The Michigan State Spartans are 7-0, and quite frankly, not many fans or analysts predicted that would be the case prior to the season starting.
Given MSU’s strong start, several Spartans earned midseason honors on Tuesday, including head coach Mel Tucker, who the Associated Press unanimously voted as Big Ten coach of the first half of the season. The honor was voted on by writers from the AP who cover the conference.
Tucker took a 2-5 team in the shortened 2020 season, transformed the roster by bringing in several instant impact transfers, built the culture and led his team to an undefeated start through seven games in 2021. The recognition is well-deserved.
The AP also voted Michigan State as the Big Ten’s “Most Surprising Team” through the first half of the season.
Michigan State’s Mel Tucker is the unanimous choice as Big Ten coach of the first half of the season by writers from The Associated Press who cover the conference.— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) October 19, 2021
More Big Ten midseason picks from @mitchstacy >> https://t.co/EJskMfDVd7 pic.twitter.com/lHiMQCKuh2
Update: On Thursday, Tucker was also added to the midseason Dodd Trophy watchlist. At the end of the season, the Dodd Trophy — named after legendary coach Bobby Dodd — is awarded to the coach who has not only shown success on the field this season, but also stresses the importance of “scholarship, leadership and integrity” to their team. The winner will be announced at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl during bowl week.
The Midseason #DoddTrophy Watchlist just dropped— The Dodd Trophy (@thedoddtrophy) October 21, 2021
The list features 1️⃣6️⃣ top coaches representing 7️⃣ conferences & 1️⃣ independent team
presented by @PNCBank pic.twitter.com/tP6tI9t6gm
Speaking of instant impact transfers, perhaps no transfer player in the entire country has been a bigger difference-maker than running back Kenneth Walker III, who came to East Lansing from Wake Forest in the offseason. Entering the bye week, Walker leads the nation in total rushing yards with 997 yards, yards after contact with 737 yards and rushing yards per game with a mark of 142.4 yards per contest. Walker has also scored 10 total touchdowns this season, and his nine rushing scores put him in a tie for ninth-most in the country.
For his efforts so far this season, Walker is considered a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He was also named as a midseason All-American by the Associated Press, CBS Sports, ESPN and The Athletic. Additionally, Walker was named as the Big Ten’s “Most Surprising Player,” according to the AP.
Walker hasn’t been the only playmaker on offense for the Spartans, though. Wide receiver Jayden Reed has been known for big plays this season, and is currently tied with Walker for 10th in the FBS, and second-most in the Big Ten, with 1,022 all-purpose yards (146 per game). Reed is one of only two players in the entire country to return two punts for a touchdown this season. He ranks first in the Big Ten with a yards per catch average of 20.8, third in the conference with 512 receiving yards and sixth in the conference with five receiving touchdowns.
Reed earned midseason All-American recognition from CBS Sports and The Athletic.
On the defensive side of the ball, safety Xavier Henderson and defensive end Jacub Panasiuk received midseason All-American honors from the Athletic.
Henderson is the only Spartan to be voted a team captain every week so far, and has started 27 consecutive games for MSU. He leads the team with 60 tackles so far this season, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten, and has also recorded seven tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, a pass break-up and a forced fumble. He also leads all active Spartans with 199 career tackles.
Panasiuk, who has 37 career starts — the most of any active Spartan — has had a really nice start to the season, wreaking havoc in opposing offenses’ backfields. Panasiuk has recorded 5.5 sacks this season, which leads the team and ranks fourth in the Big Ten. Additionally, Panasiuk has recorded 8.5 tackles for loss, which also leads the team and ranks sixth in the conference. In addition to the sacks and tackles for loss, he has 23 tackles, six quarterback hurries, one pass break-up, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Meanwhile, linebacker Cal Haladay made The Athletic’s midseason Freshman All-America team. Haladay, a redshirt freshman, was a surprise starter for the opening game against Northwestern and has since emerged as one of Michigan State’s top defenders. So far this season, Haladay has recorded 48 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, two pass break-ups, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception. The interception was of course a 30-yard pick-six last week against Indiana.