After the first month of college football, the Michigan State Spartans find themselves at 3-1. They beat the three below-average teams they faced: Youngstown State, Florida Atlantic and Central Michigan. They lost to the only real quality opponent they played, Notre Dame.
Against their three cupcake opponents, the Spartans successfully ran the ball, got after the quarterback defensively and provided protection for Kirk Cousins. Against Notre Dame, the Spartans ran into a brick wall.
About the only consistency Michigan State has provided this year is a guaranteed special teams gaffe every game (a Keshawn Martin fumbled punt against Youngstown State, a Dan Conroy missed field goal against FAU, a 98-yard kickoff return allowed against Notre Dame and a blocked punt against Central Michigan).
I am going to go out on a limb here and predict Michigan State will not make it to the national championship game this season (if for no other reason than any one-loss team from the Big 12 or SEC will make it in over Michigan State, even if Sparty runs the table).
With that said, the real season for Michigan State actually begins in Columbus on Saturday against Ohio State.
So why play the non-conference at all? Well, besides pumping money into the pockets of the lower-tiered schools’ athletic departments, typically non-conference games help a team gauge where they are going into conference play.
At this point, I have no idea where the Spartans are. Certainly this does not seem like a team destined for an 11-1 regular season like in 2010. Conversely, the Spartans are not as bad as they played against the Fighting Irish.
The Spartans have talent at seemingly every important position besides the offensive line. They have a stable of running backs and one of the most decorated receivers in Michigan State history, B.J. Cunningham. Cousins has the highest completion percentage of any quarterback to ever don the green and white and Jerel Worthy should be a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Yet, questions remain.
The Spartans have very little time to figure out who they want to be now. Make no mistake, the type of competition Michigan State faces the rest of the way will remind the team far more of Notre Dame than Florida Atlantic.
Michigan State begins Big Ten play by facing arguably the toughest four-game stretch any team in the conference has this year.
After traveling to play the Buckeyes, the Spartans return home for games against No. 19 Michigan and No. 7 Wisconsin before a road trip to Lincoln to face the newest member of the Big Ten, No. 8 Nebraska.
In a perfect world I would imagine the Spartans would like to rotate their next four games and their final four games (vs. Minnesota, at Iowa, vs. Indiana, at Northwestern). That would at least provide the Spartans with another four-game tune-up for the big boys of the conference.
Instead, the Spartans are entering the gauntlet of their schedule right now, with the team and their fans still searching for an identity.
If the month of September left Michigan State fans with questions, the month of October will undoubtedly answer them.
However, I have a sneaking suspicion that those in East Lansing will not like those answers.