By Eric Thomas
Forget the Little Giants play. Forget Rocket. Forget the punt in the Big Ten Title game against Russelmania (you probably don’t mind forgetting the last one). Saturday against the Cornhuskers is the biggest game for MSU in Mark Dantonio’s career. Michigan State can see a Rose Bowl from this height. It’s an improbable but possible a goal, but if they pull it off the glory will last forever. You have the chance to step onto the national stage.
Feel that Spartans? The sudden shift of weight, the uneasy rocking of the planks beneath your feet, does it feel familiar? That’s the rush of people hopping on the bandwagon, and we hope you’ll be kind enough to not check ID before we shimmy into a spot. That defense looks comfy, the kind of thing you can get behind. Football teams who play defense that well have a shot to go far, and many of us don’t want to crane our necks when it happens. We want to see Urban Meyer’s face up close if it happens.
The Wolverines didn’t help you at all. In fact, their limp performance against Nebraska only took the shine off of the beating you handed them two weeks ago. Forget about them. Ignore their hobo-like slow sink into soul searching sadness; their knees pulled to their chests, crying like Phillip Seymore Hoffman in the driveway from Boogie Nights—it’s fun to watch but you’ve got a job to do. The Spartans can do what no one else in the country can do: They have a chance to beat Urban freaking Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
This season took on new significance after Michigan failed to take down Bo Pelini’s team in Ann Arbor. The Spartans have to do this themselves, and the every game is huge on the way. Make no mistake: The Big Ten championship game is where Frodo gets a shot to drop the Ring in to the crack of Mount Doom, but the path goes through Mordor. The pressure is fierce. Every step of the way becomes more important—but with that defense, you’ve got a chance.
Barring insanity, Florida State is destined to play in the BCS Championship against ‘Bama. Ohio State is likely headed for the Rose Bowl unless someone stops them before, their sponge-cake schedule disqualifies them from a shot at the BCS crown. The Bucks are going to beat Michigan. They’ll be undefeated coming into the title game, Urban Meyer will look a lot like Xerxes from that movie State fans like to quote / imitate.
Much like Leonidas, the Spartans have a defense—you’ve got a chance.
It’s going to take a few more weeks before we see if that epic battle is going to take place, but it’s do-able. Mark Dantonio has shown over the past few seasons his teams only get better as the weeks go on. The Spartans started pathetic, a great defense and an offense that seemed designed by a person whom was more familiar with Aussie-Rules football than the game we’re accustomed to in this country. Just like in years past, the Spartans have gotten better, with the Notre Dame game as the turning point.
What is it about the Notre Dame game, by the way? Is Dantonio just experimenting at that point? Is he trying to lull the rest of the Big Ten into a false sense of security? Is he trying to get the loss out of the way? Back to the task at hand.
You can make the argument that the Big Ten stinks this year. You can make the argument that Michigan State and Ohio State benefitted from cake schedules (though no cake schedule softer than Ohio State’s—why shouldn’t they be in the BCS Game? Same reason that you didn’t let Boise or Hawaii play!) and the Spartans started off shaky. It’s irrelevant, and Michigan State isn’t making a bid for a National Championship. They just need to ruin Urban Meyer’s perfect record and they’ll be the heroes from coast to coast.
The Spartans let the Big Ten Championship slip by them two years ago. They were in the lead at the half and lost that game in the last second. Turns out Russell Wilson was pretty good. This is the year the Spartans can take the step into national prominence. Michigan State’s defense is good enough to play with anybody in the country. If you have a defense, you have a chance. This is the chance for a special season. This is the chance to wipe that smirk of Urban Meyer’s face.
It starts Saturday. Don’t blow it.