When Michigan State plays Wisconsin in the BigTen championship game on Saturday, they are underdogs by most means. Experts, oddsmakers, journalists – most of them think Wisconsin will go to the Rose Bowl. But Badgers beware! You use dogs to hunt Taxideinae (the American Badger). Even underdogs.
But before I go into detail, let me tell you about a tiny piece of common knowledge that goes around on campus. Not only among Spartan-crazy students, but also within a portion of the journalism-related faculty. This knowledge says: The New York Times is infiltrated by writers and editors that graduated from the University of Michigan. And they promote their alma mater. At least that’s what Spartan Nation feels. Why? Lets see. When Michigan defeated Ohio State, the Times ran a huge story about that historic event. Sure, it was a big deal and worth mentioning. But MSU’s win over Northwestern and Wisconsins victory over PennState that sealed the rematch of a memorable clash earlier this season in the first BigTen championship game? Obviously not so much.
But is this necessarily a bad thing? “Not al all”, Head Coach Mark Dantonio says. “We’re the little guy. And everybody wants the little guy to win.” Junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy also embraces the underdog stigma. “A lot of people always pick us to lose anyway”, he said. “But that’s what makes it more fun to go out there and play the game – because we can continue to prove people wrong.”
But why do people always think that Michigan State can’t keep up with the Badgers in the first place?
Sure, the Badgers bring their high powered offense including running back Monte Ball (34 Touchdowns) and Quarterback Russell Wilson (33 Touchdowns) – but the Spartans were able to contain them for most the time during their first meeting this year. But according to MSU receiver B.J. Cunningham, people tend to forget that because the game came down to the wire with a game winning, review needing Hail Mary pass by Kirk Cousins. “They feel like we got lucky or something with that Hail Mary catch, and we’ve got to go out there and and show them that it wasn’t luck. We beat them three out of four times – and I think that’s not lucky right there”, Cunningham said.
statebeat.com presents four good reasons for a Spartan victory:
- Determination & Confidence: This entire season had one goal – going to the Rose Bowl. Ever since Kirk Cousins was denied entry to the stadium in Pasadena during his summer vacation by a security guard, the team had one focus. Let Cousins prediction come true. After the guard told him the only way he’d get into the stadium would be as a player in the game in January, Cousins responded: ”I’ll wave at you through the bus window.” And so far, the Spartans seem right on track. “We just go out and play football, and we know what we’re capable of”, says safety Trenton Robinson. “And when we do so, everybody has their mouth open like, ‘Wow, Michigan State, they’re here to play.’ And that’s what we are here for. We are here to stay.”
- Stakes are High: There are several upsides of having an actual championship game to determine the BigTen champion. Getting rid of shared titels, adding excitement, you name it. And don’t get me wrong: I love championship games. But there are downsides, too. Like this one: The loser will inevitably fall to a lower bowl. The krux is: The two best teams in the BigTen play each other for the title, the winner goes to the Rose Bowl – but the loser… the loser could end up as bad as the fourth-best bowl bid in the conference. As Michael Rosenberg of the “Detroit Free Press” points out, the loser of Wisconsin vs. MSU might have to settle for the Insight Bowl in Tampa. Not exactly where the Spartans want to go. “In essence, Michigan State would be punished for winning it’s devision”, Rosenberg writes. And to prevent that from happening is Michigan State prior goal.
- Defense wins Championships: Yes, it’s a platitude. But it fits. Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi have assembled one of the best defenses in the county (#6th points against) that is able to adjust to various offenses and that has limited Wisconsins high-scoring offense already this year. “Narduzzi is a genius”, says safety Robinson. “With how we watch film and how we break everything down. Even the game we lost. We did not lose because of the plan. We lost off of bad executing.” The Spartan’s defense is good enough, and their offense is explosive enough to beat the Badgers again. Especially sine they have been preparing for this rematch since their first encounter. “I knew as soon as I walked of the field after our win at Michigan Stadium that we would meet again in Indianapolis”, Keith Nichol, who hauled in the game-winning 44-yard Hail Mary pass on October 22nd. “Everybody knew. Kirk told Jared Abbrederis ‘We’ll see you again,’ and Nick Toon was talking to B.J. and said ‘See you in Indy’.”
- The Goodbye Tour of Chemistry: This is a quick one. Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham are the best offensive duo Michigan State has seen so far. MSU’s football program has been fortunate enough to have had several outstanding quarterback-wide receiver combinations in his storied past – but “none of them compares to the unique relationship and chemistry between Cousins & Cunningham”, writes Michelle Martinelli at “The State News”. Cousins already holds the record for most career touchdown passes (62) and Cunningham continues to break his own record for most career receptions (206) with every catch he makes. “They’re the best we’ve had here at Michigan State so far”, says Dantonio. And they want to go out on the highest possible note, winning their last two games for Michigan State. And not only because they want to lift up the Rose Bowl Trophy as their last official Spartan duty. It’s also their last two games to make a case for themselves as NFL prospects. Cousins is currently ranked 8th within quarterbacks, Cunningham is placed at #20 for wide receiver five spots behind teammate Keyshawn Martin.