Last year it was Michigan State 13 and Notre Dame 31, but Notre Dame had dropped its first two contests before manhandling the Spartans. With NFL-worthy talent on both sides of the line, the Irish moved the Spartans with the precision of a bulldozer plowing through compacted dirt. Notre Dame proved inconsistent, ending with an 8-5 season, but State kept on rolling on their way to posting back-to-back 11-win seasons.
There are some obvious differences from the Spartans of 2011 to this year’s team. 1) The departure of State's most successful quarterback in history, Kirk Cousins, to graduation and the NFL versus 2012’s new starting quarterback, Andrew Maxwell; 2) Loss of established, talented receivers, most notably B.J. Cunningham, and a diversity of offensive weapons at the position; and 3) A defense, that if it lives up to its legacy, could prove to be as good, or better than last year’s D.
Coach Dantonio has established a consistent, winning program, something missing from Spartan Stadium for far too long. Today, kids in the program know what’s possible if they listen to their coaches, trust in one another, demonstrate a strong work ethic, and learn from one year, one class to the next. Institutional memory and hunger is ingrained in this team. They're hungry and possess high aspirations. Specifically, they want to defeat Notre Dame, post a fifth consecutive win over Michigan, beat the University of Wisconsin (which spoiled their Big 10 Championship plans in 2011), and plow through their schedule all the way to Pasadena to play for the roses. State's coaches and players are still chaffing from U of M being rewarded with a spot they thought they deserved.
When MSU played Boise State University in the first game of the season, this team possessed the capability to make the contest a runaway. Yet, a new quarterback, largely untested receivers, an absence of established diversity in weapons (those capable of exploding from any position and keeping defenders on their heels) and mistakes and penalties collectively kept the Spartans from exploding and making a huge statement in their 2012 opener. It was, however, an essential rite of passage for this team and its young quarterback, as they played a Top 25 team and won.
In last week’s game against Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, the Spartans easily handed the Chippewas a crushing 41-7 defeat. This week, the Spartans will find Notre Dame to be a more potent, punishing opponent than their Big 10/MAC scrimmage. The Irish are off to a 2-0 start coming into East Lansing on Saturday. They punished Navy 50-10 in their opener in Dublin, Ireland. Last week they escaped a potential embarrassment at the hands of in-state rival, Purdue, by winning 20-17 on a field goal.
Fortunately for MSU, Spartan Stadium is a more hospitable venue for the team than Notre Dame’s home proved last year. Both teams are 2-0. Both teams have good defenses, but State's can be great. Both teams love Green, but I prefer Sparty's shade. Therefore, I’m placing my bets on Michigan State University's Spartans to win in another under-the-lights contest.
Prediction: Michigan State University 21, Notre Dame 17.