When the 2012 college football season began, hefty expectations were placed upon the Michigan State Spartan football team. Coming off of back to back 11 win seasons, the Spartans were ranked 13th in the preseason AP poll.
However, the first time I saw that poll, I felt they were a little overrated and ranked a little high. Which to me, in a sense, is a little weird, seeing as for all the years that I have been watching Michigan State play football, I always thought they were somewhat underrated.
But the reason why I thought this was because I just couldn’t see how they would replace all their lost pieces from the year before. They lost arguably the greatest quarterback in school history in Kirk Cousins, as well as receivers BJ Cunningham and Keshawn Martin and defensive lineman Jerel Worthy. All vital pieces in the Spartans’ success over the past couple of seasons.
Nevertheless, after the Spartans opened up the season with wins against Boise State and Central Michigan, it appeared as if this team was going to be alright. Maybe they could live up to the biggest expectations they’ve had in years.
However, what followed after that has been a huge disappointment to Spartan fans from all around. Since they opened up the season 2-0, Michigan State, after winning 15 straight at Spartan Stadium, have lost three games at home. Mixed in with those three home losses have been lackadaisical efforts against lowly Eastern Michigan and Indiana where they played poorly but still managed to squeak out a victory in the end.
That brings us to just over the halfway mark of the season. At this point, Michigan State (4-3, 1-2) is in the midst of a lost season. They have shown that they are nowhere near the type of team that Spartan fans have become accustomed to seeing over the past couple of years.
Nevertheless, this weekend the team will travel to Ann Arbor to take on in-state rival Michigan (4-2, 2-0). The game will serve as a type of gut check game for the Spartans, who in the midst of a disappointing year, can turn their season around with a big statement win against the 23rd ranked Wolverines.
To do so, Michigan State will have to contain one of the nations’ most elusive quarterbacks in Denard Robinson. They’ve done a good job in doing this in the past two years. Last year they held him to just 123 yards passing and 42 yards rushing while the year before Robinson threw three interceptions to the Michigan State defense. Both games resulting in victories for Michigan State.
“I think that Denard is a tremendous football player,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. “He is a central theme in whatever we’ve done defensively to try to and stop him. How we play him, I guess it’s a little bit game planning things, a little bit more technical. But I do know we need to make sure we know where he’s at at all times.”
Michigan State comes into this game having won four straight games against the Wolverines, including last years’ where they won 28-14. This years’ game, however, can serve as what could possibly their biggest game of the season. After all these disappointing losses, a win in this game against their biggest rival would be huge momentum shifter for Michigan State and could get their season going back in the direction they want it to be. Also, a win for the Spartans this year would be a historic one, as it would be a record fifth straight win for them against the Wolverines.
“I think it’s always a pivotal game regardless of what the records are and those types of things,” Dantonio said. “We’ve never backed away from the challenge since we’ve come here. We’ll always maintain that approach. I think it’s a great opportunity, a good rivalry game, good for the state of Michigan, good for college football. So in terms of this time, this year, obviously a win’s a win. They all count one. So it would be very big for us in that respect just in terms of where we’re at.”
And where they’re at, as mentioned before, is 4-3. With five games left in conference play, it’s do or die time for the Spartans. This is the time where they rise to the occasion, save their season and get to a respectable bowl game or limp to the finish line and resort back to the days of the Same Old Spartans of the John L. Smith era. The season is on the line.
Prediction: There is no doubt that Michigan State is the underdog in this game. But with their backs against the wall and it being a rivalry game, Michigan State will come to play and come to play hard. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has failed to do much of anything against the Spartans in the past. In this game, Robinson’s turnover problems will continue as Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell puts the team on his back en route to a 20-17 Michigan State victory.