Saturday, October 25, 2008

Does Sparty Have it in Him?

Does Sparty Have What it Takes?

Michael Hart, Michigan’s great running back, referred to the Michigan State Spartans last year as Michigan’s “Little Brother.”

Michigan has won one national championship in the last half century. Little Brother has won 3 under two great coaches, Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty. It also received success with two other coaches, George Perles and Nick Saban (Yes, that Nick Saban).

And yet its most famous, or infamous, hero is Bob Stehlin, aka “Spartan Bob,” the clock keeper in East Lansing for the November 3, 2001 game in which he froze the clock at the end of the game to give Michigan State just that little extra time it needed to score the post last second, winning touchdown, 26-24.

Sparty needed that edge for he has lost the last 8 games in Ann Arbor, and has run out of gas in numerous games and seasons in recent years.

Even MSU’s last win in Ann Arbor, 28-27 in 1990, is tainted. Michigan scored a touchdown at the end of the game and went for two for the victory. The Spartan’s defensive back, Eddie Brown, tripped Michigan’s great Desmond Howard in the end zone, and the pass bounced off Desmond’s chest. The referee did not call a penalty and the Spartans won.

One of the greatest wins in the Big House came four years ago when MSU was up 27-10 with 8.43 minutes left in the game. Michigan won in triple overtime, 45-37.

The indomitable Mark Dantonio was hired a year ago to change the status quo in East Lansing. The Spartans last season led by 10 points with 7 minutes left in the game. Someone forgot to tell Sparty that he was supposed to win, as once again defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, losing 28-24. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The game means more for Michigan State than Michigan, since the Wolverines’ greater rival is Ohio State. Bragging and recruiting rights are at play in Michigan though, as Bo discovered in 1969. He may have beaten Ohio State in 1969, the greatest win in the history of The Big House, but he lost to Michigan State. It was a cold Michigan winter that year for Bo.

MSU’s biggest football loss did not even involve their team. Michigan and Ohio State played to an epic 10-10 tie in 1973. Michigan was expected to receive the Rose Bowl bid since Ohio State had gone the previous year.

To everyone’ surprise, and to the dismay of the Wolverine Nation, the Big Ten athletic directors voted 6-4 to send the Buckeyes to Pasadena. The deciding vote for Ohio State was by the MSU Athletic Director.

The problem for MSU is that it was trying to convince the state legislature to approve a law school for the University. Opposition existed with proposals to establish two new law schools at other universities located outside the Detroit-Ann Arbor-Lansing Triangle.

UM-MSU may be bitter rivals on the playing fields, but it’s still the state of Michigan against the state of Ohio. The vote for Ohio State cost MSU a law school at that time, and the AD was fired within a year. MSU had to purchase an existing law school, the Detroit College of Law, two decades later and move it to East Lansing.

This year Little Brother is 6-2 and Big Brother 2-5. Michigan has an inconsistent offense and a solid, but unspectacular, defensive line and a porous secondary. Fortunately for Michigan, the Spartans have a one dimensional offense, Jevon Ringer. Javon, a Buckeye born and bred, tried and true, was academically denied admission to Ohio State. He clearly qualified for Michigan State. Speaking of Ohio State, MSU never got up to speed last week as the Buckeyes blew them away 45-7.

The Wolverines showed signs of life last week as they played a wonderful first half, leading at the half. But just as the Spartans would collapse in the second half of the season, the Michigan team we have unfortunately come to know this season came out after halftime. No interceptions, but five fumbles, a blocked punt, a safety, and no points as Penn State won 46-17.

Nor does this year’s team have the great receiving corps of four years ago: Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant, and Steve Breaston. It also lacks explosiveness on the line and with the linebackers. Alan Branch, Prescott Burgess, Shawn Grable, Chris Graham, David Harris, Lamarr Woodley, and Pierre Woods have moved up to the next level.

So does Sparty have what it takes? If not this year, then when?

Go Blue

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