When the Michigan State Spartans travel to West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday to play the Purdue Boilermakers, both teams will be playing for something bigger: going to a bowl game.
Each team’s goal is actually the same.
Both the Spartans and Boilermakers have an opportunity to make a bowl game this season. It won't be a glamorous bowl, like the Rose Bowl, or even a New Year’s Day bowl like the Outback Bowl, but a bowl game in college lengthens the season and keeps some coaches from losing their jobs.
And in the case of Michigan State, a bowl game this year would make three in a row under head coach Mark Dantonio.
Three bowl games in the three years Dantonio has been at the helm would be very promising for Spartan fans in East Lansing and yonder. It is something most people never thought would happen before he came around.
To become bowl-eligible it takes six wins, so a victory over Purdue would clinch that goal for Michigan State, which currently sits at 5-5.
And, as I mentioned earlier this week, the Spartans’ best chance to win that pivotal sixth game is this weekend, because they don’t want to take their chances against Penn State in the final game of the season.
Purdue, on the other hand, will need to play near-perfect pigskin to reach a bowl game in its first season under new head coach Danny Hope.
Sitting at 4-6, the Boilermakers have to defeat the Spartans on senior day, and then defeat Indiana on the road a week later.
Both games are definitely winnable, but it is uncertain which Purdue team will show up: the one that defeated Michigan in the Big House, or the one that lost to Northern Illinois early in the year.
It’s crunch time in college football. With teams all around the nation trying to get a chance to perform around the holidays, some will succeed and some will fail.
If programs don’t start playing their best football at this point in the season, they will endure a long road back to an early offseason.