Monday, August 20, 2012
Best Case/Worst Case: Michigan State
By Brian Bennett
It's time to dive back into our series examining the best- and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team.
As a reminder, these pieces are not in any way predictions. They are meant to illustrate the extreme potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.
Let's see what the polar opposites might be for Michigan State.
Same Old Spartans? Hardly. The program is in the midst of its best stretch since the 1960s, and the best is yet to come. Mark Dantonio's team is loaded on defense, and has the best offensive line of his tenure. That's how you win big in the Big Ten.
The season starts with a bang as Michigan State tops Boise State by 10 points, and Andrew Maxwell settles all fears by throwing for 250 yards and a pair of scores. The Notre Dame game in Week 3 is a taut thriller that causes Dantonio to reach deep into his bag of tricks -- and love for goofy sports movies. Finding a loophole in the NCAA rule book, he employs "Air Bud: Golden Receiver," which involves a dog and the backup punter and ... well, you really have to see it to believe it.
The Sept. 29 Big Ten opener against Ohio State is a defensive struggle, but William Gholston and Denicos Allen make Braxton Miller's day miserable in a 10-3 win. Drama-free blowouts against Indiana and Iowa set up the showdown at Michigan. Despite playing on the road, the Spartans exploit the Wolverines' defensive line depth problems as Le'Veon Bell bowls defenders over on his way to 150 yards and three touchdowns. Gholston, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, registers five sacks of Denard Robinson, and Taylor Lewan is ejected. After the 24-3 win, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi says, "That was 60 minutes, but it wasn't very rough for us." Pre-schoolers in the state of Michigan ask their parents if the Wolverines have ever beaten Michigan State.
The excitement dies down a bit when the Spartans suffer their first loss of the season the following week at Wisconsin, as Maxwell's Hail Mary as time expires is batted down at the goal line. But, all in all, the team makes out well in its most brutal schedule stretch by rebounding to beat Nebraska at home, avenging last season's lone regular-season Big Ten loss.
With only Northwestern and Minnesota left, Michigan State breezes to its second straight Legends Division title, where a rematch with Wisconsin awaits. Round Four of this epic, two-year series ends when Isaiah Lewis blocks a punt and scoops it up for the winning touchdown. The Spartans go on to their first Rose Bowl since the 1987 season. Michigan finishes 6-7. Where's the threat? Good question.
Same Old Rose-Bowl-less Spartans. Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin aren't walking through that door. Defensive stars worry more about their NFL draft stock than their current season. And that schedule is pretty unforgiving.
Boise State does what Boise State does in the opener: beat a power conference team. Maxwell is picked off twice and the offense struggles in the 21-7 loss to the Broncos. Two weeks later, Notre Dame beats the Spartans for the second straight year, turning the tables on Dantonio with their own trick play named after a goofy sports movie. "Cool Runnings" involves four running backs in a tightly-bunched, bobsled-like formation and .. well, you really have to see it to believe it.
The Big Ten schedule gets off to a bad start when Ohio State invades East Lansing and comes away with a win, fueling speculation that the Spartans run atop the Big Ten standings is about to dry up when Urban Meyer gets the Buckeyes going. Michigan State bounces back with two straight victories before going to the Big House, where its four-game winning streak against the Wolverines comes to a screeching halt. Denard Robinson runs behind Lewan and right past Gholston for four touchdowns in the 28-10 Wolverines victory as Michigan fans chant, "Here's the threat!"
The Spartans fall again to Wisconsin after Danny O'Brien completes a Hail Mary touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis on the final play. Nebraska, which pushed the Spartans around in Lincoln last year, does it again in East Lansing as Maxwell and the offense are shut out.
The team finishes 6-6 and is sent to Detroit for the Little Caesars Bowl. Michigan goes 13-0 and plays for the BCS title while collecting commitments from the top high school and junior high players in the state. Tom Izzo retires.
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