The last time the Spartans faced the Golden Gophers was 2013, a 14-3 home victory for Michigan State, on their way to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth.
So far this season the two teams are in heading in opposite directions. While the Spartans are off to an unbeaten start in conference play, the Gophers are looking to snap a two-game losing streak to start the Big Ten season.
At first glance these two programs are in vastly different positions from a leadership standpoint, as the Spartans have enjoyed 11 seasons under head coach Mark Dantonio. Meanwhile the Golden Gophers are entering, rather rowing, into a new era with first year head coach P.J. Fleck.
Michigan State has had stability at the top, while Minnesota has changed coaches three times since 2011. How has this affected the recruiting for both programs?
In order to get a good look at the talent that will be on the field when the Spartans and Gophers kickoff on Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network, let’s take a look at the recruiting classes between 2013-2016.
In 2013, Michigan State had the 37th ranked recruiting class according to 247 Sports. A class that included the likes of wide receiver R.J. Shelton (3-star), quarterback Damion Terry (4-star), defensive end Demetrius Cooper (3-star), running back Gerald Holmes (3-star).
While Minnesota had the No. 67 class in 2013 under former head coach Jerry Kill, with current starters tight end Nate Wozniak (3-star) and wide receiver Eric Carter (3-star) a part of this class.
The Spartans jumped nine spots in the rankings in 2014 to 26th in the nation. 2017 NFL Draft picks Malik McDowell (5-star) and Montae Nicholson (4-star) headlined Dantonio’s class.
The Gophers also rose ten spots that year as Kill brought in the 57th ranked class that year. All-Big Ten selection at running back Rodney Smith (3-star) was one of the gems, while 4-star running back Jeff Jones failed to pan out due to legal issues off the field.
The 2015 class for Michigan State is one that may wind up being one of Dantonio’s best. The Spartans came in at No. 23 in the national rankings and included numerous starters on this season’s team including running back L.J. Scott (4-star), quarterback Brian Lewerke (3-star), and twin brothers David Dowell (4-star safety) and Andrew Dowell (3-star).
The year 2015 was a tumultuous season for Minnesota as Kill stepped down as head coach due to medical issues. Replacing him was offensive coordinator Tracy Claeys who first took the job on an interim basis and was later named the head coach. The turnover in coaching may have had an effect on recruits as the Golden Gophers fell back to No. 63 in the rankings. One of the few bright spots from this class was cornerback Antonio Shenault (3-star) who is currently a starter as a junior.
While the Spartans’ star-studded 2016 class was marred by the alleged off-the-field sexual assault scandals that resulted in the dismissal of Josh King, Donnie Corley and Auston Robertson from the program, many contributors have risen from this No. 17 ranked class. Current starting middle linebacker Joe Bachie (3-star), who earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week in last week’s win, could wind up being the gem of this class.
Claeys did an impressive job with his first (and last) full offseason as head coach at Minnesota. The Gophers had the 46th nationally ranked class and rose to the middle of the pack in the Big Ten at No. 8. Four-star linebacker Carter Coughlin out of Eden Prairie, Minnesota is the jewel of this class and is already becoming a playmaker for Fleck’s defense.
As evident from these past recruiting classes, the talent gap between Michigan State and Minnesota is pretty wide. It will take a tremendous effort by the Gophers to pull the upset on Saturday night, as Michigan State comes in as four-point road favorites.
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