It’s Not 2006 (Or 2012) All Over Again For Michigan State
Admit it. You were having flashbacks to 2006.
As Michigan State began to wilt and watched its 29-point lead dwindle all the way to just one possession, you caught yourself thinking back to that rain-soaked night a decade ago when John L. Smith opted to throw the ball amid a torrential downpour instead of giving the ball to Jehuu Caulcrick, who was averaging nearly 14 yards per carry.
But this isn't 2006. Mark Dantonio isn't John L. Smith.
And for Michigan State, it's certainly not 2012 all over again.
Two weeks ago, after an underwhelming season-opening win over Furman, I wrote in this very space that it's probably 2012 all over again for Michigan State. I thought the Spartans' offense was milquetoast and would ultimately put too much pressure on their defense, which I also was disappointed in. Altogether, I figured we were watching a 7- or 8-win football team.
I was wrong.
Because this definitely isn't 2012 all over again for the Spartans. And it's not 2012 all over again for Notre Dame, either.
Don't get it twisted: This isn't some self-important column, the likes of which you see a lot of writers churn out based on the faulty premise that their opinion is revered. This is about eating the crow I deserve to have thrown in my face and, more importantly, acknowledging the statement MSU just made in South Bend.
Embarrassing Notre Dame for such a portion of the game in their own building on national TV in primetime means something very specific for Michigan State: The expectations for these Spartans should be really, really high.
It's true Notre Dame doesn't have much of a defense. MSU's offensive line outplayed and out-toughed its Irish counterparts in a dominant way before taking taking their foot off the gas, fully imposing its will--the ultimate indicator of control in football. And the Irish secondary was made to look awful, again.
The entire Notre Dame defense looked wholly disinterested in mixing it up with the bruising LJ Scott at times. The Irish aren't going to be in the mix nationally this season, like they were in 2012, because this year's defense is far from the physical, smothering unit the Irish relied on then.
But that shouldn't diminish the overall quality of this win for Michigan State.
The Spartans have recorded among the most wins in college football since 2010. When you consider their three Big Ten titles in that same time frame and the fact that they were in last year's playoff, you get the idea that they're in the national mix.
Now throw in the impressive performance of new starting quarterback Tyler O'Connor, whose calm demeanor and efficiency on Saturday night proved to be more than that of a game manager. And the new-look offensive line showed it could put its competition on skates.
Plus State, as usual, has a physically punishing defense.
This team should be right up there again this season. And that doesn't even factor in the benefit of getting Michigan and Ohio State at home.
After Furman, I doubted this team's expectation to successfully defend its Big Ten championship. But now that I've seen them against a true contemporary in a tough road environment, it's clear that that goal is reasonable and reachable.
Now, MSU probably won't go 12-0, and I'd wager there are going to be times they look unimpressive again. And the Spartans certainly need work on staying engaged while enjoying commanding leads. But the way they took apart Notre Dame in the second and third quarters showed me they have the horses I thought they didn't have.
Michigan State is now 10-4 vs. ranked teams since 2013. This program keeps showing up big in big games--it's a surprise they're picked against so often.
I guess we just haven't learned--myself included.