For the Michigan State Spartans, the transfer portal has represented a godsent transactional window for Mel Tucker’s No. 9-ranked unit. Kenneth Walker III’s arrival in East Lansing has represented the new age of player recruitment, and a bell-cow back that has quickly thrown his hat into the Heisman conversation.
Walker’s insertion into a Spartans team that was left with a minimal talent pool has become the poster child for the success Michigan State has enjoyed thus far. Following Mark Dantonio’s departure in 2019 in which talent was scarce, Tucker has quickly transformed the Spartans from a Big Ten bottom-feeder to a top-10 powerhouse, headlined by their most prized acquisition in Walker.
A multi-year starter for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at the onset of his collegiate career, Walker amassed two consecutive 579-yard seasons, highlighted by a 13-touchdown campaign last fall which ultimately drew the attention from a slew of Power Five blue-blood programs. A former 2-star recruit out of Arlington, Tennessee, Walker wasted little time in asserting himself as the lead dog in a backfield crowded for snaps. Along with Harold Joiner, an Auburn transfer, and Jordon Simmons (the Spartans’ lead back in 2020) Walker’s path to the top of the totem pole didn’t come easy.
For players curious about how green the grass is on the other side, spoiler, it usually welcomes more issues and less playing time than what you left at your prior program. But for Walker, it’s been the opposite, resulting in as fruitful a relationship he and Tucker could have hoped for as college football’s leading rusher through seven weeks.
Walker has been “the guy” for the Spartans since his first snaps donning the green and white. Following a season-debut performance against Northwestern in which he totaled 264 yards on the ground and four touchdowns—a dominant performance on all accounts—he’s been flat-out unstoppable in the six weeks since, as his 997 rushing yards (6.6 yards a pop) lead the nation. He’s also totaled 27 rushes of 10-plus yards, and 737 of his 997 rushing yards have come after contact, an attribute to his agility and elite contact balance. And while last week Walker was “limited” to just 84 yards on 23 carries against Indiana and Nebraska held him to just 3.2 yards a carry in late September, his workload has remained consistent, and Spartans offensive coordinator Jay Johnson has continued to feed Walker the rock even when things have become slightly muddy in the backfield.
With a bye this week before a showdown with inter-conference foe and the current No. 6 team in the country in the Michigan Wolverines, the onus on Walker to carry the load offensively will become increasingly paramount if Tucker eyes a spot in the Big Ten championship, or more, come Christmas time. And while his massive performances against Northwestern, Rutgers, and Western Kentucky look good on a box score, his continued progression as one of the country’s premier backs within an offense of new faces—including signal-caller Payton Thorne’s first full year under center and wideout/kick return energy jolt Jayden Reed who Tucker plucked from nearby Western Michigan—could be looked upon as the sole key to the Spartans continued rise among the nation’s elite.
With the exciting wrinkle of NIL deals, coupled with a dog-eat-dog recruiting landscape and a transfer portal that has revolutionized the sport, college football is in a great spot. With a year as up in the air as any when attempting to project the final four come the turn of the New Year, Walker’s addition into a Spartans unit that has enjoyed a breath of fresh air under Tucker has introduced one of the premier ball-carriers the nation has to offer.