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College Football – The Curse is Now Over – Michigan State Avoids Its Customary Late Season Collapse
When 16 seniors left Spartan Stadium in East Lansing on Saturday after their 9th win of the year against Purdue, their biggest legacy will be that they were the class that broke the curse — Michigan State’s dreaded curse of starting fast and finishing poorly.
Before Mark Dantonio became the coach last season, former coach John L. Smith started the previous 4 seasons 18-4 and finished 4-22. 2003 was 7-1 at the start and 1-3 at the end. In 2004, it was 4-3 at the beginning and 1-5 at the end. 2005 was 4-0 at the start and 1-6 at the end. 2006 was 3-0 at the start and 1-8 at the end. This is what is called a curse.
Mark Dantonio started 2-4 last season and finished 5-2. The Spartans went 7-6 and ended up in a bowl game. After beating Purdue 21-7 at home on Saturday (11-8-08), the Spartans are 9-2. Michigan State lost the opener in California, won 6 straight, beat Ohio State 45-7, but bounced back with 3 straight.
The curse is officially over. Dantonio changed the culture at Michigan State from “it’s all about me” to “we are one.” It requires discipline, focus, performance and responsibility. His players now believe they can win and have learned how to finish the game and win, again and again and again.
The Spartans have a bye this week and then take on the No. 7 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions on a road trip to end their season. When Saturday began, Penn State was 9-0 and ranked No. 3. After being upset by Iowa 24-23 in Iowa, Michigan State now has a shot at a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990.
The Spartans’ conference record is 6-1, while Penn State and Ohio State are both 5-1, leaving Michigan State with a half-game lead at this point in the standings. Penn State faces Indiana before the showdown with the Spartans. Ohio State faces Illinois and Michigan to close out the season.
Michigan State is currently ranked No. 18 in the AP Top 25. The Spartans have everything to gain and nothing to lose against Penn State, as the Nittany Lions are ranked No. 7 and will be favored at home. The Spartans are not expected to win, and if they win, they will at least get a share of the Big Ten title.
Michigan State (9-2) isn’t currently wowing teams like Florida, Alabama and Texas Tech, but will still earn a much bigger game this year, even if they lose to Penn State as expected.
What’s been so interesting about Michigan State this year is that the Spartans’ defense has outperformed its stats. Among 119 Division 1-A teams, Michigan State ranks 75th in rushing defense, 59th in passing defense and 37th in scoring defense. They rank 18th in the country among all teams, but are not a top 25 team in any of these defensive categories.
When push came to shove against Purdue, the Spartan defense nearly finished. Their offense had 4 turnovers on Saturday, but the defense was stout.
Michigan State stopped Purdue on its first 15 possessions of the game, including a 14-yard drive on 4th-and-5 at the Spartan 27-yard line, and minus 1 yard on 4th-and-1 at the Spartan 29-yard line. On their 16th possession, the Boilermakers finally put together a 16-play, 88-yard drive for their only touchdown with 42 seconds left in the game.
With just 19 seconds left in the first half and Michigan State leading 7-0, freshman defensive back Johnny Adams stepped in front of Justin Siler’s pass and returned the interception 40 yards to give the Spartans a 14-0 halftime lead. Again, the defense not only held, but scored to help the offense.
Here’s a fact that sportswriters and analysts across the country haven’t mentioned: Of the teams with 9 or more wins, there are only 9 teams that have fewer losses than Michigan State after Week 11 of college play.
They are Texas Tech (10-0), Texas (9-1), Alabama (10-0), Oklahoma (9-1), Penn State (9-1), Utah (10-0), Boise State (9 -0), Ball State (9-0) and Brigham Young (9-1). The Spartans are by any standard in pretty heady company.
Can Michigan State beat Penn State? Penn State just lost to Iowa on the road, 24-23. Of course, JoPa (coach Joe Paterno) is hopping mad about missing out on another national title. Michigan State hosted and beat Iowa 16-13. Anything can and will happen in college football.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley
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