Once again, Michigan State’s recruiting class ranks poorly at a national level, and once again it may not matter. MSU coach Mark Dantonio, whose highest ever recruiting class ranks at No. 17, has put together a ragtag unit of primarily three-star players who will test their luck in the best division in all of college football. And they just might come out on top.
Dantonio has done the impossible at MSU. It seems that most unsuccessful football programs have one common denominator: poor recruits. Schools such as Rutgers and Purdue need better recruits in order to win, but cannot win unless they get better recruits. It’s a long vicious cycle, which explains why teams who are traditionally bad at football have trouble turning their programs around.
But Dantonio has found a way to break free of this cycle. According to 247Sports, the Spartans’ 2017 class is ranked No. 36 in the nation. This is a discouraging turnaround from 2016’s class, which ranked No. 17. Still, it is not typical for Dantonio’s classes to be ranked this low.
Somehow, amid low-ranked recruits, Dantonio and his staff have achieved success unfamiliar to Spartan football since the 1960’s. Prior to the 2016, anything but forgettable 3-9 season, Dantonio won a Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl and two Big ten Championships along with an appearance in the College Football Playoff in three years of work.
Perhaps this is why few Spartan fans care about their recruiting class that ranks No. 6 in the Big Ten. Dantonio and company have proved time and time again that rankings do not mean anything. Michigan State has proved that they can afford to get recruiting classes ranked outside of the top 25 and finish the year as playoff contender.
However, the Spartans’ 2017 class, which consists of zero five-star players and only four four-stars does raise an interesting question. Can the Spartans win a national championship without more dominating recruits?
There is no question that Dantonio knows how to get the most out of his players. But in order to build a championship roster, there needs to be an initial amount of talent to start out with—just ask Clemson or Alabama. These teams had the perfect combination of talented recruits and a coaching staff that nurtures potential.
Do the Spartans have the talent required to go all the way? If 2015 tells us anything, the answer is no. After all, the Spartans had a big year led by senior quarterback Connor Cook, where they beat Michigan, Ohio State and an undefeated Iowa team in the Big Ten Championship Game only to get blown out by Alabama in the playoff.
As good as the Spartans were, they were still no match for the eventual national champions. They were able to rely on hidden gems such as Jack Conklin and Shilique Calhoun to get to the playoff. But once they got there, it was all too apparent that they were outmatched against a bigger, faster and more talented Alabama team.
Suddenly 2016 comes along, and MSU has almost no hidden gems. Their senior leaders Demetrious Cox, Riley Bullough and Tyler O’Connor played exactly how they were supposed to, if not worse. They showed hardly any yearly improvement that a Dantonio squad is known for.
This is the problem with Michigan State recruiting. It is remarkable that they can make the playoff with a gang of underdogs, but years such as 2015 and 2016 suggest that without sheer talent, MSU will struggle to take that next step as a perennial championship threat.
Only time will tell for certain what Dantonio will achieve at MSU. Perhaps his potential is yet to be seen. Maybe he will win a national championship. But can this happen with MSU’s current hidden gem system? We will see.