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Despite success, Michigan State fans uneasy heading into difficult stretch

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Even with an undefeated record and ranking in the top-10, MSU fans aren’t convinced this team is truly elite.

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NCAA. Each week, we send out questions to the most plugged-in Michigan State Spartans fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to join Reacts.

Michigan State has raced out to a 7-0 record for the first time since the 2015 season, and earned a spot in the AP (and Coaches Poll) top-10 rankings. The Spartans have gone on the road to earn upset wins and fought through close games to keep the perfect record intact so far this season. MSU has a true Heisman Trophy candidate in Kenneth Walker III. Head coach Mel Tucker is on every Coach of the Year short list.

But fans still aren’t convinced.

According to a recent SB Nation Reacts survey, Michigan State fans are level headed — to say the least — when looking at the team’s final final five games of the regular season. The results show that 48 percent of the roughly 2,000 fans surveyed said they expect the team to win only three of the final five games, while only 31 percent believe they will win four or more.

The MSU schedule does take a dramatic change heading into Saturday’s game against Michigan. So far, the Spartans have yet to play a team with even a .500 record currently. Ahead of them are two teams ranked in the top-10 (Michigan and Ohio State) and a season-ending game against Penn State.

Of those three games, widely seen as the most important for Michigan State both in the conference title race and nationally, fans again have curbed expectations. Only seven percent of fans believe the team will win all three games, with 43 percent expecting to win two games and another 43 percent voting for only one victory in that stretch.

In line with those results, there is only limited hope among fans that the team will win the Big Ten East, roughly 25 percent of voters think the Spartans will do so. A similar percentage of fans believe the team is a true contender for the College Football Playoff.

If Michigan State is going to surpass those expectations, there are clear areas where improvement can be made. When it comes to things the MSU fan base is worried about, 56 percent of voters said the secondary is the most concerning aspect of the team right now, with another 42 percent picking the offensive line.

Meanwhile, 54 percent of fans said the offensive line improving is the best way to keep Walker on his award-winning trajectory this year. The star running back has been slowed in games against defenses focusing on the run, such as Nebraska and Indiana.

Another way to help Walker return to his explosive ways is opening up the passing game, as 42 percent of fans said that was the key to a strong running game. That result lines up with a majority of fans who believe quarterback Payton Thorne is the most important player if Michigan State is going to have continued success this season.

If Thorne, Walker and Tucker are able to keep this season moving in the right direction, there is another aspect fans may need to deal with. Tucker’s name has already been talked about among analysts as a possibility for the soon-to-be open head coaching job at LSU.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Tigers poached a head coach from Michigan State, hiring away Nick Saban after the 1999 season.

But in this case, MSU fans aren’t worried about history repeating itself. More than two-thirds of fans said they aren’t concerned about the rumors — at least not yet.

Saturday’s game against Michigan is likely to set the tone for the rest of the regular season and things to come over the offseason for the Spartans. A win at Spartan Stadium could recalibrate just about everything in the minds of fans.

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