2011 College Football Preview: No. 22 Michigan State Spartans

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2011 College Football Preview: No. 22 Michigan State Spartans
David Purdy/Getty Images

2010 was a dream regular season for the Michigan State Spartans.

It all started in Week 2. Trailing Notre Dame by three in overtime, Mark Dantonio elected to pass on a 46-yard field goal attempt. Literally. Holder Aaron Bates hit Charles Grantt for a 29-yard walk-off. The play—called "Little Giants"—was actually drawn up for Le'Veon Bell, but Bell was covered up by an Irish defense that was expecting the fake.

Then there was the loss of Dantonio for the next two weeks due to a heart attack suffered the morning after "Little Giants" defeated the Fighting Irish. He was expected to make his return vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 2 but was re-hospitalized after a blood clot. His absence may or may not have been responsible for providing the inspiration necessary for the Spartans to knock off the ninth-ranked Badgers.

Dantonio returned the following week, just in time to supervise a 34-17 beat down of rival Michigan. The victory—Sparty's third in a row vs. the Wolverines—served as a huge blow to the Heisman hopes of Denard Robinson, who came into the contest as the Heisman pace setter. Robinson was picked off three times, and his campaign for the bronze statue never regained traction. 

And then, three weeks after an inexplicable blow out loss in Iowa, the Spartans were once again on the ropes—trailing Purdue 31-13 in the fourth quarter. If you're like me, it was at this point that you saw that score flash across the bottom of your screen and said to yourself, "same old Michigan State." Only this time they weren't.

This time Sparty put up 22 points—including 15 unanswered—on the way to a come-from-behind victory. The win saved their season, as the Spartans went on to defeat Penn State in Happy Valley the following weekend to improve to 11-1 and grab a share of the Big Ten title. 

But that sound you heard on New Years Day? That was the sound of the Michigan State Spartans crashing back to earth, to the tune of a 49-7 demolition at the hands of Alabama. The Capital One Bowl shellacking was so demoralizing that it threatens to overshadow all of the good that preceded it.

Will it, though? The Iowa loss and the Purdue deficit could have easily derailed a championship run last season. Dantonio didn't allow it. His next step on the road to building the program in East Lansing is simply to repeat that feat.

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