Despite the fact that the Buckeye defense managed to completely shut down Michigan State’s running game on Saturday, the Spartans still managed to hang around by virtue of posting 269 passing yards.
Yes, the Spartans young offense did score 16 points .Even though they only amassed 34 yards of rushing, never earned a rushing first down and had their leading back La’Veon Bell held to a paltry 45 yards.
On top of that, you’ve got three Ohio State turnovers vs. none by the Spartans and 65 Buckeye penalty yards vs. only 35 by Michigan State.
So, how in the world do the Spartans lose this game and furthermore, how does Michigan State’s status seem to be eternally stuck in “almost” mode?
Looking back to analyze this provocative question, we start in 2010 when the Spartans were 8-0 coming into their Oct. 30 game at Iowa only to get thumped 37-6 by the Hawkeyes.
Since Michigan State is Michigan State and not Ohio State or Michigan, the three way tie for the Big Ten title that year sent “other” co-Champs Ohio State and Wisconsin to BCS Bowls, while the Spartans were relegated to the Capital One Bowl.
And it would have taken some expensive therapy for the MSU faithful to forget what happened next when former Spartan coach Nick Saban led Alabama to a 49-7 win in a Capital One Bowl that was forgettable at best.
In 2011, Michigan State was 2-0 coming into their Week 3 road trip to South Bend. They were set to face rival Notre Dame who was straight off suffering two turnover fueled losses to USF and Michigan.
But even then, the Spartans couldn’t seem to upend the Irish and ultimately fell 31-13.
Later in the season, MSU dropped a game at Nebraska, but still managed to make it to the first ever Big Ten title game to face Wisconsin, a team that they beat in memorable fashion in late October.
What was the Badger’s earlier heartbreak turned into the Spartan’s utter devastation as Wisconsin pulled out a 42-39 win and dashed MSU’s hopes of reaching the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1988.
This time around, Michigan State, officially the runner-up in the Big Ten, was overlooked by the BCS for Michigan, who didn’t win their division and lost to Michigan State earlier in the season.
The Wolverines went on to glory in the Sugar Bowl, while the Spartans were relegated to the Outback Bowl where they beat Georgia in thrilling fashion by a final score of 33-30.
For 2012, expectations were somewhat subdued by an offense that returned only four starters, but nevertheless, hope remained with a stifling defense that brought back eight.
As far as the Spartans 3-2 record, you can understand the 20-3 loss to a good Notre Dame team, especially given the stifling Irish defense vs. an impotent Spartan offense.
But what about Ohio State?
Yes, the Buckeyes (who had only played one team with a winning record this season) could have been beaten, but why couldn’t Michigan State hold on?
And furthermore, why does it seem like the Spartans are just a half-step behind the race for the BCS and true national prominence?
Well, the answer is twofold and it begins with recruiting.
Yes, while Ohio State has recruited classes that, per Rivals.com, ranked No. 3, No. 25, No. 11 and No. 4 from 2009-12 when initially recruited, Michigan State brought in classes over the same span that rated No. 17, No. 30, No. 31 and No. 40.
To further illustrate, Michigan’s classes ranked No. 8, No. 20 No. 21 and No. 7 from 2009-12, while Notre Dame’s rated No. 21, No. 14, No. 10 and No. 22.
While this may not seem like a huge difference, when you’re filling holes every season in a sport that suffers attrition like college football does, it’s a big deal because you simply aren’t doing the job with the same caliber of athletes.
The second part of the equation is that modern college football fosters a certain level of elitism, an approach that is underscored by the current BCS scheme.
Yes, when you’re a Spartan program that draws fewer fans on a national viewing basis and is less known for traveling to bowl games, you’re not going to be the BCS’s first or even second choice.
Major college sports are all about making money and Michigan State simply doesn’t have a national following, so the money and the BCS (and the recruiting) can only be earned via a conference title and more than likely, perfection.
It’s almost like being a young guy who wants to establish credit, but nobody wants to lend him any money because he doesn’t have any assets or record of prompt payments.
And he can’t get either of those until somebody gives him credit.
If the Spartans ever succeed in erasing the minor gap between their program and that of Ohio State, Michigan and even Wisconsin,Amy they’ll need to continue to improve recruiting and then find a way to actually win the Big Ten outright.