Michigan State: Well, There's Always Hoops Season
by Trevor Whenham - 10/05/2006
The Michigan State Spartans are at it again. The last two years they have started the season out with promise, suffered a heartbreaking loss, and them crumbled and followed it up with some sub-par performances showing a total absence of heart and effort.
Last year it was Ohio State that delivered the death blow. Michigan State was 4-1 and ranked No.16 going into the game. They were up 24-21 with less than five minutes left. Then Ohio State moved the ball 80 yards in just five plays, capped by a 46-yard Santonio Holmes TD reception to give up the lead, and then a Troy Smith rushing TD three minutes later to cap it off.
After that collapse the Spartans allowed seven straight touchdowns in a blowout loss to Northwestern, then lost three of their last four, with a win against the pathetic Hoosiers being the only bright spot in a dismal second half of the season. The Spartans went from 4-0 and ranked as high as No.11 to 5-6 and ineligible for postseason play. Pathetic.
You would think that a team would be able to learn from that experience and make sure that they never repeated it again. It sure doesn't look that way. This season they started out 3-0, and an impressive win against Pittsburgh and strong play by QB Drew Stanton had their fans believing that this year could be different. The team was up by 16 against Notre Dame, which had struggled so badly against Michigan the week before, at the end of the third quarter. Then the bottom fell out of their world. Notre Dame scored three touchdowns in less than five and a half minutes to win by three (and cover, too). Last week they played Illinois, a team so bad and so outclassed in the Big Ten that words can't describe it. They were playing at home and favored by 25, but their only lead was 3-0, and they lost 23-20.
As bad as the team has been playing they have been just as disastrous to bet on. They are 2-3 ATS. One thing you can be reasonably sure of, however, is that this once promising season is going to go the same way that it did last year. They are going to lose a lot more than they win, which could let us profit on their failure. Here are four reasons why:
1) The Schedule - If this team has any heart or confidence left -- which I doubt -- then the next two games should take care of that. They travel to Michigan and then host Ohio State. They're 15-point dogs to the Wolverines and will be worse than that against the Buckeyes unless they post a totally unexpected performance on Saturday. Of the seven opponents they have left on the schedule the only one they beat last season was Indiana. The Hoosiers were the only team they covered against as well. They were 1-6 straight up and ATS last year, including three losses as favorites, and that may not be much different this year.
2) The coach - John L. Smith had an impressive resume coming into his gig at Michigan State, but he is now officially the biggest joke in college football. Not only has he seemingly lost his team, but he finds a new and more embarrassing way to melt down every day. Whether it's slapping himself in a press conference, yelling at people to turn off their phones or admitting that he can't get his players to play for him anymore, the guy is ridiculous.
He will do nothing at all help his team win. The most interesting thing to watch may be to see if he can manage to keep his job for the rest of the season. He'll lose it after that for sure, but chances are pretty good that he'll quit or be fired before then. When the coach is the biggest story and the biggest distraction a team faces then the team is in trouble.
3) The defense - If Notre Dame can score 40 and Illinois can score 23, then you don't have a very good defensive team. Only 33 of the Notre Dame points were scored by the offense, but that doesn't make it any better. The next two weeks they will be facing two offenses that are explosive, multi-dimensional and which can take advantage of any opportunities they get. It could be a disaster for the Spartans.
4) Drew Stanton - The quarterback had a solid statistical year last year and was expected to build on that momentum as a senior this year, but it hasn't worked out that way. The most disturbing result was against Notre Dame, when he completed just 45 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The second interception gave Notre Dame the win and it was very questionable. Notre Dame doesn't exactly have a frightening defense, so the defensive powerhouses of Michigan and Ohio State could be very problematic. Ohio State is racking up the interceptions this year, so Stanton could really be in trouble unless he gets his act together, and there is no reason to expect that he will.