Michigan State comes into its final two regular season games at Purdue and home versus Penn State needing only one win to qualify for a bowl game.
The team has had some heartbreakingly close losses, and it seems they’re always staring success in the face yet keep blinking at the wrong times. Nonetheless, the team's still got two shots at booking a nice Christmas vacation.
This season—save for the victory over Michigan and loss to Notre Dame—has turned out to be following the blueprint set by coach Mark Dantonio’s first season in 2007. This team is talented but frustrating, not to mention suffering some bad bounces. Remember Mike Hart’s fumble recovery two years ago and Minnesota’s winning touchdown two weeks ago?
And yet, here we are. A win this week in West Lafayette or next week on Senior Day in East Lansing, and the Spartans are going bowling for the third straight year.
The optimist will say this won’t be the template for future Spartan teams. Many members of last year’s 9-4 team were replaced this year, and there’s a lot of growing going on at a lot of vital positions. With talented recruits coming in next year, it looks as if the talent gap between MSU and the upper tier of the Big Ten is closing.
Perhaps this is what the new average season is for this program. If the 2007 model holds out and this team sweeps Purdue and Penn State for 7-5 (5-3) final record and a bowl bid in some warm weather location, then there can’t be too many complaints. It is certainly an improvement in consistency from the past two regimes who had their peaks, but much lower valleys.
The next two weeks will be a test of the strength and determination Dantonio has seemingly instilled in his team. Last week’s victory over Western Michigan has gotten the team back to square one mentally. The sky is no longer falling as it seemed to be after the losses to Iowa and Minnesota, and confidence isn’t sky-high as it was after wins over Michigan, Illinois, and Northwestern.
The late Bo Schembechler hung a sign in his locker room that said, “those who stay will be champions.” It is time now for the Spartans to show they can, in fact, stay around through the whole season and not disappear in the way all us fans are used to.
There are no championships to be won this season, but there are certainly championships to build toward in the seasons to come. The players and coaches must use these two games much the same way they were used in 2007: A springboard to next year’s success.