MICHIGAN STATE FOOTBALL: Tucker, Spartans Looking for Quick Start to 2023 Season

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Just two years removed from being voted the top coach in the Big Ten Conference, Mel Tucker has to be feeling some heat as Michigan State prepares to open the 2023 season.

Tucker and the Spartans must get off to a quick start to the new season to alleviate some of the heat radiating from East Lansing.

The curtain lifts on the new season Sept. 1 when in-state foe Central Michigan travels to Spartan Stadium (cap. 74,866). Kickoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. as Michigan State looks to secure its fifth straight win over the Chippewas after winning the last meeting 31-20 in 2018. MSU owns an 8-3 lead in the all-time series.

It will be the first of four straight home games for the Spartans, who are celebrating their 100th season of Spartan Stadium, as they look to get the season on the right foot and set the tone for 2023 season.

Richmond (Sept. 9) and Washington (Sept. 16) also visit East Lansing before the Spartans begin conference play on Sept. 23 by playing host to Maryland at Spartan Stadium.

Tucker, who is 18-14 in his first three seasons in East Lansing, begins his fifth season as a head coach with a 23-21 overall record.

After finishing 11-2 during the 2021 season, including a 7-2 record in conference play, MSU managed to win just three of nine conference games last season and finished the year 5-7.

A total of 42 letterwinners return this season to provide Tucker and the Spartans a solid foundation to improve on last year’s finish. Eighteen transfers are also expected to suit up for the Spartans for Friday’s opener.

Most of the experience returning for the Spartans on offense includes five of what could be one of the top fronts in the conference by season’s end.

J.D. Duplain (6-5, 300, grad.), an honorable mention all-conference selection each of the past two seasons, is the most experienced player on the MSU roster. The guard has started 35 games on the left side during his career with the Spartans, including 30 in a row, entering the new season.

He leads a unit up front that returns four other players with starting experience for Michigan State.

Nick Samac (6-4, 300, grad.), who is on the Rimington Award Watch List, anchors the line from his center position and has 22 starts to his credit, while Spencer Brown (6-5, 315, grad.) has started 13 games at right tackle for the Spartans.

Brandon Baldwin (6-7, 315, RS-Jr.) and Geno VanDeMark (6-5, 320, RS-So.) also bring starting experience to the Spartans. They have drawn the starting assignment in four and two starts, respectively, while in an MSU uniform.

The wealth of experience along the offensive line will be critical as the Spartans are expected to audition several different players in the early going of the season at the skill positions.

Noah Kim (6-2, 185, RS-Jr.) is expected to be under center for the Spartans in the opener against CMU on Friday. He saw action in just four games last season and finished the year with 174 passing yards after completing 14 of 19 passes with three of those connections going for touchdowns.

Jalen Berger (6-3, 215, RS-Jr.) and Tre Mosley (6-2, 198, grad.) are the only players returning who put up any significant numbers in 2022. Berger, a running back, rushed for 683 yards on 148 carries (4.6 ypc) and scored six touchdowns for the Spartans. Mosley, meanwhile, caught 35 passes for 359 and scored four TDs for MSU.

The defense, which returns 23 letterwinners from a year ago, will be led by the return of linebacker Cal Haladay (6-1, 230, RS-Jr.). He recorded 120 total tackles, including 11 tackles for loss (1.5 sacks), last season, the most by a Spartans since Greg Jones in 2009 and was voted second-team all-conference in 2022. He led the Big Ten with 10 tackles per game, which ranked him sixth in the nation in that department.

Haladay has 216 career tackles, including 16 tackles for loss and two sacks as a Spartan. He has also intercepted a pair of passes in his career.

The talented Haladay is a candidate for the Butkus Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award this season.

Simeon Barrow (6-3, 290, RS-Jr.) and Aaron Brule (6-2, 240, sixth year) are both expected to provide Haladay with plenty of support on defense this season and solid seasons a year ago. Barrow, a lineman, tallied 40 (18 solo) tackles in 2022, including nine TFLs and four sacks. Brule added 30 (13 solo) tackles from his linebacker position, including 6.5 tackles for loss and matched Barrow with four sacks on the year.

Dre Butler (6-5, 300, RS, Sr., DL) and Semar Melvin (6-0, 175, RS-Jr., CB) are two of the transfers who have made their way to East Lansing and both are expected to see significant playing time.

Butler has started 26 games in his career at Auburn (2020-21) and Liberty (2022). Melvin, meanwhile, spent three seasons at Wisconsin and has two years of eligibility remaining.

2023 Schedule

Sept. 23 MARYLAND (HC)
Sept. 30 at Iowa
Oct. 7 Open Date
Oct. 14 at Rutgers
Oct. 28 at Minnesota
Nov. 11 at Ohio State
Nov. 18 at Indiana
Nov. 24 vs. Penn State (Ford Field – Detroit, Mich.)

2002 Results

(3-6 Big Ten /5-7 Overall)

W-AKRON 52-0
L-at Washington 39-28
L-at Maryland 27-13
L-at Michigan 29-7
W-at Illinois 23-15
L-INDIANA 39-31 (2-OT)

L-at Penn State 35-16