Tomorrow's the big game between MSU and Michigan and I have continually mulled the game over in my head for the last week:
My entire adult life, forty years and change total, the Michigan Wolverines have fielded a generally strong football team, usually contending for a Big Ten title. I can think of only one season in which they were truly mediocre: 1984. That was the year that quarterback Jim Harbaugh broke his arm in the MSU game and was out the rest of the year (see my post, "Spartan Memories Volume 2" below). The Wolvies finished 6-6 that season. Based on Michigan's incredible run of consistent excellence going all the way back to Bump Elliott's last year in '68, it's hard for me to fathom that they are so seemingly AWFUL this year. I continue to be nervous about State's chances in tomorrow's game, but then I remind myself that Michigan lost to a bad MAC team (Toledo) AT HOME! (To put Toledo's mediocrity in perspective, the Rockets have a record of 2-5. The week after defeating the Maize and Blue at the Big Hole...er House, the Rockets were thrashed at Northern Illinois, 38-7. One might argue that the Rockets, still sky-high after their upset of Michigan, were not focused for the Huskies. Keep in mind, however, that Northern Illinois is only 4-3--a good if not great team). It's absolutely amazing to me that Michigan has only two wins this year: a lackluster 16-6 win over Miami of Ohio (who are 2-5 so far) and a come from behind 2-point win over Wisconsin (which, at the time, looked like a big victory over a top 10 team. Wisconsin, however, is now winless in the Big Ten and has an overall record of 3-4).
If Michigan continues to struggle this season, we may finally see how many self-proclaimed "die-hard Michigan fans" are truly "die-hard." The Michigan football followers have no idea how good they have had it for such an astoundingly long period. No other major college football program has had such long-standing success. USC, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Alabama, and Nebraska--to name a few established football powers--have all had lean periods. Nebraska and Notre Dame continue to struggle. Perhaps Rich Rodriguez will get Michigan up and running by next year, but it's certainly also possible that Michigan could face a rough stretch. With Lloyd Carr's retirement, the "Michigan Men" have all been swept away. It's RichRod's show now, and it'll be interesting to see if he really is the guy to lead Michigan to national championship contention, or if he's just a snake oil salesman.
As far as tomorrow's game goes, I won't even bother to make a prediction. When Michigan State is involved, I can't be expected to go with anything but my heart. All I know is that Mark Dantonio is well aware of this game's importance. I just hope that MSU's players can play a smart, methodical game and not get the "deer caught in headlights" problem we've seen too often in the past with MSU teams. The keys to the game will be, as they usually are, eliminating turnovers, smart special teams play, and getting a decent passing game together to open up holes for Ringer. Hoyer needs to play smart. I hope MSU's defense can get pressure on Threet/Sheridan and get those guy(s) to make bad decisions. I'm a little concerned about Minor and McGuffie. If State's defense can at least contain these guys (if not completely stop them), then they should be okay.
Still, I worry. I worry that State should have caught these guys earlier in the year. I worry that Michigan will have finally worked the kinks out. I worry that our past history against the Wolvies will continue to haunt us. But, gosh darnit, all of that has to come to an end eventually, doesn't it? The losing streak in Ann Arbor can't last forever, and today seems to be the perfect day to put it to an end.
I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I'm not nearly as confident of a Spartan victory as a lot of other people. First of all, the game is in Ann Arbor: secondly, I have a feeling MSU is getting a little tired; third, the Spartans never seem to do well when good things are expected of them. For the first time in forty years, they are favored to win this game, and that alone scares me. My fourth and final point is that Michigan knows full well they have no shot against Ohio State this year--a win over Michigan State is much more realistic. The MSU game is their season at this point.
Honestly, I don't even know if I can bring myself to watch the game today. I suffered through the 45-37 overtime loss in 2004, suffered through the 34-31 overtime loss in 2005, didn't even watch the 2006 game because everyone knew what the outcome would be (and the Detroit Tigers were in the playoffs), and then suffered through last year's 28-24 heartbreaker. I may get some yardwork done Saturday afternoon (I have lots of leaves that need to be removed and a lawn that should be mowed before the snow comes). If the Spartans win the game, I'll watch the condensed version next week on the Big Ten Network and actually be able to enjoy it. If they lose, I've saved myself lots of potential heartache and 3 1/2 wasted hours watching the Arrogant Asses celebrate once again at the expense of my Spartans. Call me what you will, but the bottom line is that I love Michigan State too much to watch this game (kind of like how Adrian couldn't bring herself to watch Rocky's fight against Apollo in the first Rocky movie).
Okay, I'm done for now. After all that verbal vomit, I have two words left...Go State!