On the banks of the Red Cedar there’s a school that’s known to sports fans. Their specialty is 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.
But after beating a very game Illinois team, another school known for hardwood over the gridiron, The Spartans are 7-0 for the first time since 1966, when they won their first nine before tying Notre Dame 10-10 in one of college football‘s most iconic games.
Since then Spartan football has produced a Rose Bowl in 1988, some great wide receivers, and not much else. There is a very rich football history in East Lansing however. Legendary leader Duffy Daugherty led the Spartans to four national titles during the 1950s.
And this year’s Spartans, led by junior QB Kirk Cousins is possibly the greatest MSU team in a generation.
By Paul M. Banks
They have an especially stout third down defense, the highest scoring offense in the Big Ten and their 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.
“We’ve been a good second half team, if you look at our second half completion percentage and ability to run the ball in the 4th quarter,” Cousins said after the Spartans overcame a 6-3 halftime deficit to defeat Illinois 26-6.
And it was a pretty good Illinois team the Spartans beat today, as each one of the three Illini losses this year has come to an undefeated opponent (#11 MSU, #1 Ohio State, #19 Missouri)
“I think the outside didn’t understand how good Illinois is…I think they’re going to have a very good season, they’re a program on the rise and I think they’ll be bowl eligible at the end of the season,” Cousins stated.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who suffered a mild heart attack last month, coached his second straight game from the box, but later came down to the sideline for the final minutes and received a huge ovation from the Homecoming crowd.
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.
Without a doubt, the fans are currently in just as high of spirits as the team itself. Like placekicker Dan Conroy said, “everyone’s attitudes are positive and through the roof,” right now.
And those high spirits will no doubt carry over to the hardwood, as the Spartan Stadium crowd let out a huge roar for Head Coach Tom Izzo when he received his introduction. His Spartans are ranked #2 in many preseason polls, and held their first practice of the season last night.
The football Spartans have a ways to go to reach the heights of that program, but this year is a good start in that direction.
“Part of the reason I’m so sold on State is the way their schedule plays out. Their first five games are at home, their first seven are in the state of Michigan, and the eighth is at Northwestern, where the crowd could very likely once again be 40-60% MSU fans. So that could be a de facto neutral site game. In other words, the whole first half of the season is perfect for the Spartans to get comfort and confidence; two of the most critical components for building a winner.”
I brought this point up during the exclusive I had with Cousins at Big Ten Media Day:
“Like you said, confidence can get going early if we’re sitting there with a 4-0, 5-0 kind of a record, and the confidence in our team, the belief in our team is only going to snowball. And that can only help us. So like you said, the schedule sets itself up well, and now we just need to go out and make big time plays, take care of things in crunch time and we can have a special season,” Cousins responded about the favorable scheduling.
State gets another schedule break in 1.) They don’t have to face #1 Ohio State this season 2.) After Northwestern, the only tough game remaining is at #14 Iowa.
The 2010 football season may be enough to put basketball on the backburner; at least for a while.
Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He is also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbankFollow paulmbanks