Notre Dame vs. Michigan State: Great Irish Road Win or Another Big Ten Flop?
Notre Dame manhandled Michigan State on both sides of the football for 60 minutes in a 20-3 victory on Saturday night, effectively removing the Big Ten's last, and best, chance for national glory from the BCS Championship picture in Week 3.
And let's be clear: Rankings be damned; that was no upset. Michigan State was the Big Ten's best team coming into the week in terms of talent and resume, and Notre Dame was still head and shoulders better. The Irish will be far ahead of the Spartans when the next set of polls come out on Sunday, and it'll be well deserved.
Not only did Notre Dame get the victory, it did so in a way that provided a blueprint for the rest of the conference to stop the Spartan offense: Crash the line on rushes. Keep your big-time tacklers free. Maintain gap discipline at the point of attack. And then on passing downs, put eight back and make Andrew Maxwell and his receivers execute and beat you.
Nothing wacky, nothing exotic; just plain execution.
Now, a lot of that is easier said than done, of course. Notre Dame's front seven can beat Michigan State's blocks much more readily than, say, Minnesota's front seven can. Most of the teams remaining on Michigan State's schedule can only dream of having someone like Prince Shembo up front, much less Manti Te'o at MLB.
But still: The Fighting Irish challenged Michigan State—the only Big Ten team with so much as one victory over an opponent who was ranked at the time—to beat them one-on-one, and Michigan State couldn't do it.
That says a lot about the Big Ten this year.
It says Notre Dame would probably be the best team in the Big Ten if the two sides would stop the passive-aggressive flirtation and get down to making sweet realignment love already.
It also says a lot about Notre Dame and the job Brian Kelly has done getting this team ready to be relevant on the national stage again.
Look, the Big Ten's completely out of the picture this year. Ohio State might go undefeated, and it'd be hilarious if it did, but when we're watching the BCS rankings come out every Sunday evening come October and November, we're not going to be seeing any Big Ten teams up in that mix.
This is the worst the Big Ten has looked in recent memory, and it could easily be the weakest the Big Ten has been at the top in post-WW2 college football. That's not exactly what we expected coming into the year, to say the least, but there's no other way to look at it.
Either Michigan or Nebraska will be the top-ranked team in the next poll, and that'll be more by default than anything else. Purdue is now a heavy favorite to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten Championship, and that's not because Purdue's any better than we expected coming into the year.
The entire conference is a wreck.
But Michigan State is not the Big Ten. Michigan State is in the Big Ten, of course, and Michigan State represented the Big Ten in its game against Notre Dame on Saturday. But the failures of every other Big Ten team are those teams' own.
UCLA torching Nebraska, Alabama pounding Michigan, Wisconsin imploding—these things had no bearing on Michigan State this early in the year. Michigan State had its own banner to carry first and foremost on Saturday when Notre Dame came to town.
And Notre Dame absolutely worked the Spartans anyway.
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