single year, and we will forever love him for what he accomplished in East Lansing (he deserves a statue). However the on-field play was trending downward over the past two seasons, play-calling was atrocious and recruiting took a hit. MSU is currently far behind other Big Ten programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin.

I don’t think Dantonio left the cupboard completely bare for Tucker, but I think we need to understand that MSU is now entering somewhat of a rebuild and it is going to take time before we see any level of success. So I don’t think six wins was out of the question, but I would have expected them to come against the lower level competition: Northwestern, Toledo, Rutgers and Maryland, with tossups against Miami (FL)., BYU and Indiana. We will not get a chance to find out.

Mike Coon from Sand Creek, Michigan asks:

“Will Xavier Tillman be back this fall?”

Our answer: Well, we will find out soon, as the Aug. 3 NBA Draft withdrawal deadline nears. There were recent rumors that Tillman would in fact be returning for his senior season, but he quickly threw water on that via Instagram with a cute photo of his son:

Xavier Tillman/Instagram

Tillman has been torn on what to do, and unfortunately for him, it’s a very unusual year for draft prospects due to the coronavirus threat. So Tillman wasn’t able to compete in the NBA Combine (which was postponed), meet with teams face-to-face or attend private workouts, and has had to rely on virtual meetings to make an impression. The draft itself was also delayed and is now scheduled for Friday, Oct. 16. Tom Izzo has said throughout the offseason that Tillman is pretty split on his decision and that Izzo isn’t quite sure what Tillman should do, either, because the process is so different in 2020, and it makes it much harder to decide what the right thing to do is when you’re not getting the proper feedback and evaluation you would in a normal year. Izzo has basically said (I’m paraphrasing here) if Tillman has a guarantee from a team, he should of course go to the league, and if he doesn’t it may be best to return to school.

There are risks to going to the NBA, where Tillman might not get drafted and might not catch onto a team, and then is already out of luck on his NBA endeavors. However, there are risks to coming back to college, too, where the season could be delayed or canceled. He’s in tough spot. Personally, I think Tillman would be a second-round pick, and possibly even a late first-rounder. He has also already graduated and earned his degree, so there is nothing tying him back to the university in regards to academics. So, my guess is that Tillman stays in the draft and does not return to school, however, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him back, either. Aaron Henry, on the other hand, I fully expect to return to school.

AWD from Woodbridge, Virginia asks:

“Are football team members living on campus being given single rooms to maintain social distancing?”

Our answer: Unless something has changed that I don’t know about, football players living on campus are still rooming together, usually in groups of four, although it could be in groups of two or three depending on the situation. If one of the athletes tests positive, the other roommates who live with that person are also forced to go into a two-week isolation period out of precaution. Most recently, a staffer tested positive for COVID-19, which has now put workouts on hold. Prior to that, three Michigan State athletes tested positive for the virus in that round of testing, and it was reported that three additional roommates also had to go into quarantine for safety reasons. It was not disclosed what sport the athletes played, but none of the three had taken part in offseason workouts yet. The athletics department may have to consider things like single rooms or having no more than two players live together, but it’s likely a matter of dorm availability that would make that difficult to pull off.

Michigan State recently announced its campus-wide plans for maintaining the coronavirus pandemic for the fall. Akers Hall will be the designated isolation housing for students who test positive for COVID-19. Those students must self isolate there or head home until tests results are returned. Additionally, the university announced it will redesign shared, communal spaces such as laundry rooms and study rooms, to allow for social distancing requirements of keeping students at least six-feet apart from each other.

Update: The entire Michigan State football team has now entered into a 14-day quarantine period after another staffer and student-athlete tested positive.

There you have it. Again, I don’t have all of the answers, but I hope this was helpful and enlightening. Stay tuned for part two next week.