It doesn’t happen often that the Michigan State Spartans defeat their biggest rivals down the street in Ann Arbor, and beating the Michigan Wolverines two years in a row is an almost unprecedented feat.
With the Spartans’ victory over the Wolverines this past Saturday, it was the first time since the mid-1960s that Sparty defeated Big Blue two years in a row. It is a special in-state accomplishment to say the least, but it could end up resulting in failure down the road.
Let me explain.
Before a season, teams in any sport, not just college football, circle certain games on their schedule which have big implications or mean a lot to said program or organization.
The Red Sox know when they are going to play the Yankees. The Lakers are aware of games against the Celtics, and so on. In East Lansing, they are conscious to the fact that Michigan will be played on such-and-such a date.
But after big games, a letdown is always trying to be averted. Coaches wax poetic, saying something along the lines of, “Guys, we had a big win for our program and our university. Beating our rival is always special, but we have to move forward and take our momentum into the next game.”
That doesn’t always happen.
In the Spartans’ case, they are full of adrenaline and traveling to Champaign, Ill. on Saturday—and they are playing the Fighting Illini’s back-up quarterback.
Juice Williams, the team’s starter for the past few seasons, has had a rocky start to this year’s season, resulting in a couple blowouts from Big Ten opponents.
Now, most people would think such a scenario is a blessing for the Spartans. The team is looking to get back on the track while its opponent is struggling to find an identity, and now they have turned to a second-string QB.
Yet, it is quite the contrary. Michigan State has to continue playing with the passion they exerted against Michigan, or else it could be a long afternoon.
Records in college football are about as important as leading a game in the first quarter. Just ask Florida about their home loss last season, or USC getting upset by Stanford in the closing seconds two seasons ago. There is so much parity in the NCAA that anything could happen on any given Saturday.
Illinois may be reeling, and its coach, Ron Zook, may be leading his team for the final season the way they are playing, but that could be just what drives the team to perform at a high level.
Playing for the fans and supporting the team’s new signal-caller could make the atmosphere one which affects Michigan State.
One thing is for certain: This game means a lot more to the Spartans. With a big homecoming night game coming up against Iowa the following week, Michigan State could turn their season around and shoot for a bowl game.
All they have to do is get through Illinois first.