The reality of today's sports-mad world is that every game is approached as a must win. However, the Michigan State Spartans are in an actual win-or-else situation when they visit the Wisconsin Badgers.
This isn't hyperbole. Everything is on the line this week and here are the reasons why.
Sending Out an S.O.S.
The season started out pretty well with a four-point win over the Boise State Broncos. Since then, little has gone right for the Spartans.
There were the comfortable wins over inferior opponents (Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan) sandwiched around an excusable loss to Notre Dame. However, it was becoming obvious that the offense wasn't just taking time to gel, it was terrible.
The win over Boise State has lost some of its significance as the season has worn on. MSU is desperate for a signature win over a good team. Aside from the Broncos, the Spartans boast wins over schools that have a combined record of 5-16.
A win at Camp Randall Stadium would go a long way to giving this season some definition.
The Psychology of the Program
Good programs rarely drop below .500. When they do, it's usually because the school manned up and scheduled some tough early season competition.
That isn't the case in East Lansing.
Dropping below the mediocrity mark this late in the year would be devastating. It would demonstrate the season of disappointment that 2012 is quickly becoming.
There was going to be some regression from historic back-to-back historic seasons after losing the winningest quarterback in Spartan history. However, the drop off was only supposed to be gradual instead of the cliff leap it has been so far.
Mark Dantonio's success has been the product of hard work and an edgy demeanor. He has instilled an aura of confidence (and borderline arrogance) that permeates throughout the program. When his players step on the field, they assume they will be leaving victorious.
In order to walk around with that swagger, it has to be built upon a foundation of prosperity. When the wins aren't coming, all that bravado can come off as hot air.
It Always Comes Down to Recruiting
Let's face it, it's our job as sports junkies to look forward to the recruits coming down the pipe. After losing to that rival school down the road, plenty of targeted prospects will be anxious to see how the Spartans will respond this weekend.
Just like every game is a must win today, it's also a chance to erase everyone's memory of the past. Technology and social media has given us all A.D.D. Perform well this week, and all will be forgiven as the recruiting staff will have a talking point going forward.
MSU isn't going to challenge for a conference title, but there is still a chance for a decent season. However, without a win over Wisconsin, there won't be any bullets left for 2012.