East Lansing — While Michigan State and its coaching staff dial in on Friday’s matchup with Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl, it’s hardly the only thing the Spartans have on their plates.
For coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants — as of now, there have been no changes to that lineup — there will be at least some attention paid to filling out the rest of the 2020 recruiting class.
Last week, Michigan State signed 19 players with another player — running back Jordon Simmons of Powder Springs, Georgia — committed and set to sign in February. But the class won’t end there as Dantonio indicated last week the Spartans could land as many as 24 players before all is said and done.
“I don't know. Just depends,” Dantonio said. “There's a lot of things going on. I mean, in this day and age, what's the number? You don't know what's happening within your own program sometimes. You think you do, but sometimes there's change. That's the world we're living in. I understand that. Don't want that, but sometimes it's inevitable, too.”
The number of players for each class is beginning to become a moving target thanks, in part, to the introduction of the transfer portal. Now in its second year, the portal has made it easier for players to transfer and since the beginning of the season, Michigan State has had seven players from its roster enter the portal, a number that could always increase after the bowl game.
But even without more transfers, Michigan State would still be looking to add a few more players before the traditional signing day in February. Running back is clearly one spot as only three scholarship backs are on the current roster and all three — Elijah Collins, Brandon Wright and Anthony Williams Jr. — are all in the same class.
Securing Simmons will be the primary goal while the Spartans are also pursuing three-star running back Frank Brown out of Houston. In addition to at least another back, Michigan State will also look to bring in another offensive lineman and perhaps a safety or a tight end.
With the advent of the portal, however, teams are now looking beyond the traditional recruiting avenues to add to their roster. Last year, Michigan State brought in wide receiver Jayden Reed, who was a freshman All-American at Western Michigan.
This season, that number could grow as teams become more accustomed to how the portal works.
“We're trying to look at the portal and break it down because there's 2,000 names in there,” Dantonio said. “You’ve got to break it down by position, what year they're at, how many plays they actually played, what's their background? You’ve got all these different questions you have to answer. It becomes difficult to find all the information you need.
“We're going to just look to it as an area in positions of need, sort of go from there, take it step by step. I think this is a new and developing saga. I'll call it a saga, OK? (A) journey.”
The portal is proving to be a two-way street, as well. While it’s a spot to find players, it also opens up opportunities that might not have existed.
With seven scholarship players moving on — linebacker Brandon Bouyer-Randle, tight end Noah Davis, wide receiver Cam Chambers, offensive lineman Dimitri Douglas and running backs Connor Heyward, La’Darius Jefferson and Weston Bridges — it has allowed the Spartans to expand the class.
“We've had some guys go into the transfer portal this year which gives us an opportunity to recruit other guys,” Dantonio said. “This class can possibly be a little bit bigger, which is a positive I think, as you look at the existing situations that are out there relative to whether it's the transfer portal or whatever it is.”
Those situations always seem to be changing and it doesn’t sound like Dantonio and his staff are limiting themselves, indicating they’d even look at a quarterback in the portal. The Spartans have plenty of options as sophomore Rocky Lombardi, redshirt freshman Theo Day and freshman Payton Thorne could all see action in the Pinstripe Bowl while newly signed Noah Kim will also be on campus in the summer.
But, as Dantonio pointed out, things change quickly.
“I think those are conversations that are in-house conversations as we go forward, see what our guys do,” Dantonio said. “Right now we’re focused on trying to watch our quarterbacks during bowl practice, get them ready to play next season. I think they have a huge upside, but they got to play well.”
Michigan State arrived in New York on Monday and held its first Pinstripe Bowl practice on Tuesday at Fordham University.
“It was a good practice,” senior defensive end Kenny Willekes said. “You could tell people came to work today and have the mindset that we want to come out and win this game. I think you saw the leaders leading people and there was good energy. People were flying around and having fun today.”
On Christmas morning the Spartans, as well as Wake Forest, will visit the 9/11 Memorial and One World Observatory before holding a second practice. On Thursday, the team’s head coaches and three players will ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange while other players will take part in a youth clinic at Yankee Stadium.
The day wraps up with a head coaches’ press conference at Yankee Stadium as the Spartans and Demon Deacons make final preparations for Friday’s 3:20 p.m. kickoff.
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
MICHIGAN STATE VS. WAKE FOREST
Kickoff: 3:20 p.m. Friday, Yankee Stadium, New York
TV/radio: ESPN/760 AM
Records: Michigan State 6-6, Wake Forest 8-4
Line: Michigan State by 4.5