There is a constant narrative that has been floating around in college football over the past few years. That narrative sounds something like this: “There are only a certain number of elite teams, and nobody else can be elite.”
While the first part of that statement is accurate, the second part of that statement is the furthest thing from the truth. Sure, it’s not easy to gain elite status. Just ask Texas A&M. The Aggies have been recruiting at a high level, but have yet to make their own conference championship game.
However, there is still a path to being among the elite teams. A perfect example of that is Clemson. The Tigers’ head coach, Dabo Swinney, took over a perennial seven-to-nine-win team, and he turned them into a consistent national title contender.
When building an elite program, step one is recruiting. The best teams get the best players from all over the country. Georgia won the national championship last January. If you look at the Bulldogs’ high school recruiting classes from 2018 to 2021, they had 37 players from the state of Georgia and 58 players from states other than Georgia. The Georgia program recruits nationally.
This is exactly what Mel Tucker’s trying to do at Michigan State. In the 2022 signing class, Tucker brought in six players from Michigan and 17 players from outside of Michigan (with wide receiver Germie Bernard officially joining the class in February). In the ongoing 2023 recruiting class, the Spartans have three commitments from players in Michigan and 10 commitments from players outside of Michigan thus far.
Tucker certainly has the blueprint and tools in East Lansing to recruit at a high level nationally. Believe it or not, there is a path for Michigan State to become what is considered an “elite” program. Of course, the perception of what “elite” means could vary based on how each individual fan or pundit thinks, but it means, at the very least, sustained success in the national college football landscape.
Spartan football being elite is great for college football. Here’s why:
First off, it would destroy the aforementioned narrative that the door is already closed to being among the upper echelon in college football. MSU being elite would prove that there is a path for teams that don’t have the history of Ohio State, Alabama or Notre Dame.
Secondly, Tucker’s blueprint for getting there would be the one that many other “second tier” programs throughout the sport like Arkansas, Ole Miss, Oregon, etc could use. If Michigan State can recruit and perform at an elite level, then why can’t those teams as well. As a result, there could be an increase in parity, which has been a complaint by many fans in recent years due to seemingly the same five or six teams rotating College Football Playoff appearances every year.
If I were to ask you to pick any school in the nation to be elite, USC or Texas might come to mind, but Michigan State should be right in the mix because of the effect that Tucker’s recruiting strategy, culture and overall blueprint for building a program would have on the sport as a whole.