A lot has been said and written (in this space as well) this year as to why the Michigan State Spartans possibly deserved a berth in the national championship playoff. We were all wrong.
In a game many had eagerly awaited for weeks, if not months, Ohio State waltzed into MSU's stadium and put a Whuppin (note the capital) on the Spartans. Though the final score was 49-37, the game wasn't nearly that close. The only reasons it wasn't a total blow-out to the tune of 30 or 40 points had nothing to do with MSU. It was OSU missing even more opportunities.
During the game, MSU quarterback Connor Cook threw a pass directly at an OSU cornerback. It hit him right between the numbers. He could have walked into the end zone for yet another touchdown -- but he dropped it. On another play, OSU quarterback, J.T. Barrett heaved a 50 yard bomb to one of his wide receivers. Uncontested by a Spartan defender, the pass hit the receiver right in the hands at the 2 yard line. Two more steps after the catch and it's another touchdown. He dropped it.
But it wasn't supposed to turn out this way. After all, Michigan State was ranked #8, and playing at home against the #14 Buckeyes. MSU's only loss had come early in the year @ Oregon to a top 3 nationally ranked team. OSU only had one loss as well, also early in the year, but they'd been sacked at home by two touchdowns at the hands of unranked Virginia Tech. And as their local scribes had constantly reminded us -- MSU had handily defeated the Buckeyes just last year in the Big 10 conference championship game and went on to win the Rose Bowl. Ohio got dumped by Clemson in their own bowl game. This was supposed to be -- finally -- Michigan State's year to burst into the limelight on the national stage. What could go wrong?
Turns out, plenty, and it did. In a word, MSU was exposed -- again. I'll get back to that.
When the other team is repeatedly gashing you for huge chunks of yardage, be it through the air or on the ground (OSU had over 330 yards of total offense in the first half alone), throw in a garden variety of bone-headed penalties and your team has a problem.
MSU apologists might counter by saying -- OK, our defense isn't as dominant as it was last year, but we lost a few stars to the NFL. Indeed they did. But what they overlook is the fact OSU lost four starting offensive linemen, three of which are starting as rookies in the NFL. Plus, their star QB Braxton Miller was also lost for the season early on. They had to plug in an untested freshman, the above-mentioned J.T. Barrett to run a complex offense. So forget that argument. As they say, that dog don't hunt.
It will be interesting to see where both MSU and OSU are in the next polls. Any national championship aspirations for the former just went up in smoke. After getting mauled at home, MSU will certainly drop out of the Top 10. They might fall all the way into the deep "teens". Sure, they'll go to a bowl somewhere but, heck, there's so many bowls these days (see cha-ching) that fully 76 -- count em -- SEVENTY SIX -- teams will play in a post-season affair. Talk about a watered down product.....
On the other hand, OSU will likely move up at least a few spots. They're not dead yet when it comes to the playoffs. Consider what else happened today amongst the Top Ten teams.
Auburn got beat at home by Texas A&M. Notre Dame was crushed at Arizona State. Alabama needed an incredibly lucky break to slip past LSU in overtime. Both TCU and Kansas St. were in the Top Ten and they played each other. Somebody had to lose. It was K-State, in a big way. They're going to fall a few notches. And don't think the beatdown OSU put on MSU on the road will go unnoticed by the pollsters. The Buckeyes appear to be as good as anybody right now -- and will play @ Minnesota, a surprisingly good team next week. Another road game beat down and who knows if they might still be in the mix for a shot at glory -- which Michigan State denied them last year? But a whole lot of things have to fall just perfectly for the Buckeyes, and it's highly doubtful they will all happen. More about that in a future post.
Speaking of last year, the Spartan area scribes completely missed the obvious. What happened last year between those two teams, and projecting it to this year, was totally irrelevant. Annually, players come and players go. Depending on the personnel, overall schemes are adjusted. Game plans for any particular opponent are modified. There is no more logic in trying to foretell what might happen between any two teams a year later than there is in predicting the weather based on how it was outside on the same date in 2013.
As for the "exposed" part mentioned above regarding MSU? Granted, they've come leaps and bounds under head coach Mark Dantonio from what they were not long ago. They're a good team, definitely respectable.
But a hard truth remains. While beating up on the patsies, the Sparties have really only played two tough teams and one semi-tough. Against Oregon, they were beaten by 19 points. Earlier tonight, they were beaten at home by the Buckeyes by 12 points -- though it could and should have been much worse. At home against Nebraska a few weeks back, they barely held on to win at the end.
True, "little brother" has grown up and is rubbing long time nemesis and in-state rival Michigan's head in the sand these days. But Michigan's terrible.
Yet until they start winning the big games against the big boys during the regular season -- the little brother perception on the national level isn't going to change.
Let's face it. Perhaps rightfully so, the SEC continues to be regarded as the premier conference. And the media will adopt it's "darling" or two every year. Michigan State plays in a weak conference and there's certainly nothing glitzy about them.
So if they ever want to break through to the promised land, they need to do three things.
Stop with the non-conference patsy games and schedule half-way decent teams. Beating up on Campfire Girl U, or Northeast Nerd State impresses absolutely nobody.
Given the media and pollsters remain loathe to let MSU into the house of the elite, they have to quit knocking, and beat the door down. This can only be accomplished by pretty much running the table from September through November. One loss is permissible, if it's close and to a good team on the road.
And never, EVER get pummeled at home like they just did. That's a deal breaker every time.
Maybe next year......