One thing became evidently clear when Michigan State was steamrolled by Ohio State on Dec. 5. The Buckeyes are in a class of their own.
Despite defeating the Big Ten west leader Northwestern the week prior, the difference between the teams atop of their divisions in the Big Ten were night and day and Michigan State’s performance in those two games brought it to light.
Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker, who won a national championship at Ohio State as the defensive backs coach, said that Ohio State is the bar they want to reach.
“Everyone has Ohio State circled on their schedule because it’s considered maybe the best team in the country,” Tucker said before the Ohio State game. “When you come to the Big Ten, you come to Michigan State, you come here because of the caliber of ball you’re going to be able to play.”
After the matchup, Tucker wasn’t exactly pleased with how they measured up.
“I was very disappointed today on how we played,” Tucker said. “We need to do a better job with our guys to get more out of them. We need to figure out how to do that and we need to figure it out quickly because outings like this are not acceptable. I don't care who we’re playing. Even though that was a good team, when I turn on the film, I'm going to be sick with some of the things that we did and some of the plays we left on the field.”
The way Ohio State got to this point of dominance wasn’t by coincidence. In the last 11 years, the Buckeyes have brought in 10 top 10 recruiting classes. Eight of those classes were inside the top five.
That’s the level Coach Tucker wants to reach in recruiting.
That process begins with developing relationships across the country. Not just with high school athletes, but with coaches, athletic directors, and anyone who has close relationships and connections where the talent is at.
“It's a lot about relationships and so we're working hard to build the relationships,” Tucker said. “Not just here in the state, but outside of our state, to be able to get the players that we need to compete to win the Big Ten and get into the playoffs. We do have relationships in our state and we have relationships outside of state, and we continue to build on those things. Everyone is looking to see what's different about Michigan State now than in the past.”
Even if you make all the right moves, the process can fail and you could lose out on a player. So it’s crucial once you get a player, to make sure the job is done.
“Recruiting is fluid, you never know until you know, they’re not signed unless they’re signed,” Tucker said. “We're willing to fight for the guys we want, through the 16th and beyond all the way through to February, all the way until the 11th hour. The hay is never in the barn. We're not adverse to competing and fighting for guys.”
With all of that in mind, it’s clear that the recruiting process is something that takes time, time that Tucker doesn’t prefer to take.
“At some point we will be consistent, and we will be able to play at a higher level, and we will be able to beat good teams,” Tucker said. “I'm looking for that to happen sooner rather than later. Even though there's a certain amount of patience that you have to have in order to build and establish the culture and hammer in the process, there’s a certain amount of patience you have to have, but there's also a high level of urgency and intensity that goes with that. Obviously, days like this only fan the flames. We got to get better faster. I am not about this long term deal; we need to get something done right now.”
The transfer portal is another tool both athletes and coaches are beginning to utilize at a high level. Ohio State found their start at quarterback Justin Fields through the transfer portal after Fields departed Georgia through the portal.
Tucker hopes to find those kinds of gems in the portal to jumpstart the rebuilding process.
“We do have a plan in terms of how we're going to address transfers in the portal as well because the portal is a viable market to better help your team,” Tucker said. We're also aggressively evaluating the portal and who’s available there on a day to day basis. That’s a big part of what we do in recruiting.”
Michigan State will end their season at Maryland on Saturday, and Tucker will continue to evaluate and find the places his team needs to improve through recruiting and the transfer portal.
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