On the banks of the Red Cedar there’s a school that’s known to sports fans.
Their specialty is college basketball, and the Spartans also play great hockey. Excuse me for taking the Michigan State fight song, and changing the lyrics. But when people think about MSU sports, Tom Izzo’s hoops program comes to mind first. Six Final Fours in 11 years will do that.
Spartan football was a national powerhouse in the 1960s; and since then MSU has produced a Rose Bowl in 1988, some great wide receivers, and not much else. However, there is a very rich football history in East Lansing beyond that. Legendary leader Duffy Daugherty led the Spartans to four national titles during the 1950s.
And this year’s Spartans, led by senior QB Kirk Cousins could tie the school record for wins with a win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, and then break it with a win over Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
The senior class had more wins than any class in school history, and is the first to beat the Wolverines four straight 1962. Michigan State has won 21 of its last 25, going 14-2 in Big Ten play during that span.
Not bad for a basketball school.
They have an especially stout defense (3rd in the nation overall and in points against, 4th against the pass, 10th against the run), Tailbacks Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell routinely run through opposing defenses the way the Red Cedar River runs through the picturesque East Lansing, Michigan campus. However, the passing game is their bread and butter, ranked second in the Big Ten.
Hoops coach Tom Izzo talked about the football excitement on campus
“The games against your rival Michigan and then against the two highest ranked teams in the Big Ten, and the atmosphere and a night game, and College Gameday, I’m getting excited just talking about it. I’m a big football fan and any time football is good at any of our campuses I think it benefits all of us,” Izzo said.
“My guys are football fans too, cuz I am. They were at Gameday and it’s just fun; cool. They’re all good friends with the football guys, I’ve always been a big propponent of that, I think it’s good for the athletic department,” Izzo said.
For the past couple decades, the Spartans have had a reputation as a team that starts fast, but fades down the stretch. They don’t literally start 5-0 every year and finish 7-5, it just seems like it. But as someone who did graduate study at the University, I can tell you the fan base is as committed to football as they are to the other, more successful programs.
And those high spirits will no doubt carry over to the hardwood, as expectations are high at the Breslin Center. Yes, it’s a rebuilding year, but even a down year usually means a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The football Spartans have a ways to go to reach the heights of that program, but these past two years is a good start in that direction.
The 2011 football season may be enough to put basketball on the backburner; at least for a while.
A Fulbright scholar and MBA, Banks has appeared on live radio all over the world; he’s also a member of the FWAA, USBWA and SPJ. The President of the United States follows him on Twitter (@Paul_M_BanksTSB) You should too.