After the multiplied disasters that have been the past three seasons, the Michigan State University Spartans start their Football Season this Saturday at home against the University of Alabama Birmingham Blazers, a good school which is unfortunately best known for its football program’s extracurricular activities.
Now, I’m not about to predict a UAB victory over Michigan State (the Gambling Lines are predicting an MSU slaughter; I’d bet on UAB with the points myself), but the Spartans are not anywhere near where they were in the eighties, or during much of the nineties. Indeed, the Spartans are but a shell of what they have been for a while and things may have changed.
The fact is, Michigan State has always been the second university in Michigan. It was established second, it was planned as a specialized place (versus the generalized mission of Michigan since its founding) and has never gotten “the respect it deserves” (in quotes because that CAN be debated. Some cases the respect is deserved, but too often not). And when it takes its lack of respect seriously, it has earned its respect.
This is especially true in Football. Outside of the 1950s and 1960s (and this is not continuous, MSU was known for its rising and falling during that time), MSU was always at a disadvantage against Michigan, and for good reason. Michigan was one of the Pioneer teams in College Football, and State was more a regional school with a head full of ambitions than an actual nationally known school. Michigan was usually able to hold MSU at bay, and only once did a class of Wolverines go through without a win against MSU.
However, during much of the eighties and nineties, Wolverine Football Teams had to deal with Spartan Football Teams seriously, as MSU could always defeat UofM and did often enough. Between 1980 and 2005, every player who played four-plus years for the Michigan Wolverines had to deal with losing at least once to the Spartans.
Right now, nobody on the Wolverine team has had to deal with losing to MSU, and it hardly looks like they will have to this year. Indeed, over the past five years there has developed a sea-change in the MSU psyche. They no longer feel they belong with the Michigans, Ohio States and Wisconsins of the league. They feel they’re second-league. Not only that, but they’ve developed the habit of playing three quarters of a four-quarter game.
What that means: Michigan State has become a third-tier team. Meaning they’re fighting not so much against Michigan and Notre Dame for their recruits, but against Eastern Michigan (the Eagles) and Central Michigan (the Chippewas). And while Mid-American Conference teams have enough of a chip on their shoulder to make them dangerous (Ask Michigan State, they almost started their “rivalry” against Central Michigan 0-3), they’re hardly top-ranked. They get attention only because they’re willing to change their schedule willy-nilly for television coverage and are willing to break schedules their teams make.
How bad has it gotten? Well, there’s always noise on how Michigan was cheated out of 1990 and 2001. While the UofM fans have their points (especially 2001, which I believe the Wolverines had won and gave away), there’s always been enough people to argue and enough points to make to defend the MSU wins. Well, it becomes harder and harder to debate those games, not because the points become harder, but because it becomes harder to believe MSU could ever defeat Michigan in football. And since winners tend to make AND REMAKE history (note the emphasis; history is more fluid than people care to believe), the idea of State Cheating to Win has gained traction by the absence of credibility, thanks by the collapse of the MSU football team.
In short, the recent past of MSU’s Football team has cast a bleak eye on its past.
It’s going to take a few years for MSU to get back. They’ll have to rebuild their psyche and their team. All it takes is going that extra mile, something Spartans have done historically when they’ve felt the need.
I know, for I’ve seen it both in books and in front of my own eyes.