Notre Dame-Michigan State: Irish Have Improved, Still Might Lose to the Spartans

Joe GSenior Writer ISeptember 16, 2008

Forty-two years ago, Michigan State and Notre Dame met in East Lansing with a National Title hanging in the balance.

In a match-up dubbed "The Game of the Century," the two teams battled to a 10-10 tie. Nothing changed in the race for the National Title, as each team remained ranked No. 1 in one poll and No. 2 in another.

The teams have renewed their rivalry in recent years, with the Spartans holding a 7-3 advantage in the last ten games played. This includes last year's 31-14 victory.

It also includes the spectacular meltdown of 2006 where John L. Smith refused to give the ball to Jehuu Caulcrick, a man that Notre Dame could not tackle, and ended up blowing a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter. No, I'm not bitter at all.

I'm sure that if I weren't a Michigan State student, I would have been riveted by the comeback and would enjoy watching the replay on ESPN Classic. Instead, I'm relegated to bitterly muttering under my breath about John L. Smith and avoiding ESPN Classic like the plague.

Michigan State also holds the record for most consecutive wins by an opponent in South Bend, with six. You may recall MSU players planting a flag at midfield in South Bend after the 2005 game, a move that instantly aged Lou Holtz 20 years. Seriously. He was so upset that he had to leave ESPN's set for 15 minutes to calm down.

But I would seem completely biased if I failed to mention that the three losses MSU has suffered against the Irish in the last ten matchups all happened in East Lansing. Two of those losses came with John L. Smith at the helm, and the other with Bobby "I don't know if I have control of my team" Williams.

Isn't that like beating up a six-year old girl? I mean yeah, you won the fight, but you beat up a girl.

In retrospect, I'm glad that the Irish won in 2006. That miserable performance made the administration realize that maybe John L. Smith would like to take even more time to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro each year. It paved the way for the start of the Mark Dantonio era.

Last season, MSU rode the strong legs of human wrecking ball Jehuu Caulcrick and a fumblerooskie to victory. It wasn't quite Miami vs. Nebraska, but it was good.

What's in store for this year?

Notre Dame comes in feeling great about beating hated rivals Michigan. I'm glad they beat Michigan, I really am. I'm even happier about the way they beat Michigan, because it wasn't 100 percent convincing. Irish fans are still a little reluctant to start gloating because they feel like they need one more big win before they can start feeling great about this season.

It's well-documented that without Golden Tate, Jimmy Clausen would have thrown for 20 yards against Michigan so I won't spend any time bringing that up. I'd rather focus on the fact that his new haircut makes him look like a character on "Laguna Beach."

I can safely say that this is the reason I harbor so much ill will towards him. You think Ara Parseghian would have let this kind of thing fly? No, he would've made Clausen go back to the barbershop and ask for the Johnny Unitas. Now there's a haircut you could set your watch to.

All kidding aside, Notre Dame seems to be vastly improved over last season (though it was inconceivable that they could get worse). Clausen hasn't been sacked a single time this season after being taken down 58 times last year (that's a Jon Kitna-like figure!) They also have a dangerous receiving option in Golden Tate, and a defense that isn't afraid to blitz.

I'm sure that the Irish will present more of a challenge than they did in 2007. I'm not sure that it'll be enough to get them the big 'W' that they crave.

Michigan State's win last week was a lot more convincing. FAU is probably headed back to a bowl, while at this point Michigan looks like they would gratefully accept a bid from the Motor City Bowl. Howard Schnellenberger comes from the Bear Bryant mold, and it's never easy to beat a grizzled old coach like that.

MSU won that game behind 43 carries and 282 yards from Javon Ringer. Unfortunately for opponents, Ringer looks like he could be just as much of a bruiser as Caulcrick was before him. How many tackles did he break last week? I lost count.

Three big things worry me ahead of Saturday's game though. Golden Tate's speed, Brian Hoyer's erratic play, and global warming. Two of these things biting MSU in the bum will make me a very unhappy camper.

I'm going to go ahead and predict a hard-fought 24-13 victory for the Spartans behind the running of Ringer, the explosiveness of Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham, and the leg of Brett Swenson. It should be another good chapter in what has been an exciting rivalry.

I'll also go ahead and say that if the Irish manage to win as underdogs on the road, I'll post an apology to every Irish fan on here that will read it. I'll admit that you're worthy of a bowl game. I can't promise it won't be bitter, but it will be sincere if I have to end up writing it.

I have a lot of respect for any team that comes in to Spartan Stadium against a Mark Dantonio team and wins. Except for Michigan, that is. Hey, Mike Hart, I think there's an exercise bike somewhere on a sideline that you haven't ridden yet.

To recap: Notre Dame is better but I'm still not sold. Michigan State is good at home under Mark Dantonio, and I don't expect to have to write an apology come Sunday morning.


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