It’s that time of year again when U of M and MSU face off for the Paul Bunyan Trophy (yeah, I don’t really care about the trophy either, but the winner gets the trophy, so by the transitive property, I do care). As most Michigan fans will tell you, this is not M’s biggest rivalry, but as most will also tell you, gosh golly we need to win this game really bad. Job security for Rich Rodriguez is not the only thing at stake here, though. Denard Robinson has a chance to really put himself ahead of the pack for the semi-early Heisman Trophy list (which is a trophy I care about).
As Weston mentioned in his charming Michigan review article, I will be taking a look at how the first part of Michigan State’s season has been going, and then give a prediction on the rest of their season.
MSU started of the first game of the season playing Western Michigan, which, as the last few games have proven, is not all that great this year. From there, they played Florida Atlantic, Notre Dame, Northern Colorado, and Wisconsin. All of these have been home games except for the Florida Atlantic game which was played at the very neutral location of Ford Field in the far, far away city of Detroit, Michigan. After watching the first half of the Western game, I really thought that the Broncos could pull off an upset or at least a respectable loss. But, as the Spartans have continued to do the rest of the season, they improved in the second half and showed some progress. That has been the big thing that I have taken from the first five games of MSU’s season: progression. After that first half, I would have bet that all the offseason hype for Kirk Cousins, the running game, and Greg Jones was blown out of proportion, but since then, I would have to say that MSU has really turned it on. This may also be blown out of proportion considering the only real quality win on their schedule so far came against Wisconsin, and that they have not been tested on the road in front of 113,000+ fans, but for now, we’ll say that they look pretty good.
One of the best and brightest units for the Spartans has been that of running back, or running backs (plural) I should say. Everyone knew Edwin Baker would have a pretty good season, maybe even a season worthy of Heisman consideration, but bursting onto the scene somewhat in the spring and completely here in the fall was freshman Le'Veon Bell out of Ohio. Baker is the feature back, but Bell leads the team in yards per carry and touchdowns. If not for Bell, Baker would probably be getting more Heisman attention. Bell has established himself as the Big 10 freshman of the year frontrunner.
Also on the offense, Kirk Cousins has shown progression from that first half as well. He now has over eleven hundred yards with nine touchdowns. He has four interceptions, which is not the greatest, but he’s been making plays and putting his team in a position to win. Plus, he attended Holland Christian High School (Dutch pride!).
Like Michigan, though, MSU has some questions on defense. Greg Jones has been lighting it up, especially with his first and second career interceptions against Northern Colorado a couple weeks ago, but the rest of the defense at times has seemed a little off. They’ve played pretty well, but I get the sense that they’re overachieving, and when faced with an offense that isn’t Northern Colorado or Florida Atlantic, some cracks might start to show. For now, we’ll say that they have played well, and until otherwise, we’ll continue saying that.
Season Prediction: MSU has looked pretty good so far, and with the schedule they have (no Ohio State), competing for the Big 10 title isn’t out of the question. Regardless of what people say, they will face a test on the road for the first time this week with Michigan and Denard Robinson, and they do have to go to Kinnick Stadium to play Iowa and Happy Valley to battle with Penn St., but even if MSU loses those three games, you’re still looking at 9-3 because the other remaining games include Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota, and Purdue, all very winnable games. I’ll give them Penn St. for sure, and then a too close to call for Michigan and Iowa, so 10-2 or 11-1. If the Spartans can finish 11-1, they could be looking at a BCS bowl because Ohio State or Iowa could go undefeated and play for a national championship. It wouldn’t be the Rose Bowl necessarily, but a BCS bowl is still a BCS bowl. At the very least, look for them to be in the Outback Bowl or Capital One Bowl. This is all assuming they don’t have one of their famous start-out-strong-but-then-collapse-for-no-apparent-reason seasons.