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"Players play, tough players win." -Michigan State Basketball Coach Tom Izzo
I love that quote by Tom Izzo. It's plastered on sweatshirts that Izzone members wear around campus, it's on the minds of Izzo's players and it's a philosophy that seems to have been adopted by the athletes on Mark Dantonio's football team.
Toughness was on display throughout the college football world this weekend. As teams get into the meat of their conference schedule, they have to play tough or go home. Without further ado, here's what we learned this week.
Never bet against Mark Dantonio when victory is on the line
Remember that movie The Princess Bride? Right before the Dread Pirate Roberts tricks Vizzini into drinking poison, Vizzini shouts "Never bet against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"
This weekend, Kirk Ferentz was playing the role of Vizzini while Dantonio and his defense were the Dread Pirate Roberts. The Iowa Hawkeyes twice went for it on fourth down when they had a chance to kick a game-tying field goal. Twice they were stopped short by a Michigan State defense that bent all afternoon but refused to break.
Iowa tailback Shonn Greene seemed to be able to run over every defender in his path, which is probably why Ferentz felt comfortable that the poison was not in his cup on Saturday afternoon. But the hallmark of Dantonio's Spartans has been toughness and they certainly brought that to the table.
Last year, Michigan State probably gives up the first down and goes onto lose by a small but still painful margin. It was still a successful season for MSU, but they had not learned how to win close games. Now, State has finished off a game that they would traditionally lose.
Dantonio has his team back in the Top 25 and looking dangerous for the first time since their upset of No. 10 Notre Dame back in 2005. The Iowa matchup proves to me that we are not done hearing from this team yet. They will have a lot to say in both the race for the Big Ten title and National Title.
Ladies and Gentlemen, these ain't John L. Smith's Spartans.
Alabama will find ways to win this season
Be it ugly or pretty, Nick Saban's Crimson Tide have found ways to win this season.
Fresh off the demolition of preseason No. 1 Georgia, Alabama had quite a bit more trouble with a Kentucky team that many expected would not be so tough this season. But the end result in both games was the same, a 'W'.
"We're certainly happy to win but we also put on a clinic today for how to keep the other team in the game," Saban told reporters.
Mike Hartline had a great day for the Wildcats with 241 yards passing, but Alabama's commitment to the run was the difference. Glen Coffee ran for 218 yards and helped Alabama move the ball and control the clock in a tightly-contested game.
I expect this to be a great wake-up call for the Tide. They came close to losing to a lesser opponent, but still won. They take away all the lessons of losing to a lesser team without the blemish on their record. This team is talented enough to contend for the National Title if they come out and play hard each week, and this matchup may have been the jolt that their youngsters needed to do just that.
Camp Randall is not a fortress of invincibility
We knew it was going to be a tough matchup for Wisconsin, but Ohio State handed the Badgers their first loss at home under coach Brett Bielema.
Terrelle Pryor didn't put up great numbers but Beanie Wells showed that he was back to full health by rushing for 168 yards against a tough Badger defense. Ohio State will no doubt welcome this sign as they prepare to face Michigan State and Penn State back-to-back in two weeks.
The Badger might be a little worried, though. That's two straight disappointing performances out of them and they've got four brutal games in a row: home against Penn State, at Iowa, home against Illinois and at Michigan State where they lost 49-14 as the No. 3 team in the nation the last time they visited.
Who would've thought that we could be talking about Michigan and Wisconsin as potentially disappointing Big Ten teams?
Vanderbilt should be going to a good bowl game
I'm not going to say that Vandy is a favorite to win the SEC because they still have two very tough games left against Florida and Georgia. But, they've also got games left against Mississippi State, Duke and Tennessee. The Commodores could be looking at eight-plus wins this season.
They've been winning with defense this season. So far, they've faced two teams who were ranked at the time and have allowed 17 points or less in both games. Against Auburn, defense held the Tigers to 13 points and sealed the game thanks to an interception on Auburn's final drive.
It was also Vandy's first win as a ranked team since before my dad was born, which shows that they aren't letting the SEC darkhorse hype get to their heads. They still realize that to win, they need to go out and play hard every down.
Stories just missing the cut
USC shows that it's a bad idea to piss them off. Michigan hoists a white flag on their season. Jimmy Clausen finally shows some promise. Chase Daniel has to be the prohibitive Heisman favorite now.
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