The Michigan Wolverines are coming off a Big Ten Championship and an appearance in the College Football Playoff. However, they did have one blemish on their regular season schedule that came from one of their most hated foes, the Michigan State Spartans.
Since taking over in East Lansing, Mel Tucker has turned the program into a contender rather quickly, and the national media is starting to take notice. Both ESPN and The Athletic believe the Spartans have done enough this offseason to be ranked higher than the Wolverines in their admittedly way-too-early assessments.
Mark Schlabach, a senior writer from ESPN has both major programs from Michigan in his top 10. Here is what he wrote about Michigan State which ranks at No. 9:
“After posting the biggest turnaround in school history, the Spartans spent the spring searching for Walker’s replacement and filling in key transfers on defense. Berger has already transferred from Wisconsin, and Broussard, who ran for 1,556 yards the past two seasons at Colorado, is expected to enroll in May. Greene, a Washington State transfer, might be able to help at guard or center. Two other transfers — Windmon (UNLV) and Brule (Mississippi State) — started at inside linebacker in the spring game. Speed, a Georgia transfer, was one of the starting cornerbacks.”
The Wolverines rank just one spot behind at No. 10 and he thinks they have a tougher hill to climb because of some major losses in the roster and coaching staff:
“The Wolverines will have to reload, as well, after losing the heart and soul of the team that won a Big Ten championship and reached a CFP semifinal. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald returned to the Baltimore Ravens, and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis took a job at the University of Miami. New D-coordinator Jesse Minter has many holes to fill. Defensive tackle Mazi Smith was impressive this spring, along with fellow tackle Kris Jenkins and edge rusher Jaylen Harrell. The quarterback battle between returning starter Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy didn’t materialize this spring, as McCarthy didn’t throw in practice because of soreness in his shoulder. Oluwatimi, a transfer from Virginia, was working as the No. 1 center.”
Stewart Mandel from The Athletic echoed much of the same sentiment from Schlabach. Although, he does have the two schools higher on his board. The Spartans moved up one spot to No. 7 in his rankings mostly because he is hopeful they can replace the production of Kenneth Walker III:
“Mel Tucker has used the portal to his benefit again, replacing star RB Kenneth Walker with Wisconsin’s Jalen Berger and Colorado’s Jarek Broussard, the latter a former Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. With QB Payton Thorne and WR Jayden Reed back, it should make for another productive offense. Cornerback was the defense’s downfall in MSU’s two losses last season; Georgia transfer Ameer Speed should help.”
Michigan, once again, is just a single spot behind the Spartans. The defensive production is cause for concern for Mandel after both David Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson left for the NFL:
“The defending Big Ten champions had considerable staff and star turnover, but there’s a lot to like about the offense with QBs Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy, RBs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, WRs Cornelius Johnson and Ronnie Bell and TE Erick All. The defense has a lot more questions, but DT Mazi Smith and CB DJ Turner are proven talents. Sophomore LB Junior Colson came on late last season.”
All signs are pointing to a collision course for these two programs in late October. This game always has a little extra chutzpah behind it, but if both are ranked anywhere near this high, it could be a game for the history books. Let’s face it, it is better for this rivalry if both teams are at this caliber and it certainly appears to be looking that way in 2022.
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