Thursday, December 31, 2015

Last post of 2015 (Go Green, Beat Bama edition)

We're about two hours (and change) away from kickoff.

I've gone through my checklist of superstitious pre-game rituals. Yesterday, I walked by the building on North Washington in Lansing that I have arbitrarily bestowed magical properties. I have worked off some nervous energy by running for 5+ kilometers in my neighborhood (while listening to The Drive with Jack Ebling on my headphones). I am wearing my lucky "Gruff Sparty" hoodie (I've worn it during many Michigan State victories).

So I feel I've done my part.

Looking back on this season, and the rocky road it's been with the numerous injuries and the "skin of their teeth" wins--plus the heartbreaking loss to Nebraska that almost sent me over the edge--it's amazing that the Spartans are in this position.

As much as I'd love for MSU to beat Alabama and Nick Saban, all I really ask is that the Spartans give Alabama a game: make it a four quarter game, punch the Tide in the mouth several times, and make them EARN a win (if the Tide indeed win).

Above all, I want to appreciate this moment, win or lose. I know I've said it before, but I never thought I'd live to see Michigan State become a serious contender for a national football championship.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Michigan State/Alabama pre-game post, volume II (and some basketball)

Before I get to tomorrow's football game, let's start with hoops:

I don't know quite how or why, but I stuck with last night's Spartan basketball loss to Iowa all the way until the bitter end. It was easily the worst game our guys have played all season. The struggles last night are due to a variety of reasons. First and foremost, they miss Denzel Valentine...badly. It's not just that Valentine is the team leader in scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals--and arguably the best player in college basketball this season--it's that he is the undisputed leader of the team and makes everyone around him better. Valentine is, as Reggie Jackson once referred to himself, "the straw that stirs the drink." The Spartans were rudderless (or "strawless"?) without him last night.

The amount of lethargy that the Spartans exhibited last night makes me wonder if the death of Tom Izzo's father has effected them. Even Tom Izzo didn't seem to have the same amount of fire that he usually displays. It's natural and expected that Tom would be in mourning right now, and maybe a bit distracted. This could rub off on the players. I don't know this to be fact, but just speculation. In any case, the team should come out with considerably more focus against Minnesota and I'd be surprised if they lost that game.

It looks like Valentine may be able to return for the Big Ten home opener against Illinois, If the Spartans can beat Minnesota and make win two of the three games they play sans Valentine, that is about a good as it could get,

Now on to football:

I'm tired of the hype, I'm tired of listening to all the opinions and punditry, all of the fan trash talk, just bring on the game.

By this point, I'm sure everyone has read or heard the "keys to the game" ad infinitum. Essentially, for Michigan State, it boils down to whether the Spartans can contain--though not necessarily stop--Derrick Henry. (It's not realistic to expect the Spartans to stop the Heisman Trophy winner dead in this tracks for 60 minutes). It's true that a pro-style offense like Alabama's is the best case scenario for MSU's defense. They tend to be much more successful against those type of offenses than the spread, read-option, "throw it all over the field" attacks.

On the offensive side of the ball, will the Spartans be able to run effectively enough to allow Connor Cook and the passing game to be successful? If the Spartans can rush for over 100 yards in the game and at least keep Alabama honest, then that should make Cook's job at least a little easier.

So what would a national championship in football mean to Michigan State? It would be such an incredible achievement that I'm trying hard not to fixate on it. I don't want to be overly disappointed if it doesn't happen.

A national championship for Alabama or Oklahoma would be...well, just another national championship. Business as usual. For Michigan State, it would be a game changer, and the most significant...and improbable...athletic achievement in the school's history. MSU hasn't won a national championship since 1966 (depending on which of the myriad football polls one takes into account),

I'd best not obsess over the possibility of a national championship. There's plenty of time to hash over the ramifications for MSU if and when it happens.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Michigan State/Alabama pre-game post, volume I

With Christmas season upon us, and very little MSU sports action, I've been away from this blog quite a bit since the Big Ten Championship game against Iowa.

But now we're only four days away from the Spartans' College Football Playoff semi-final against the big bad Alabama Crimson Tide.

It's hard not to be reminded of the last time Michigan State played Alabama in football, the shellacking in the 2011 Capital One Bowl. That was one of the most uncompetitive bowl games I've ever seen, and at the time was a clear indication of how far Michigan State had to go to be among the elite programs in the nation.

On New Year's Eve, we will see how far the Spartans have come in the last five years. Obviously, I hope the Spartans beat Alabama, but I don't think it's necessary for MSU to win in order to prove that they belong among the big boys in college football. A hard-fought, close loss should be enough (though clearly a win over Bama would be considerably more satisfying).

I'm going on a limb and declaring that the Spartans are not only more athletically talented than the 2010 team, but they are tougher and more battle-tested. I'd be surprised if they don't battle Alabama all the way to the end, and frankly I wouldn't be shocked if the Spartans won this game. After the wild, crazy, seemingly improbable wins they have had since the 2011 season--and particularly since 2013--I'm finally done doubting this program.

There's been a lot written in these parts lately about Nick Saban: the way he left MSU and peoples' overall impression of the guy. My feelings towards Saban are somewhat ambivalent. Saban took over a Michigan State football program that had become flabby, undisciplined, and lazy (on and off the field) in the last few years of the George Perles regime. Saban cleaned it up, did what he could with scholarship limitations, and finally by his fifth year had enough talent to lead the program to a 9-2 record. Like most everyone in Spartan Nation, I was both angry and despondent when he bailed for LSU when the 1999 season ended. However, as has been pointed out by folks like Jack Ebling, the environment in the MSU administration and athletic department was much different in '99 than it is now. President M. Peter McPherson never did get football, (and neither did his predecessor John DiBiaggio, for that matter).

I won't pretend to know the ins-and-outs of Saban's decision to leave Michigan State. My sense is that it was a combination of factors: McPherson's refusal to give him a raise, Saban growing frustrated with playing second banana to Michigan--and by extension probably believing he'd taken MSU as far as it could go in football. (In fairness to Saban, Michigan under Lloyd Carr was a juggernaut and had won a share of the national championship in 1997, and I'm sure was extremely difficult to compete against in recruiting. When Dantonio took over in 2007, it coincided with the crumbling of the Michigan empire). Saban has been extremely complimentary of Dantonio, acknowledging that his protege has taken MSU further that he ever did.

So now mentor and protege face each other for the second time. We will soon see exactly how far the protege has elevated Michigan State football.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Life (temporarily) without Valentine

My jaw just about hit the floor yesterday when I read that Denzel Valentine will be out for at least two weeks.

At least this happened in December and not in February or March.

Valentine's absence makes tonight's game against Oakland, which was already a difficult game, even more daunting. The Golden Grizzlies will be playing close to their home in Rochester Hills (the game is at the Palace) and will be completely jacked for this game. Oakland is also a damned good basketball team.

There's a real possibility that Michigan State's first basketball loss of the season comes tonight against Oakland.

It'll be interesting to see how MSU responds with Denzel out of the lineup. If MSU does find a way to win tonight, I suspect it'll be an extremely close game: certainly less than ten points and probably less than five.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Northeastern basketball and tree decorating

I'm back from a rather long sabbatical in which I have spent time "recovering" from the wild and woolly football regular season while gearing up for the Cotton Bowl against the big bad Crimson Tide.
Today we have a basketball game, which will tip off about an hour after I post this. The Spartans are on the road to take on what looks to be a dangerous Northeastern team, playing in what is undoubtedly the biggest home game they've ever had.
I will attempt to assist in the decoration of our Christmas tree while the game is on, but we'll have to see how that goes. The closer this game is, the fewer ornaments that will be hung on the tree with care.
Not knowing much about Northeastern other than they were a tournament team last year that almost beat Notre Dame, they can shoot the ball well, and have a big road win against Miami this season, I will predict MSU to pull away late and win 82-72.
And wish me luck on the Yuletide decorating. I'll need it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Eighth annual Treasures From the Spartan Attic Big Ten Football Awards

For the eighth year in a row, I give out my much coveted Big Ten football awards. This is my list, and if I can ever find more time to spend on this blog in the next week or so, I'll elaborate further on why I chose these particular honorees. (Of course, I wrote exactly the same thing last year, and never did get back to "elaborate further").

Most Valuable Player: Connor Cook Michigan State

Best quarterback: Connor Cook, Michigan State

Best running back: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State

Best wide receiver: Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State

Best kicker: Griffin Oakes, Indiana

Best defensive linemen: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

Best linebacker: Joe Schobert, Wisconsin

Best defensive back: Desmond King, Iowa

Best punter: Sam Foltz, Nebraska

Coach of the Year: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Sunday, December 6, 2015

This Spartan football renaissance

In August 2001--I remember the date because it was just a few days before my first son was born--I met up with a group of friends at the Peanut Barrel, one of the best watering holes in East Lansing. At some point during the evening, the subject of Michigan State football was brought up and discussed. The previous season, the Spartans finished 5-6 overall and tied for last place in the Big Ten at 2-6. The 2001 season would see them perform slightly better (7-5 overall, though only 3-5 in conference play, with a win over Fresno State in the fleabag Silicon Valley Classic bowl game). Anyway, the topic of discussion centered on whether MSU should give up the notion of being a viable player in football. The previous spring, Tom Izzo had led the basketball team to its fourth consecutive Big Ten title and third consecutive Final Four while the football program looked stuck in the mud and completely unable to capitalize on its stellar 1999 season (10-2, 6-2 in Big Ten play, win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl). Most of us sitting at that table in the bar agreed that football at MSU may as well be dead, and the school may as well concentrate on what it was good at: basketball.

Looking back now, with MSU in the midst of an amazing football renaissance, it's hard to believe that we ever felt this way. In truth, I don't know if my feelings towards Spartan football were quite that bleak. Even in my darkest hours, I felt that if Michigan State ever got its shit together, it could at least have a program on par with Iowa or Wisconsin: consistently finishing in the neighborhood of 8-4 while challenging for a conference title once every five years. It seemed like a reasonable and realistic expectation.

Never in my wildest imagination could I envision where Mark Dantonio has taken the MSU football program. Five double-digit win seasons in the last six years, three conference titles in six years (with an additional division title thrown in for good measure), four straight bowl wins, and now a spot in the four team College Football Playoff with a shot at a national championship. There are times when I truly feel I need to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming the whole thing up. In fact, this morning I half expected to wake up only to find that I'd imagined MSU's insanely dramatic win over Iowa in the Big Ten championship game.

What a game it was last night. A hard-hitting, defensive, all-out slobber-knocker. In retrospect, I feel a little sheepish about predicting a high scoring 37-30 game. I completely overestimated the impact that artificial turf and a climate controlled indoor environment would have on the game. I thought this would enable both offenses to stretch the field and have big plays. Instead, both defenses brought it with intense fury.

To answer my question of a few days ago, "How good is Iowa?": The answer is, "Very, very good." The Hawkeyes were just as good as I expected and maybe even better. C.J. Beathard is a calm, unflappable quarterback with a great arm and a bright future. Cornerback Desmond King is deserving of his Defensive Back of the Year award, as he and Aaron Burbridge engaged in hand-to-hand combat all night long. I'm happy to hear the Hawkeyes remained in front of Ohio State in the college football playoff rankings and will be headed to the Rose Bowl. They earned it.

Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz's teams have had some classic battles on the gridiron since Dantonio arrived in 2007. Ferentz won their first meeting in 2007, an overtime thriller. Dantonio countered with a 16-13 win in '08 when the Spartans stuffed Shon Greene on a fourth down run. Iowa bounced back in 2009 in what was one of the most painful losses I've ever endured, scoring the winning touchdown on the final play of the game. The teams have played four games since then, with MSU winning in 2011, 2013, and this year--and Iowa winning another gut-wrenching overtime thriller in 2012. The bottom line is that this has been one hell of a compelling series.

The 2015 Big Ten championship game will be a contest that people will talk about for years to come. It was filled with drama. There was what I refer to as the "Immaculate interception" by MSU's Demetrius Cox (ball jarred loose by Riley Bullough's hit on the receiver) in the MSU end zone. It was a huge play that prevented Iowa from scoring a touchdown (or at the very least, a field goal) and potentially taking a 13-3 lead. With the way the defenses were playing last night, a 10-point lead may have been almost insurmountable. When it looked like MSU had seized momentum with a 9-6 lead, C.J. Beathard threw a play-action touchdown bomb that put Iowa up 13-9. And then there was the Spartans' epic 9-plus minute touchdown drive in which MSU slowly squeezed the life out of the Hawkeyes like a boa constrictor killing its prey. When watching MSU sports, I often feel like my heart will leap out of my chest and land pulsing on the carpet in front of my Vizio flat-screen television, and that feeling was especially profound last night when witnessing the game-winning drive.

I am a happy, content Spartan fan today. I am basking in the glow of last night's wonderful win and am not concerned about the tilt with Alabama on December 31. After this whirlwind, roller coaster ride of a regular season, I feel like a three week breather is just what I need.

Friday, December 4, 2015

How good is Iowa? and other thoughts leading to the Big Ten championship game

So how good is Iowa?

That is the question I've been wrestling with as we head towards tomorrow's Big Ten championship game.

The Hawkeyes are undefeated, and that in itself is deserving of respect. They may not do anything particularly spectacular, but they do everything well. They also have about the most balanced offense in college football, averaging about 200 yards passing per game and 203 yards rushing.

Much has been made about Iowa's "weak" schedule, but any team that wins all of its games is deserving of respect, no matter who its opponents have been. Iowa had no choice in its divisional designation, but all the talk is completely overrated concerning how "weak" the Big Ten West is anyway. If one is to take the East/West crossover games as a barometer of the two divisions' strength, they are both completely even. Both divisions finished tied at 7-7 in crossover games--and Iowa won both of its games against the East while Michigan State finished 1-1. Now, it is true that Iowa benefited from not having to play Michigan State, Ohio State, or Michigan. However, the same could be said for MSU, who didn't have to play Iowa, Northwestern, or Wisconsin.

The non-conference schedule is where Michigan State has Iowa beat. All of MSU's non-conference opponents finished the season above .500 and are all headed to bowl games. Two of Iowa's opponents, North Texas and Iowa State, combined for a 4-20 record. Iowa also played an FCS school in Illinois State (who finished 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Redbirds are headed to the FCS playoffs). The best non-conference foe for Iowa was Pittsburgh. The Panthers, bowl-bound, finished 8-4.

But what does any of this stuff really mean anyway? It'll be completely meaningless when the teams kick off tomorrow at approximately 8:17 PM at Lucas Oil Stadium.

I think you can all guess that I'm rooting like crazy for the Spartans to win the Big Ten Conference title tomorrow night. With any big game, I feel the need to prepare for any kind of outcome. I have a feeling that it won't matter what I do to prepare, though. I'll most likely be getting little sleep tomorrow night regardless of the outcome--however it must be said that sleeplessness in victory is much more enjoyable than sleeplessness in defeat.

A victory in tomorrow night's game would vault Michigan State into the college football stratosphere, a rarefied air that Mark Dantonio has been trying to reach since he arrived on campus in late 2006. It's a level of greatness that I never dreamed of seeing in my lifetime.

I need to learn from 2011, though. Even if Michigan State loses tomorrow, it's not the end of the program. It's not the end of the world. At this point, I need to keep in mind that it never makes sense to stew too much over a loss, because often times a big win is just around the corner,

The game tomorrow should be close, but unless Iowa is much better than I or most anyone else thinks (and they may be), I have a feeling MSU will find a way to win this. The college football playoff is a goal this team has been reaching for since last season. The team is healthier than it has been since the Oregon game, and has played its best football in the the three games since the Nebraska debacle. Go ahead and call me a homer, but I'm predicting the Spartans to beat the Hawkeyes in a close game. Michigan State 37, Iowa 30.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Spartans beat Louisville, and I was there!

I had the good fortune and immense pleasure of attending last night's tremendously exciting MSU basketball victory over Louisville. It was the most electric atmosphere I've seen at Breslin since the Spartans' 75-52 in over Michigan on February 13, 2013. The crowd was fully engaged. Part of that has to do with the terrific start this team has had, but another part I'm sure has to do with what a tremendous mood the football team has created. In fact, some of the loudest applause of the night occurred when Connor Cook was shown on camera (he was in attendance) and when highlights clips were played on the scoreboard of Jalen Watts-Jackson's game-winning fumble return against Michigan and Michael Geiger's field goal that beat Ohio State.

The Lousville Cardinals are much better than their #24 ranking. They have tremendous quickness and length. (By the way, is "length" the most overused and annoying basketball term? Let's just say Louisville's players are "frickin' tall"). Like the best Rick Pitino teams, they play a suffocating zone defense and an equally lethal press. If this team doesn't at least make the Sweet Sixteen this season, I'd be surprised. Look for them to cause some havoc in the ACC.

I've given up trying to think of more superlatives to describe the play of Denzel Valentine. The young man has been incredible this season, and made six crucial free throws in the final minutes of the game to seal the win. He makes everyone around him better, and he and Byrn Forbes make the best tandem we may have seen around here since Earvin Johnson and Gregory Kelser. Is that a stretch to say that? I have been know for hyperbole, but I have to say that Valentine and Forbes have an almost telepathic communication that I've not seen since those guys. (Well, come to think of it, Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson seemed to be able to communicate telepathically, as well).

Who, prior to this game, would have ever guessed that Kenny Goins would play 18 minutes and have 13 rebounds? On a night when Matt Costello and Javon Bess struggled, Goins stepped up big to battle Louisville's big men.

Thoroughly excited after the game, I stayed up to watch some of the late Big Ten/ACC Challenge games. Duke was on its way to blowing out Indiana, so I changed the channel to Illinois and Notre Dame, but it was quite clear that Notre Dame was about to win. Finally, I settled on the exciting finish of the Iowa/Florida State game. I surprised myself at how much I wanted the Big Ten to win this challenge, and was quite loudly and vocally rooting for the Hawkeyes and succeeded in keeping certain members of my family awake.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Michigan State 55, Penn State 16

First of all, sorry for yesterday's somewhat disjointed pre-game post. I was in the midst of experiencing my usual jitters and was sort of babbling.

Takeaways from the game: How could I have really doubted that Connor Cook would play on Senior Day? Not only did he play, but he was brilliant, and the offensive line may have had its best game of the season, or close to it. Cook was untouched and may have finished the contest with a completely clean uniform.

My jitters continued through the first half, and only because I knew what was at stake in this game, but looking at the game now, what was there to fear? Yes, Penn State was able to move the ball in the first half--using a particularly effective screen pass that seemingly went for at least nine yards every time Hackenberg threw it--but the Nittany Lions still only came away with 10 points by intermission.

Calmed by a Stella Artois, I did better in the second half. I had also muted the television as the ESPN broadcast crew were irritating. I try not to complain too much about play-by-play announcers, but I swear these guys were waving blue-and-white and scarlet-and-grey pom-poms in the booth.

By the time Jack Allen took time off from the offensive line to run for a 9-yard touchdown, the game officially became a laugher. With MSU up 55-16, the guys in the booth were reduced to talking about Christian Hackenberg's draft status. (I'm still trying to understand where the love affair for Hackenberg comes from. Strong arm? Maybe. "NFL body"? I suppose I can see that. But he has little mobility and I've quite simply never seen him do anything spectacular. Then again, if he had any sort of offensive line to protect him with regularity, perhaps his ability would be more obvious).

Well, real life calls and I need to cut this post short. More later...

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Penn State pre-game post

It's been awhile since I last wrote in this blog. I spent the beginning of the week still basking in the afterglow of the Ohio State win. Listened to some local sports talk radio and watched the Big Ten Network's replay of the game. On Monday evening, my wife and I went to Breslin Center to watch the MSU basketball team clobber Eastern Michigan. By the middle of the week, it was Thanksgiving and an afternoon stuffing my face with food, beer, wine, and champagne while watching the Detroit Lions annihilate the Philadelphia Eagles and the MSU hoopsters run away from Boston College in the second half of their Wooden Legacy tournament game.

This undefeated Michigan State sports week continued last night, as MSU basketball finally put away a pesky Boise State team. I hope that this wonderful week will be topped off with the Spartan football team defeating Penn State today and clinching the Big Ten East division title.

As I write this, I am half-watching the Ohio State/Michigan game and rooting for the Wolverines to lose. The worst case scenario for me is a Michigan win over the Buckeyes and MSU losing to Penn State. That is a complete nightmare scenario and best to not even ponder as it will cause me heart palpitations and sweaty palms.

Honestly though, as long as Michigan State takes care of Penn State, I really don't give a damn who wins the OSU/Michigan game.

As far as today's Penn State game goes, I believe that the Spartans will be fully dialed in. They know what's at stake, and they've been through too much this season to let this game slip through their hands. Put pressure on Christian Hackenberg, who has been sacked 36 times this season with his porous o-line, and make his afternoon hellish. 

Nobody outside of the Duffy Daugherty Football Building knows if Connor Cook will play today. I have a sneaking suspicion that he will not and it'll be up to Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry to run the offense again. If this is so, I just hope they an continue to do what they did last week against Ohio State, and that L.J. Scott, Gerald Holmes, and Delton Williams can build upon what they did in what may be a resurgent MSU running game. I'm putting my green sunglasses on and predicting a 23-10 MSU victory.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Michigan State 17, Ohio State 14

First of all: this isn't the first time, nor will it be the last, that I was dead wrong about a game. I predicted that OSU would win 34-24, completely underestimating the sheer brilliance of MSU's defense, and just the flat-out resilience of the entire Spartan team. Ezekiel Elliott's pouty, sour grapes post-game comments be damned, the best team won today.

I'm writing this with no clear idea of where to start. Maybe the best place to begin is by saying this has to be the best and biggest regular season win of the Dantonio era. It tops this year's Michigan game in importance even if it comes just short in drama. (Though Michael Geiger connecting on a 41-yard field goal on the final play of the game is pretty damned exciting).

Urban Meyer, in almost four years at Ohio State, has exactly two Big Ten losses. Both losses came at the hands of Michigan State. While Meyer has been routinely beating all other Big Ten teams, he's only 2-2 against the Spartans.

If Michigan beats Ohio State next week, and becomes the only conference team not from East Lansing to top the Buckeyes, the Wolverines can thank the Spartans for completely shattering OSU's spirit.

Michigan State won this game without Connor Cook. Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry filled in admirably for Cook, while Gerald Holmes, L.J. Scott, and Delton Williams contributed to a surprisingly effective running game. The Spartans had an astonishing 203 yards on 51 carries. George Perles probably has a gleam in his eye about that stat.

So now, I bask in this win and hope that we all have a big Sparty Party next week after a win over Penn State for the East Division title.

No Connor Cook

No Connor Cook.

This is a tough position to place Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry, playing against Ohio State at the Horseshoe. It may be on the defense to win this one.

Ohio State pre-game post

How good is Ohio State? And what Ohio State team will play today?

Those are the questions I entertain as we near kickoff, which at this point is only about 90 minutes away.

I suspect that the defending national champions and winners of a ridiculous 30 consecutive regular season Big Ten games are a damned good team and will finally reveal themselves today...but this will be their first big test of the season.

The bottom line is that MSU needs to play its best game of the season to win. That means no special teams gaffes, no getting completely burned in the secondary (see: Nebraska game), the front seven needs to put pressure on J.T. Barrett, the running game needs to be better than it's been all year, and the offensive line needs to get a push and finally open up some wholes, and last but not least, Connor Cook needs to play through whatever pain he is feeling and have a big game.

MSU CAN win this game, but I have to lean towards OSU and hope like hell I'm wrong. My gut says Ohio State 34, Michigan State 24. My heart is, of course, with MSU all the way and hoping I'm wrong.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Denzel's November valentine

In my previous basketball post, I neglected to mention Denzel Valentine, and maybe that's because in the Florida Atlantic game, he played exactly as I thought he should: very good. In fact, his quiet efficiency in that game (13 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists) made him easy to overlook.

After Valentine's brilliance in last night's 79-73 win over Kansas (which I am almost ashamed to say I couldn't stay up to watch--but I'm a workin' man), I feel bad that I didn't mention him in that FAU overview post.

Here's some trivia for you: Only two players have ever recorded triple-doubles against Kansas in the ENTIRE history of Jayhawks basketball, and both of those players are Michigan State Spartans. The first was Earvin "Magic" Johnson and the other is Denzel Valentine.

I don't want to overvalue last night's win, because it's still early in the season and a lot can happen between November and March, but it's fair to say that this team's ceiling could be a bit higher than even I thought before the season started.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Basketball in the midst of international tragedy

I don't really want to write about politics in here, but in this case it's really unavoidable.

Yesterday, as everyone knows all too well at this point, Paris, France was devastated by horrific terrorist attacks. The news hit shortly before I headed out to Breslin Center to watch the Spartans open up their basketball season against Florida Atlantic.

I don't know if "cognitive dissonance" is the proper term to describe my feeling at enjoying the trivial pleasure of watching a college basketball game while, across the ocean, one of the world's great metropolises was in the midst of horror. The game suddenly seemed pretty inconsequential, and I found myself periodically checking my phone to catch updates of what was happening in France.

But as far as the game goes, it was enjoyable and a good distraction from what was happening in the "real world." Michigan State will have an exciting team this year, and there is no telling how far they could go. It's not out of the realm of possibility to suggest this could be another Final Four squad.

Here's my Facebook post that I wrote after returning home from the game: "...opening night of the 2015-16 season. Checking my phone at timeouts to find out what was happening in France. I'm enjoying a trivial distraction in Breslin while Paris is suffering through unspeakable horrors. The Spartans should have an exciting team. Newcomers Dayonta Davis and Matt McQuaid will become fan favorites. (In his first official game, Davis had the second highest single game blocked shot total in MSU history. He could be a star player). Matt Costello and TumTum Nairn are poised for breakout seasons. Denzel Valentine looks like he is ready to be the leader in his senior year. Thanks to my bro-in-law Michael for inviting me. Had some great post game beers and burger at Harrison Roadhouse." Lourawls Nairn, Deyonta Davis, and Matt Costello are the players who impressed me the most. Nairn continues to bring non-stop energy to the team and his defense reminds me of Travis Walton. To top it off, he's added a reasonably decent jump shot to his repertoire (though with Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes, and Eron Harris around, Nairn will not likely be asked to shoot much). Deyonta Davis is a freshman, but he certainly does not look like a freshman. He has length, size, and a feel for the game that belies his youth. He's also a shot-blocking machine. Davis will be a fun player to watch this season. Matt Costello came into his own late last season, and the way he played against FAU, there is every indication that he is picking up where he left off.

At this point, my only concern is that old bugaboo, free throw shooting. It was not good last night. Maybe this is just an aberration, and it will be better in future games; but based on what I saw last night, it may still be a problem.

But compared to the problems faced by the people of Paris, my concerns about MSU's free throw shooting are pretty damned inconsequential.

Michigan State 24, Maryland 7: post game reaction

I was a little off on my 41-20 score prediction. I didn't anticipate Connor Cook missing the entire second half, and I underestimated both the ineptitude of Maryland's offense and how well the Spartan defense would play, and despite the obvious shortcomings of the Terrapins' offense, credit must be given to the MSU D for laying the lumber all afternoon.

In a game in which MSU's offense struggled all day, it was Riley Bullough's pick six late in the second quarter that set the tone for the rest of the game. MSU went up 14-7, and as it turned out that was all they needed.

Watching this game was, quite often, about as enjoyable as getting ones teeth cleaned at the dentist, but the Spartans got out with a victory. It remains to be seen if they have enough to beat Ohio State in Columbus, though. That'll be a tall order for the Spartans.

Pre-game post. (Topple the Terps)

Just completed my pre-game 5k run and have a few minutes to write about today's football game against Maryland. I hope the Spartans take out their frustration on the Turtles. I want to see kickoff coverage cleaned up and an adequate performance by the secondary. Maybe a healthier offensive line can establish a respectable running game.

I'll go way out on the furthest tree limb and say the Spartans win this one 41-20.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Headed out to Breslin tonight

I'm heading over to Breslin tonight to see the Spartan basketball team for the first time this season, and I'm looking forward to checking out what should be an exciting team--and I'm finally getting excited about basketball season. Players on the 2015-16 MSU team who particularly intrigue me are as follows: Bryn Forbes (who has reportedly rebuilt his body--much bigger and more muscular--and worked on his defense), Denzel Valentine (it's HIS team now), Dayonta Davis (sounds like a tremendous athlete), Matt McQuaid (I hear he can shoot the lights out), Eron Harris (another great scorer), TumTum Nairn (one of my favorite current players), and Matt Costello (I think he's poised for a breakout season). I may be forgetting some players, but those are the ones to come to mind off the top of my head.

After the Nebraska football mishap, I have avoided most talk about college football and a lot of sports talk radio (with the exception of Jack Ebling's 3-6 PM radio show on WQTX). I think I've finally recovered from the disappointment and am hoping that the Spartans can bounce back tomorrow against Maryland. This is just the type of opponent that MSU could and should be able to exert its will and push around. However, I've been waiting for that to happen all season and it has yet to transpire, so like most of MSU's games this year, it'll probably be a death struggle until the fourth quarter.

Well, it's 5:48 PM and I need to get ready to head out the door. I'll wrap up this brief post and try to get back on here after the game and recap what I saw at the Brez.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Knee-jerk early morning Spartan football insomnia blues

It's past 1:30 AM and I can't sleep.

The focus is on the blown call by the officiating crew that gave Nebraska the game-winning touchdown, but really the game was lost earlier.

The offense is the reason the Spartans were even in a position to win this game in the first place, and the offense should have been given the opportunity to WIN the game in MSU's penultimate possession, but instead the coaching staff got sucked into the standard conservative playcalling that didn't even come close to yielding a first down. To make matters worse, since Nebraska had two timeouts to burn, hardly any time came off the clock anyway.

Perhaps the Spartan coaching staff was under the impression that surely the defense could stop the Huskers with only 55 seconds left in the game and no timeouts left, but the defense had struggled all night. What made them think this would suddenly change?

So while much of the focus is on a blown call--and it was an egregiously terrible call--the Spartans' doom was already at least largely foreshadowed by the Spartans' missed opportunity to ice the game by picking up just one first down.

Anyone who has been following Michigan State football this season with any level of detail knows that this is a flawed team. The chinks in the armor appeared on the first day of training camp when Ed Davis, arguably the team's best linebacker, was lost for the season. Then the secondary took big hits early on when its best cornerback, Vayante Copeland, was lost in the late stages of the Oregon game.

So we have a team with a patched-together secondary and a kickoff coverage unit that has been, at best, mediocre all season. MSU's Swiss cheese defense and spotty special teams combined to keep a highly motivated and spirited Nebraska team in the game. So while we can all rightfully be pissed off about that blown call, it's far from the only reason the Spartans lost.

MSU's faults finally caught up with them, and the coaching staff's unwillingness to place the game in the capable hands of its senior quarterback further hindered the team's chances at a victory.
I hope that the MSU coaching staff learns from this. You have a great quarterback in Connor Cook and receivers like Macgarrett Kings, R.J. Shelton, and Aaron Burbridge who have proven time and time again that they can make big plays. Use them wisely next time.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Just the usual pre-game neurosis

I know Nebraska is only 3-6, but they make me nervous: proud football program with lots of history and tradition, night game in Lincoln, crazy Husker fans. It'll be a tough environment for the Spartans. Getting out of there with a win will be a bigger accomplishment than what they'll probably be given credit for...if they do indeed escape with a victory.

I've gone through my pre-game rituals, which include walking past a building on North Washington Avenue in Lansing which I have, for reasons I can't remember, decided is a "lucky place" that I need to walk by before any big game. I've also completed my traditional pre-game 5 kilometer run through the neighborhood, which I've decided is lucky AND relaxes me before kickoff.

Now, my rational and logical self says that none of this means a hill of beans and has absolutely no impact on the game...but if I didn't do it, I'd feel empty and negligent.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Back to the grind

I've meant to write on this blog earlier, but never got around to it; however, seeing as hardly anybody besides me reads it anyway, it hardly matters.

I enjoyed the MSU football team's off-week. It really couldn't have been timed better: not only was it a great time for the team to heal and get some important players back, but it gave yours truly time to focus on Halloween and catch my breath before the home stretch in November.

Even fans need a breather during the season.

We get back into the grind this Saturday, when the Spartans travel to Lincoln to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Huskers lost last week to lowly Purdue, but they remain a team that can't be taken lightly. Tommy Armstrong--who, at the Big Ten meetings before the season, declared his desire to beat MSU--is back at quarterback. He may still be ailing from turf toe, but I've no doubt he'll bring everything he has on Saturday. To make this game even more dangerous, it's at night and Nebraska is fighting for its postseason life. One more loss and they will not be eligible for a bowl game.

All this said, the Spartans should find a way to win this one. After four consecutive tough games with Nebraska, MSU will not take them lightly--I'm sure of this. I look for the Huskers to hang with the Spartans for about the first three quarters with the Green-and-White pulling away in the fourth quarter. I predict a final score of 38-24.


On Tuesday night, the first college football playoff rankings were released. Michigan State is seventh. I know that many MSU fans are upset about this, but I've neither surprised nor do I care. The bottom line is that the Spartans need to win out to make the playoff. That's all it comes down to. A road win over a wounded (but still dangerous) Nebraska should count some;  a romp over Maryland at home is expected and won't help MSU's resume; but clearly a victory over Ohio State on November 21 will catapult the Spartans into the top four. Then the Spartans will need to beat an improved Penn State on Senior Day in East Lansing and beat whoever the opponent is in the Big Ten title game (probably Iowa). MSU can't afford to stumble at all in its remaining games because there is no way the committee will vote more than one Big Ten team into the playoff, least of all a team like Michigan State with little name recognition.


The Drive with Jack Ebling had former MSU quarterback Bobby McAllister as a guest yesterday. They talked a little about the 1987 Ohio State game in Columbus (a 13-7 MSU victory). That got me to google "Michigan State Ohio State 1987" and, quite miraculously, I discovered that BTN2GO has the game in its archives. I haven't seen the game since it was played in 1987, when I and some college friends wrapped tin foil around TV antennas in order to improve our poor dorm room television reception. About all I remember is that the game was a defensive struggle and a true nail-biter. It was MSU's last major obstacle of the Big Ten season as they marched to the conference title and a Rose Bowl win. I plan on giving a report in this blog after viewing the game for the first time in 28 years.

Friday, October 30, 2015

R.I.P., Eric "The Flea" Allen (1949-2015)

I was saddened yesterday to hear of the passing of a great Spartan running back of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Eric "The Flea" Allen. I knew that he was in poor health, probably the result of brain injuries sustained while a player in the Canadian Football League (along with former CFL player Korey Banks, Allen had filed a $200 million lawsuit against the league).

Eric Allen is probably best known in MSU football lore for his huge game against Purdue on October 30, 1971--exactly 44 years ago today--in which he ran for a then-record 350 yards (on only 29 carries). Duffy Daugherty called it, "the greatest individual performance I've personally ever witnessed." Though the record has since been broken several times over, it's still the single-game MSU rushing record.

Rest in peace, Eric Allen.

Post script (November 2, 2015): In all of the remembrances and obituaries I've read about Eric Allen since his passing, I have yet to read any mention of what he did after his football career ended in 1975. It's almost as if his life ended there. I hope that he had decades of happiness and fulfillment before his health started to deteriorate, but I'm not sure if that happened or not.

Post post script: I found a good obituary for Eric Allen, and he served on the Georgetown (South Carolina) County School District Board from November 2008 to March 2011. I will post the link here, as well as the text from the obituary (since I have no idea how long the link will be valid):

Georgetown sports legend Eric Allen dead at 66

Eric “Bobby” Allen, considered by many to be one of the greatest athletes to ever play in Georgetown County, died Oct. 27 at Tidelands Hospice. He was 66.

In 1966, Allen was a member of a state championship football team with Howard High School, where he graduated in 1968. He went on to set several Big Ten and NCAA records at Michigan State University and was drafted into the NFL by the Baltimore Colts in 1972.

Instead of signing with the Colts, however, Allen chose to play for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.

As good an athlete as Allen was, he was an even better man, according to his friends.
“He had a kind heart,” said Steve Johnson, a teammate of Allen’s on the Howard football team. “He was a dedicated friend. He was someone you would want as a friend.”

“Besides being a friend and teammate, he was an excellent guy,” said Fred Williams, who was an offensive guard on Howard’s 1966 championship team. “I’m going to miss (him) dearly.”
“(Allen) was one of the finest athletes that ever came out of Georgetown,” said Joe Isaac, a friend of Howard’s legendary football coach, Tommy Smith Sr. “He was spectacular, well beyond the average football player.”

Isaac recalled hearing a story that Allen was removed from a scrimmage between Howard and Winyah high schools after scoring a touchdown every time he got his hands on the ball.

“He was an excellent football player, he just had raw talent,” said Billy White, another teammate of Allen’s at Howard. “You could tell he was destined to play (at the next level).”

White replaced Allen at running back for the 1966 state championship game after Allen broke his leg the week before. Allen was so determined to play in the title game that he cut the cast off his leg, White said. When Coach Smith found out, he made him go back to the doctor and have another cast put on.

Smith was friends with legendary Green Bay Coach Vince Lombardi, and the Tigers used a lot of the Packers’ offense. That made Howard players a force to be reckoned with, Williams said.
“Howard High School was about as serious as it gets when it comes to athletics,” Williams said. “We were the real deal.”

Williams called Allen a “character” and said when the Tigers were on the road, Allen would seek out his opponents and tell them not to schedule a “victory” dance after the game, because Howard was going to win.

White said everybody at Howard was proud of Allen when he got accepted to Michigan State.
In fact, Brendon Barber turned down a chance to attend Clemson University to follow Allen to East Lansing, Michigan.

Barber, now a city councilman, said his childhood hero earned the nickname of “Easy” at Michigan State.

“Everything he did on the field, he make it look so easy,” Barber said.
Allen was named an All-America as a senior in 1971, and he rushed for a Big Ten-leading 1,494 yards, a Michigan State record that stood until 1985.

His 1,283 rushing yards in league games set a Big Ten mark, as did his 110 points. He was the first Big Ten player to crack the century mark. Allen broke two NCAA records, four Big Ten marks and nine MSU records in 1971. Against Purdue, he rushed for an NCAA-record 350 yards on 29 carries, a record that stood until 1978. Named the Big Ten’s MVP in 1971, he rushed for 100 or more yards on seven occasions and his 18 touchdowns were school and Big Ten records.

Allen finsihed 10th in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1971.

Career-wise, Allen finished as Michigan State’s all-time leader in rushing attempts (521) and rushing yards (2,654).

But it wasn’t all about football for Allen, who earned undergraduate and graduate and degrees at Michigan State. Academics were just as important, Barber said.

When Allen was playing in Canada, he would return to East Lansing on his days off and tell the Spartans football players that followed him to concentrate on academics and be role models around campus.

During off-seasons, he would visit Michigan to work with young male and female athletes in the East Lansing area.

“As long as you’ve got your education, the athletics would work out,” Barber said Allen would always say.

Allen would also invite Barber over for Sunday dinners – and serve authentic Lowcountry food.
“This will keep you strong,” Allen would tell Barber as he served up home-cooked meals.

Allen’s commitment to education led him to run for school board when he returned home to Georgetown about 10 years ago.

“He was concerned about academics,” Barber said. “He wanted to improve academics and also athletics. He believed the discipline of athletics helped academics.”

Allen served on school board from November of 2008 to March of 2011.

Sherrie Allen, the daughter of Allen’s brother, Phillip, said she didn’t get to see her uncle a lot when he lived in Canada, but when he was around, he liked to talk about football.

“Every time he came it was special,” she said. “We always looked forward to that.”

Sherrie Allen said her uncle had been sick for awhile because of what she termed his football “injuries,” but his death was unexpected.

In June, Allen and Korey Banks, who also played in the CFL, filed a $200 million lawsuit against the league, former commissioner Mark Cohon, Dr. Charles Tator and the Toronto-based Krembil Neuroscience Centre, over concussions.

“The defendants and their agents knew or ought to have known that multiple sub-concussive and concussive blows to the head lead to long-term brain injury,” the lawsuit said. “The defendants knew that football players should stop playing football after receiving their third concussion.”

In addition to his niece and brother, Allen is survived by his mother, Rebecca Allen of Georgetown, a sister, Ruth Naomi Allen of Maryland; and another brother, Nathaniel Allen.

Funeral services will be held Monday, Nov. 2, at 1 p.m. at Bethel AME Church on Georgetown. Burial will follow in Morning Glory Cemetery. Visitation will be Sunday, Nov. 1, from 5-7 p.m. at Walter S. Fraser Memorial Chapel in Georgetown.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Knee-jerk post game reactions (Michigan State 52, Indiana 26)

I'm relaxing on the couch, drinking a glass of wine, sort of watching USC/Utah (having changed channels after it became clear--or at least highly likely--Rutgers will not put up much fight against Ohio State).

My wife and I went to the MSU/Indiana game today. It was my 50th all-time MSU football game (I'm dorky enough to keep track of such statistics). It's probably more games than many, but completely dwarfed by anyone who has had season tickets for several years.

We sat in Section 4, Row 43, Seats 24 and 25; directly behind the small but boisterous Indiana section. The Hoosier faithful made noise throughout the game, but made a mad dash to the exits when the Spartans went up 45-26 late in the 4th quarter.

We saw and experienced about every kind of weather the Great Lakes State has in its arsenal, with the exception of snow. It was warm and partly sunny when the game started, then dark rain clouds moved into East Lansing and it poured for about 20 minutes or so. The storm brought a cold front and we shivered for the remainder of the game (though MSU's 4th quarter scoring barrage got me up, moving around, and slightly warmer).

Overall, it was a fun, albeit long, late afternoon and early evening at Spartan Stadium. Nate Sudfeld and IU's offense were as tricky as I expected, but the Spartan defense played much better in the second half and held the Hoosiers to only six second-half points. MSU was finally able to apply some pressure to Sudfeld and make him less effective.

I don't know what else can be said about Connor Cook. He just might be the very best Spartan quarterback I've ever seen. It's amazing to think how far he's come since replacing an ineffective Andrew Maxwell in the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and then taking over the starting job for good after the 2013 Notre Dame game.

Cook carried the team on his shoulders today, though he was ably assisted by Aaron Burbridge, R.J. Shelton, Macgarrett Kings, L.J. Scott, and Gerald Holmes. Cook came only two yards short of tying Bill Burke's single-game passing record of 400 yards (against Michigan in 1999).
What's most important is that the Spartans survive this game, get the win, and enter a much-needed bye week at 8-0.

Meanwhile, I remain convinced that my "Gruff Sparty" hoodie and my old school "block 'S'" MSU are somehow lucky, and thankful that I made a last-minute decision to buy rain ponchos at Meijer.

Nervous about Indiana

In the immediate aftermath of the Michigan game, while elatedly and euphorically discussing the game with my father, I actually uttered, "everything after this is gravy." In the past, this is the way MSU fans approached the football season AFTER the Michigan game, and this off-the-cuff remark does not really reflect my feelings.

Indiana has me nervous. The Hoosiers' strengths on offense are exactly the Spartans' weaknesses. MSU may have a hard time dealing with Nate Sudfeld's ability to throw the ball. That's why the gloomy weather forcast (45 mph winds and rain) could work in MSU's favor. Then again, if the forecast also has the "thunder and lightning" part right, who knows when the game will even start or end?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Oh yeah, there's a game tomorrow

It's safe to say that all MSU football fans are just coming down on an almost week-long high and are just now realising that the Spartans have a game tomorrow.

The Indiana Hoosiers have perhaps the best aerial attack in the Big Ten, and I'm concerned with what a healthy Nate Sudfeld might be able to do against the Spartans' patched-together secondary. Sudfeld presents a challenge that Jake Rudock definitely did not.

Somewhat lost in the elation of the Michigan win is that the Spartans are still a team with plenty of faults and lots of improvements that need to be made.

Despite (arguably) the greatest special teams play in MSU history, the Spartans other special teams plays were dreadful in the Michigan game. In fact, in a season in which MSU's special teams play has been generally sub-par, it was terrible against Michigan--it's ironic that the greatest special teams play in Spartan history won the it in the final 10 seconds of the game.

The Spartans should beat Indiana tomorrow, though it may not be easy. It'll be interesting to see Indiana's mindset after last week's heartbreaking loss to Rutgers, in which the Hoosiers blew a 52-27 lead at home and went down 55-52. Will that loss demoralize them? I suspect Indiana still has some fight left in them, and it's up to the Spartans to not be hungover from the Michigan game and take care of Indiana. Mark Dantonio always has the Spartans ready after the Michigan game, and this year should be no exception.

Let's call this one: MSU 38, Indiana 28.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Finally comprehending the seemingly incomprehensible: the greatest football play in MSU history

I've had some time to fully digest and contemplate the incredible play that won the Michigan game for the Spartans. At the time I wrote my previous post, I don't know if the magnitude of what I (and we) witnessed fully registered. It took a few days for my brain to absorb the reality--and rarity--of the play.

To think that I wasn't even sure if I could watch the game. As usual, before the Michigan game I went through my standard anxiety, not sure if I could gut it out. About a half-hour before game time, having completed a 5K run in the neighborhood to relax and calm my nerves, I decided to not be a wimp and root the Spartans on and watch the game on television.

It was a great game, a hard-hitting tilt between two evenly matched teams. Calmed by several Bell's Two-Hearted Ales, I made it through the game without feeling excessive stress. Even when Connor Cook's desperation 4th down pass late in the fourth quarter fell incomplete, I'd already rationalized, as much as possible, the Spartans' close "loss" to the Wolverines: This short-handed, beat up team had played its heart out and came up just a bit short on the road. I braced myself for the inevitable Harbaugh deification that would occur in the upcoming week and prepared to focus my energies on non-football related pursuits. 

But the game wasn't quite over yet. I watched as the MSU defense stuffed Michigan on the Wolverines' final possession, hoping that the Spartans could get at least one desperation shot for a miracle. As we all know, the Spartans did hold Michigan to a three-and-out and the Wolverines prepared to punt with 10 seconds left. I stood in front of the television, no doubt preparing to immediately turn the television off when the final second ticked off the clock. 

The ball was snapped, and I'm sure my pulse quickened when the punter, Blake O'Neill, struggled handling the punt. After that, it's all a bit of a blur. O'Neill was pounced upon by Spartan defenders Matt Morrissey and Grayson Miller, the football flew directly from O'Neill's hand into the hands of Jalen Watts-Jackson running in full stride. I'm not exactly sure, but I think I yelled, "Oh my God! Oh my God!" It was only 10 seconds, but it felt as if time stood still and for all I know, I was speaking in tongues. I prayed that Watts-Jackson would score. Once he hit about the 10-yard line, it was do or die. Either he got into the end zone, or else he was tackled and the game was over. At about the 7-yard line, Watts-Jackson cut to the inside and ran towards the goal line. A desperate Jake Butt, probably running faster than he ever had in his life, lunged for Watts-Jackson just as he was diving towards the goal line. Watts-Jackson made it by the slimmest of margins. My next impulse was to check for flags on the play. Surely there must be a flag on the play. When a few seconds passed and it was clear there were no penalties, it finally dawned on me...

"We won!! We won!! Oh my God, we won!!"

As long as I live, I may never see an ending like that ever again. I was breathless, I was elated, I stormed in a circle from my living room, down the hallway, into the kitchen, through the dining room, and back into the living room. I did what I almost always do after a big Michigan State win, I called my parents and celebrated. Then I listened to some of Spartan Sports Radio's post-game show, and remained in a happy glow for the rest of the weekend.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

For several reasons, the most satisfying win over Michigan in my lifetime

Yesterday was to be the day of the Jim Harbaugh coronation. The day in which the Michigan Wolverines would once again claim their lofty position as one of college football's elite. The stage was set, with ESPN College GameDay broadcasting from U of M's Diag, followed by a national broadcast of the game on ESPN.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation, Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans knocked Harbaugh's royal carriage off the road.

I did a count last night, and Michigan State has defeated Michigan in football 16 times in my lifetime (though I really shouldn't count the 1969 game since I don't remember it). So of the 15 I remember, yesterday's victory was far and away the most satisfying one.

Let's do a rundown of the various reasons this MSU win over Michigan was so sweet:

1. The Jim Harbaugh hype. All we've been hearing about since late December 2014 is "the wonder and glory of Jim Harbaugh." The media would have you believe he's Bo Schembechler, Vince Lombardi, and God Almighty in khakis. The hyperbole involving this guy had become truly nauseating, so knocking him off his pedestal, in the most gut-wrenching manner possible, is incredibly satisfying for Michigan State fans.

2. The Michigan shutout streak. Hey, I'll hand it to Michigan, three straight shutouts is a splendid accomplishment--but come on, let's get real. People talked about this Michigan defense like it was the 1985 Chicago Bears. Two of those shutouts were at home and all three against teams that are, at best, middling. Michigan was hanging its hat on last week's 38-0 win over Northwestern, but after the Iowa Hawkeyes trucked the Wildcats 40-10 in Evanston, it's now quite clear that this "signature win" was a mirage.

Though Michigan's run defense was stout against the Spartans (and so, too, was MSU's against the Wolverines), Connor Cook was able to exploit Michigan's secondary all day long with Spartan receivers making plenty of big catches (though credit must be given to Wolverines' splendid defensive back Jourdan Lewis, who battled Aaron Burbridge all day long). So Michigan's shutout streak came to a resounding end.

3. Turning the tables on the free publicity. As I wrote, this was all set up to be Michigan football's 2015 debutante ball and Harbaugh's coronation as the greatest football coach in the history of the world (or something like that). In the most incredible and improbable way--certainly one of the greatest-ever ends to a college football game--the Spartans pulled the rug out from under Michigan. The fumbled punt snap returned for a touchdown suddenly became THE play that everyone was talking about last night. Social media exploded. The replay was shown ad infinitum on the Big Ten Network, ESPN, and probably every other sports television network. It was posted on Twitter and Facebook by everyone. Michigan State couldn't possibly have scripted a better way to win that game and capture the most attention possible.

4. At least temporarily silencing the Michigan fan base. Oh my, had they become annoying. Where do I even begin? There was the whole Harbaugh mania, there was the incessant criticism of MSU's close wins in comparison to Michigan's blowouts, and just the fact that they'd crawled out of the woodwork like cockroaches.

Now, let me make this perfectly clear, there is no doubt that Michigan football is much improved over where it was under Rich Rodriguez and most of Brady Hoke's tenure, and Michigan will most likely remain a strong program as long as Harbaugh is there; but before we prepare to crown Harbaugh, keep in mind that Mark Dantonio and Michigan State are still here and aren't going away.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

UM week (as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist)

I was ready for UM week to be over the day it started.

The hype has been as over-the-top as I can ever remember it (probably due in large part to Facebook, Twitter, sports talk radio, 24-hour sports networks, etc.) and I've done everything I can to avoid it. I just don't much enjoy Michigan week, and with Harbaugh-mania in full swing, it's been even more nauseating.

I take this game very personally, probably TOO personally, and I tire of the complete lack of class and respect that goes along with it. I get sick of annually defending the honor of my alma mater against the legions of obnoxious (mostly "unaffiliated") Michigan fans. If this was a rivalry built on mutual respect and at least a modicum of goodwill, it would be much more tolerable and maybe even FUN.

I've gone back and forth on how I think this game will go. My skepticism has been tempered a bit as the week has gone on. MSU's success really hinges on three factors: the offensive line, the defensive backs, and special teams.

Connor Cook is a great quarterback with a strong arm, good vision, and a strong stable of receivers, but will the MSU offensive line give him enough protection to have time to make throws? If he's running for his life or getting hit every other play, like against Rutgers, he won't have time. MSU also has to be able to effectively run the ball to take pressure off Cook.

It will be necessary for MSU's front seven to slow down the run and get pressure on Jake Rudock. Get him out of the pocket and force him into (I hope) bad throws.

Is Michigan's defense as good as advertised? Three consecutive shutouts is darned good no matter who the opponent is, so I suspect it is. Their defense was good LAST year, the trouble was their offense was so abysmal that the defense got tired late in games.

So, I still don't know what to expect. My guess is that Conklin and Keiler will do everything they can to play. How effective they are is anybody's guess, and it's anybody's guess whether MSU can win this game or not.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Spartans survive again

"And Rutgers spikes the ball on 4th down (!) and MSU escapes like Houdini with a victory. The most patched together, beat up, vulnerable undefeated team in America."--My Facebook post immediately following the Michigan State/Rutgers game.

It wasn't the blowout I was hoping for. Once again, the Spartans fumbled and bumbled their way through much of the game, finally putting together a splendid drive in the last four minutes and change of the 4th quarter to go ahead 31-24. The game finally ended when Rutgers' quarterback Chris Laviano inexplicably lost count of the downs and spiked the ball on 4th down, turning the ball over to MSU with only a few seconds left on the clock.

I'll go through my "wish list" from a few days ago and see how it worked out.

1. Please Geiger, make all of your field goals and extra points. Geiger was an adventure with field goals, with one blocked and one that pinged off the upright and over. He did make all of his extra points, so I'll be generous and give him a B for this effort. However, it's pretty clear that place kicking will be an adventure for the rest of the season.

2. The secondary. It did not play as well as I hoped it would, but it's struggles were not unexpected. Leonte Carroo was as good as advertised and gave MSU fits all night. MSU's defensive backfield is a crazy quilt put together with duct tape and spit at this point.

3. Don't fall asleep in the 3rd quarter. Instead, MSU fell asleep in the second quarter and at other periodic intervals of the game. But, to their credit, MSU woke up when the game was on the line.

4. PLEASE NO MORE INJURIES! Well, there were more injuries. Madre London and Gerald Holmes were banged up in the game, so Delton Williams' redshirt was lifted. Kodi Kieler is obviously still ailing, though he valiantly played against Rutgers, and Jack Allen looks like he was hurt late in the game from a cheap shot by a Rutgers player. So, in short, injuries continue to be an issue with this team.

5. Consistency and creativity from the offense. The bright spot is that Connor Cook, though he made a few mistakes (in particular an ill-advised throw into triple coverage resulting in an end zone interception late in the first half), played well down the stretch and led MSU to its game-winning touchdown. MSU receivers made some brilliant catches, and L.J. Scott carried the mail on the game-winning drive. The Spartans have playmakers on offense--but the problem is that the offensive line is struggling due to injuries. They will need to have all hands on deck against Michigan. There is no way MSU's offensive line can struggle against Michigan, as it did against a much weaker Rutgers defense, and expect to win in Ann Arbor.

6. Don't give up big plays to Rutgers kick returners. They were a non-factor. No big returns allowed.

So, there you have it. Perhaps the most banged up, vulnerable, and least impressive undefeated team in America. MSU has yet to lose this season, yet it feels like they are about 3-3 and out of the top 25. They head to Ann Arbor this Saturday to play the much ballyhooed Wolverines who, quite impressively, have shut out three consecutive opponents.

The question is, how much more can Mark Dantonio squeeze out of this banged up, battered team? Can Connor Cook carry this team on his shoulders next week? Will MSU's offensive line be able to hold up against Michigan's defense? Has Michigan faced the type of offensive skill players that Michigan State possesses?

Next week's game is intriguing, and I have to be completely honest in saying I have no idea what to expect. Despite how rough and ragged the Spartans have looked this season, this is still a program that has won 32 of its last 35 games. They have shown an ability to face adversity and overcome it--and that's something that many of us old-timers haven't seen from MSU football in our lifetimes...until now. Whether that's enough to beat an upstart and imposing looking Fighting Harbaugh team, we shall see. At this point, I'm not feeling particularly confident about MSU's chances on October 17.

Friday, October 9, 2015

My MSU/Rutgers wish list

Here's my wish list for tomorrow's MSU/Rutgers game, in no particular order:

1. Michael Geiger makes all of his field goal attempts (if he has any) and all extra point tries.

2. The Spartans' duct-taped-together secondary shows some cohesion, communication, and, most importantly, plays well. I'm concerned about what the reinstated Rutgers wide receiver Leonte Carroo does.

3. The Spartans don't fall asleep in the third quarter.


5. The MSU offense plays consistently well throughout the game, and Dave Warner's play calling exhibits some creativity if and when it's needed.

6. Rutgers is reputed to have some good kick returners, an area where MSU has struggled to contain long returns. Please no special teams gaffes.

Though there has been no indication so far this season that this will happen, I'm going out on a limb and predicting that this will be the game that the Spartans cut loose and win going away. Make the final: Spartans 45, Rutgers 20.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mid-week thoughts about the state of Michigan State football

We're still waiting for Michigan State football to play for an entire 60 minutes, and with the team looking closer to a M*A*S*H* unit than a football squad lately, I don't when or if we will see that this season. Quite frankly, this is not the #4 team in the country right now. Whether that changes in the next few weeks or months, I have no idea.

Michigan State is still undefeated, but along with Ohio State, it has to be the shakiest and least impressive 5-0 record in the nation. I'm still trying to determine if this is due to: a) the targets on their backs (with every opponent giving the Spartans their best shot, b) the terrible injury situation, c) boredom, d) losing Pat Narduzzi, or e) all of the above.

The upcoming Rutgers game is important. First of all, MSU needs to find a way to win. And if looking at Rutgers' record you think I'm crazy to simply suggest that MSU needs to worry more about escaping with a win than blowing the Scarlet Knights out of the building, then look a little closer. Though by any statistical standard Rutgers is not a good football team, strange things have happened in Piscataway to high- ranked teams, and the Spartans are possibly the most vulnerable high-ranked team in the nation right now. Add to that, this is a night game and it's being promoted as a "black out" at Rutgers. It will be a frenzied atmosphere at High Point Solutions Stadium. (By the way, could there possibly be a worse name for a college football stadium?).

On the other hand, maybe getting away from East Lansing is just what the Spartans need. It could be the old "circle the wagons" mentality in front of a hostile crowd. It could also be that the Spartans are feeling the lofty expectations in their own stadium and could use a road game to temporarily escape that.

Though it's not Dantonio's approach or philosophy towards the game of football, a blowout win over Rutgers may be exactly what the Spartans need to boost their confidence (if it needs boosting) and, more importantly, get the media and fans off their backs for a week (because the media and fans will already be hyping the Michigan game).

And this leads me to...

...I don't think it's too early to start talking about the MSU/Michigan game:

Michael Rosenberg, on SI College Football Podcast, made an astute observation about the inevitable reaction if Michigan beats Michigan State--and let's face it, with the game in Ann Arbor and the Spartans severely beaten up and not playing well--it is a distinct possibility. Rosenberg said (and I'm paraphrasing) that if Michigan wins, the national and local media will trumpet how the "tide has turned" and "MSU's reign in the state is over" and similar nonsense.

Now listen, Harbaugh has done a great job with Michigan, and I have little doubt that he has already turned the program around, but Michigan State isn't going away under Dantonio. One win over the Spartans does not indicate that MSU's grave should be dug. Rosenberg believes MSU is here to stay under Dantonio and so do I.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Another nailbiter (Michigan State 24, Purdue 21)

Knee jerk reactions to today's 24-21st nailbiter of a win over Purdue:

This team absolutely can't afford any more injuries. From my perspective as an observer, the team's depth is getting spread thin and these guys are getting gassed in the second half.

At least the schedule appears favorable for the next week. Rutgers is one of the worst teams in the conference and the Spartans should be able to survive that game. With any luck, MSU will get Conklin and Keiler back for Michigan and they'll also need a healthy Josiah Price and R.J. Williamson.

In short, after a healthy 2013 and 2014, the law of averages has kicked in and the injury bug is biting MSU on the butt.

As I sit here and watch Ohio State struggle with Indiana, it becomes abundantly clear that life at the top is tough every single week.

I have a feeling that nobody is reading this blog besides me, but I messed up last night and in an irrational fever I temporarily changed the name of the blog, then changed it BACK again but have a feeling I screwed something up because now the blog comes up as "unavailable" or some such thing when it is Googled. Lord knows what the hell I did.

October 5, 2015 update: R.J. Williamson is out for the season, joining Vayante Copeland--so the back side of the Spartan defense is in even more trouble. I am trying to remain positive about the rest of the season, but unless the next men in line are able to step up and learn quickly, this doesn't bode well.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Sunshine blower"?--that's me!

There is a term used by the fanatical MSU fans who post on the Red Cedar Message Board. It in an unflattering term used to describe folks who are relentlessly chipper and optimistic about Spartan sports teams, despite indications that such enthusiasm is unwarranted. The term is sunshine blower.

The term perfectly describes my current state of mind.

Oh sure, I was feeling some aggravation and stress during the CMU game, but I've gotten over it since. It seemed to me that the Spartans sufficiently imposed their will in the fourth quarter that maybe--just maybe--there isn't as much to fear as many of us might think.

The first test of this theory comes tomorrow against what looks to be a weak Purdue team. Now, it's true that the Boilermakers have played MSU close the last five years or so, however the Spartans haven't lost to Purdue in the Dantonio era. I don't see this changing tomorrow.

I tend to side with those who think that the Spartans are sick of hearing about their perceived weaknesses and will take it out on Purdue tomorrow. Despite MSU's injury situation, I see the Spartans winning this one by something in the neighborhood of 38-17.

I considered going over the other Big Ten games, but as it's a little late right now and my brain doesn't feel like it's fully functional, I'll pass on that now and try to do it tomorrow morning.

Monday, September 28, 2015

My post-Central Michigan game blather and anxiety

For the 23rd consecutive season, I have attended at least one MSU football game. It was a streak that began, coincidentally, with the 1993 game against Central Michigan.

It's a relatively modest streak, but I've grown somewhat proud of it and feel a little pressure each season to keep it going. Thankfully, between living only a few miles from the Michigan State campus and having a family member with season tickets, I am generally able--without much difficulty--to keep the streak going.

Since I'm nerdy and obsessive enough to keep track of such trivia, yesterday's game was my 49th MSU football game. That certainly pales compared to people who have had season tickets for decades, but perhaps better than many more casual fans, or fans who live far enough away from East Lansing that they can't make it to the stadium for games.

It was a gloriously warm and sunny afternoon on campus. One of those early autumn days that you need to cherish because we just don't get enough of them in Michigan. I enjoyed food and a couple of beers at an elaborate tailgate.

As far as the game itself goes, it was frustrating and nerve-wracking. MSU's offense sputtered and backfired and the Spartan defense had a difficult time getting off the field, seemingly giving up big plays on every 3rd and long situation that CMU faced. In the third quarter, when the Chips had narrowed the score to 17-10 and seemingly nothing was going MSU's way, I had serious 2009 flashbacks. I audibly declared that if MSU lost the CMU, I would never again attend a Spartan/Chippewa football game.

Thankfully, the Spartans turned up the intensity and focus in the fourth quarter, putting together a couple sustained touchdown drives that put the game away. But it sure wasn't pretty.

This may be the most criticized and over-analyzed undefeated team in MSU history, but it comes with the territory when the stakes for this program have become so high--easily the loftiest in my lifetime. And, truth be told, the Spartans have yet to play to what most consider their full capability.

The injuries are mounting, though--and that's greatly concerning. It started before the season even started when Ed Davis was lost for the year, then Vayante Copeland suffered a season-ending injury in the Oregon game and the defensive backfield is still trying to overcome his loss. Offensive tackles Kodi Kieler and Jack Conklin are now out for who knows how long. In short, the injury situation is worse than it has been since Dantonio became coach in 2007 (I certainly can't remember such a rash of injuries to key players). Let's face it, this team absolutely cannot afford any more injuries or it can kiss any hope for the college playoff goodbye.

We can also no longer only view Ohio State and perhaps Nebraska as the biggest remaining games on the schedule. Harbaugh already has Michigan playing much better than they have in several years, and the October 17 tilt in Ann Arbor is shaping into a potential landmine.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Heading to Spartan Stadium

I'm about to head off the Spartan Stadium soon to see MSU take on the always dangerous Central Michigan Chippewas. It's with a little trepidation that I see this game in person since the last time I saw CMU play the Spartans in person, the Chips won 29-27.

I think, and hope, this MSU team is at least a bit better than the '09 edition, and I don't think this Central team is quite to the level of the Dan Lefevour/Antonio Brown-led team. This Chips team does have a formidable passing attack and has played tough against Oklahoma State and Syracuse.

That said, I'm picking MSU to win 38-17.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Post game thoughts and opinions after MSU's win over Air Force

Nobody said the game would be easy, and it certainly wasn't, but Michigan State withstood a tough, resilient Air Force team 35-21.

Overall, it was a good game for the Spartan defense. The Air Force triple option was a tricky as advertised, and the preponderance of cut blocking (some flagged as chop blocks) must have gotten to the Spartans. as MSU game up a good chunk of yards on the ground. For the most part, all those yards didn't translate into points--at least not enough points to lead to victory.

The one disappointment was that at least twice, Air Force receivers were able to slip behind MSU's defensive backs for huge pass completions, one of which went for a touchdown. However, it must be mentioned that MSU was missing the player whom I consider to be their best defensive back, Vayante Copeland.

I was surprised that MSU struggled so much to effectively run the ball (42 carries for only 77 yards). Brian Griese, who is one of the better color commentators working in broadcasting, pointed out that Air Force was showing the MSU offensive line different looks that were causing disruptions in the running game. It looked like Air Force had committed to stop the run, and they kept that game plan all game long, though  I still expected the Spartans to wear down Air Force's defensive line and linebackers, but that never happened.

It also seemed to me that MSU's running plays were quite vanilla. Maybe this was by design: not wanting to show their hand too much to Big Ten opponents. In any case, the preponderance of off tackle running plays were similar to what the Spartans did against Western Michigan. Credit to Air Force for stuffing MSU's run better than any opponent the Spartans have faced this season, though I am interested to hear if the Mark Dantonio addresses MSU's running woes in this game.

In my admittedly amateur opinion, it appeared that Air Force was determined not to allow the Spartans to run the ball, allowing plenty of opportunities in the passing game. Aaron Burbridge made the Falcons pay. In what was definitely a breakout game for Burbridge, he made acrobatic, athletic catches that reminded me of recent MSU Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Andre Rison. Burbridge finished with 8 catches for 156 yards and three touchdowns.

The good news is MSU won the game and, as far as I can tell, did not suffer any injuries. Perhaps of greatest concern from a personnel standpoint is that Riley Bullough was disqualified in the fourth quarter after a targeting personal foul. He may miss the first half of next week's game against Central Michigan.

One parting shot: I need to stop reading the various Michigan State Facebook pages even after a Spartan win. This fan base is entering the territory of "spoiled." Rarely have I seen a group of people complain so vociferously after a victory.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Michigan State versus service academies

Tomorrow, Michigan State plays Air Force for the first time ever.

A few days ago, I got a little bored--as sometimes happens--and decided to research Michigan State football's history of playing military service academies. As it turns out, MSU has only played two games against any of the three major American academies (United States Military Academy, aka "Army"; United States Naval Academy, aka "Navy"; and United States Air Force Academy,  aka "Air Force"). Both of Michigan State's games were against Army, and they were both losses. The first was a 20-7 loss to the Cadets at West Point's Michie Stadium in 1931, and the second was a turnover-plagued 10-6 loss in the 1984 Cherry Bowl.

So then I decided to take the inquiry a little further. How many other games has Michigan State played against any military-related institution? The answer, as near as I can tell, is five. Here they are:

The first took place in 1908, when Michigan State (then known as Michigan Agricultural College) defeated the Saginaw Naval Brigade by a score of 30-6.

The following season (1909), M.A.C. took on Culver Military Academy, a military prep school in Culver, Indiana. The Aggies shutout the high school age Culver boys 29-0.

In 1917, as the nation fought World War I, the M.A.C. Aggies were soundly defeated 20-0 at home by a team from Camp MacArthur of Waco, Texas.

During World War II, Michigan State played two games against teams from the Great Lakes Navy training facility from Great Lakes, Illinois. The first game was in 1942 and the second in 1945, The Spartans won the first contest 14-0, but dropped the second 27-7.

So, Michigan State's overall record against any military-related institution is 3 wins and 4 losses. Here's hoping the Spartans can even it up with a win over the Air Force Falcons.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My thoughts (or amateurish opinionated blathering) after watching the MSU/Oregon replay

I enjoy watching the Big Ten Network's replays of Michigan State football games because I always notice facets that I may have missed--due to nervousness, distractions, or adult beverages--when I watch the games live.

Montae Nicholson's stripped ball interception was beautiful. What a huge play early in the game.

Macgarrett Kings had a a great second effort after catching a pass, breaking a tackle and getting enough yardage for a first down and keeping a Spartan drive alive.

Vayante Copeland made one of the best and most important open field tackles I've seen when he brought down Royce Freeman in what was a touchdown-saving tackle. His absence late in the game was costly, and I'm concerned about his injury.

For all the yammering about MSU's perceived missed tackles, I noticed several that were extremely important. Riley Bullough had a huge tackle near the goal line that forced Oregon into a fourth down--a fourth down that the Spartan defense stuffed.

Tight end Josiah Price has a knack for making some big touchdown catches, He had one in this game, as well as another catch (after the goal line stand) that gave the Spartans a much needed first down.

Aaron Burbridge could be the next great Spartan receiver. He made an absolutely huge reception on 4th down and 6 that put the ball at the Oregon 6 yard line. L. J. Scott ran in for a touchdown one play later.

Madre London deserves as much credit for his outstanding pass blocking as for his ball carrying ability.

Connor Cook mainly had a good game, but for every time he threaded the needle, he also missed what looked like easier throws. He will need to tighten this up moving forward.

The Spartans may want to either hone the "cutesy" plays a little or eliminate some of them: for example the Damion Terry read-option play that killed momentum in the first quarter.

Chris Frey made what was probably the game's biggest play when he sacked Vernon Adams immediately after Adams missed the wide open receiver for what would have been a go-ahead touchdown for Oregon.

This really goes without saying, but MSU's special teams need to improve.

The Air Force Falcons are not to be overlooked (my two-bit analysis)

The Air Force Falcons run the triple option to perfection, and looking at their statistics over their first two games, they look awfully frightening. 394 yards rushing against Morgan State and 428 yards on the ground versus San Jose State. They have a quarterback in Nate Romine (UPDATE: out for the season with a knee injury) who is was able to run the ball (as any option quarterback should be able to do) and a plethora of other guys who are more than capable of carrying the rock, led by D.J. Johnson (a stocky, bruising running back) and Benton Washington.

Granted, the competition that Air Force has faced this season isn't exactly top-notch, but when a team racks up 822 yards rushing (6.2 yards per carry) in its first two games against anyone, that team deserves an opponent's undivided attention--and I know that MSU has been preparing for Air Force since at least the spring.

The good news for the Spartans is that the other Spartans (the San Jose State variety) were able to run the ball for 150 yards on 20 carries against Air Force. San Jose State was actually only behind 17-16 after the third quarter, but Air Force exploded for 20 points in the fourth quarter the put the game away. It's safe to say that the Spartans from East Lansing have a much better offensive line and rushing attack than the Spartans from San Jose, California. Michigan State should be able to move the ball with ease against Air Force and put plenty of points on the board.

Michigan State has to be, and I'm sure will be, wary heading into this game. They know Air Force is not to be taken lightly. Mark Dantonio has proven again and again that he and his staff are able to get the team up every week no matter the opponent, and I'm sure this week will be no different. I look for the Spartans to win this one by a score of 45-24.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The post-Oregon blog post

I think I've finally reached the point, perhaps for the first time in my life as a Michigan State football fan, that I now expect the Spartans to find a way to win big games. As much of a tense nail-biter as last night's 31-28 win over Oregon was--and who really expected it to be anything otherwise?--I didn't panic. Oh, sure, I thought for a few minutes that I might not be able to watch the pivotal 4th down play that determined the outcome of the game--but never did I expect the other shoe to fall, as I pretty much have since I started seriously following MSU football in 1977.  I wasn't stomping my feet, I wasn't cursing. I honestly thought that somehow, some way, the Spartans would find a way to win the game...and they did.

My knee-jerk, off-the-cuff reaction to the game was that it was far from a perfect game for the Spartans, yet they still beat the #7 team in the country. Yes, they gave up a lot of yards to Oregon's "basketball on turf" brand of football, but the Spartan defense made big plays when they had to (goal line stand in the first half, huge 3rd down sack late in the 4th quarter followed by the aforementioned 4th down incomplete pass) so most of the Ducks' yards were empty yards. About three quarters of Oregon's yards were through the air. The MSU defense wasn't allowing much of anything on the ground, so Oregon was forced to throw the ball a lot--and I'd much rather have it that way than the other way.

 So, as I write this on Sunday afternoon, I just discovered that the Spartans have risen to #4 in the rankings. Provided that MSU can remain focused and win all their remaining games until November, we will be looking at a monumental showdown in Columbus between the Spartans and the Buckeyes.

I watched most of ESPN GameDay yesterday. They were in East Lansing. I was extremely disappointed in GameDay. As far as I could tell (having not seen the entire show) there was exactly one feature about Michigan State, a brief live interview with Mark Dantonio. However, we were treated to the most sycophantic, fawning, and utterly nauseating feature about Jim Harbaugh that I have yet witnessed. It was so over-the-top that I swear the University of Michigan paid ESPN to run it. It had all the look of a commercial for Michigan football. As if MSU needed any more ammunition for the October 17 game against Saint Jimmy and the Wolverines, this could provide even a little more.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

This week's football post

I've always wanted to make this blog more personal, and stray away from giving what I refer to my "two-bit analysis." What is the point of me trying to analyze these games when there are plenty of professional sportswriters out there who get PAID to do it. Who really needs to read what I have to say?

So, in the spirit of making this blog personal, I want to relate to you how this time of year makes me feel.

We moved into our current--and I hope "forever"--house on September 15, 2007. The only reason I remember that date is because I remember clear as a bell that Michigan State football played Pittsburgh. As the movers were doing there thing at our new house, I was out running some errand or other and listening to the Spartans put the finishing touches on a close 17-13 win. I'd be lying if I said that at I knew MSU's football fortunes were about to change for the better, but it seemed clear that Dantonio was definitely an upgrade from John L. Smith.

Anyway, I always associate this time of year with when we moved into this house and how it almost perfectly coincided with the start of Mark Dantonio's tenure as Michigan State football coach.


About three weeks ago, while on vacation, I had a dream quite out of nowhere that Michigan State beat Oregon 45-41. I may as well stick with that prediction, though I'd love it if the Spartans blew the Ducks out.

I really have no idea how the game will go tonight, but I definitely like the Spartans' chances. It's at home, it's a night game, Oregon's new quarterback Vernon Adams is playing his first big road game, and the Spartans must have payback on their minds. Then again, J.T. Barrett played his first big road game of the year last year against MSU and we see how that went. Who knows how good this kid is, or the degree to which MSU's defensive backfield needs to improve. Well, here's hoping for the best.