Monday, November 29, 2010

Quick Thoughts on a Big Ten Championship

1.) It was really nice to watch us come out and take PSU in a pretty workmanlike fashion on Saturday. It was very methodical right up until the end, when it wasn't. I heard Chris L Rucker was the one waving Trenton Robinson out of the end zone. If true, it's exemplary of all the wonderful decisions Rucker has made off the field. Either way, take a knee. Holy shit.

2.) We're Big Ten Champs. That's weird to say because usually we're also some combination of also-rans and complete pretenders. I will say this though, I kind of resent the "Big Ten Champs" moniker, we're Co-Champs which is pretty sweet. I'd really like to see "Big Ten Champs" reserved for the day after we've won the B10 Championship game, whenever that may be in the future.

3.) Speaking of, if there was a big ten title game this year, we'd play Wisconsin for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. Loser would end up going to, you guessed it, the Citrus Bowl. OSU would remain unaffected in the polls because they don't play. In short, should there ever be a three way tie again, in the division with two one-loss teams, the team not going to the conference championship game is most likely going to a BCS bowl. While the team that won that head-to-head matchup is going to have to play for the right to go to the Rose or Citrus bowls. In short, don't expect all things bass ackwards to stop any time soon.

4.) I never thought we might go 11-1 this season and be disappointed with the outcome. This 11-1 team would waste all over our 9-3 2008 team which also went to the citrus bowl. I really hope that we can represent ourselves a bit better than the 2008 team did. 12-1 has a nice ring to it, don't you think? It looks like we'll be playing either LSU or Arkansas. Between the two, I'd rather play LSU. Les Miles is good for a boneheaded coaching decision every now and again and given the choice between the nation's best corner in LSU's Patrick Peterson and the nation's best QB in Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, give me LSU.

5.) Obligatory BCS complaints: How are we ranked behind Wisconsin, we beat them and they beat OSU? Simple, college football rewards early losing unless you're in the SEC. If you're in the SEC you play football at another level than the rest of college football.** We lost last, and honestly in pretty spectacular fashion at that. I'm more resentful of Arkansas' being ranked ahead of us in the BCS with two losses.

** - This is sarcasm. The SEC plays good fast football at a level I believe to be slightly higher than the other conferences. If they're better than other conferences it's because they're pocketbooks are a bit looser.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Quick Thoughts on Purdue and the Bowl Picture

1.) It's better to be lucky than good. You could fairly make the point that MSU was the better team on Saturday and that we won because of it. Our slow 1st quarter starts only seemed to get slower with the extra bye week. We are allowed to play winning football all 60 minutes of a game, we just seem not to.

2.) Point #1 seems unfair to make in a way, this is the best season at MSU in a long, long time. We can stop pointing to the 99 team as our year where we were really, really good. We're really, really good now. This is what really, really good looks like. That being said, this team feels like they are within grasp of great because we haven't seen a complete game out of them yet. They could be great if they could play 60 minutes like they did in the second half of the Wisconsin game, but they haven't yet and that window is closing.

3.) You need to root Northwestern and Michigan this upcoming weekend. Two years ago, we needed an OSU loss and an MSU win to tie for the conference championship on the last weekend of the season. Yet, many MSU fans were rooting for the continued implosion of UM football, despite it sending us to the Citrus Bowl.(It became irrelevant when PSU beat us up anyway.) It's ok to continue rooting for that, but not this weekend, this weekend we need them to beat OSU.

4.) That said, MSU is almost certainly going to the Citrus Bowl, this is sort of a blessing in disguise. I think we would represent well against the SEC #3 team, Alabama maybe? Unlike two years ago where I firmly believe we were the worst 9-3 team in college football and ended up playing a Georgia squad cranky about it's lot in life. We didn't stand a chance in that game and I thought we actually played better than I'd expect.

5.) I wouldn't mind playing Alabama, they have a history of underperforming in their bowl game when they are deigning to play a bowl beneath them. That's certainly true this year, so Roll Tide Roll? Also, MSU vs Saban, Saban vs Dantonio, etc. That'd be pretty rad.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Progress by Stagnation

Michigan State football was the beneficiary of a quirk of college football physics: progress through stagnation.  Thanks to Northwestern’s Pyrrhic (Persahic?) victory over Iowa, the Hawkeyes fell out of the Rose Bowl race.  By not playing at all, the Spartans emerged unscathed past another week of Big Ten competition—and unless they pratfall at home against Purdue, should do so again this weekend.  Further, the one team who has a lead on MSU in the Rose Bowl race will have to leap a much higher hurdle: Iowa, whose defeat of MSU and subsequent loss to Northwestern put us all in this mess to begin with.

I’m usually one of those obnoxious people who parses common sports phrases for their actual meaning—so when talking heads on TV talk about receivers “catching the ball at its highest point,” I chuckle at the mental image of a guy launching himself fifteen feet in the air to nab a skinny post at its apogee.  But the other day, I caught The John Kincade Show, and Kincade sussed out one I’d never thought of: “controlling your own destiny.”  It’s completely impossible to “control” your destiny!  If it is truly Michigan State’s destiny to play in the Rose Bowl, if it is written in the stars, then it IS going to happen; we’re all just along for the ride.

What of it, then?  Is it already a fait accompli?  If I could get my hands on Biff’s Sports Almanac, would I see Michigan State in Pasadena this year (A: no, it only ever went up to 2000)?  Honestly, I think the opportunity will be there.  All season long I’ve had a weird itch, an inkling, a hunch that Ohio State would trip up at the end of the season.  My hunch was that it would be Michigan doing the tripping; after all the hullaballoo surrounding the Wolverines this year, wouldn’t that just beat all?  Better yet, it would cinch immediate Coach-For-Life-Until-We-Get-Really-Sick-of-Scoring-Fifty-Points-a-Game-and-Winning-Eight-Games status for Rich Rodriguez.  However, if it’s to be Iowa—who’s been in the business of making and unmaking seasons of destiny this year—then that’s fine with me, too.

The question: even if the path is clear, can the Spartans walk down it?  Even if the enemy is waylaid for them, can they claim their prize?  Even if all they have to do is walk into Happy Valley and walk out victors, can they pull it off?  Ah, that’s a question for next week.  This week, the task is simple: win by not-losing, for the third week in a row—and let the stars choose whom they will.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quick Thoughts on the Bye

Well it was the bye week, which means we did not get any real substantial progress on our Bowl bidding. But here are some quick thoughts anyway.

1.) Please send thank you gift baskets to the Northwestern Wildcats. Their address is: 240 Huron St, Chicago, IL, 60611. Their victory over Iowa assures with a Purdue win this weekend we can do no worse than the Citrus Bowl. I typed last week that after this season a trip to the Outback bowl would be disappointing and it would, the Citrus is, eh.

2.) We didn't get a lot of help from the teams in front of us in terms of the BCS, in fact there wasn't a team in front of us that lost. We could get some help with a few conference championship games, but the odds of us jumping back to the top 5 again are pretty slim.

3.) The basketball team looks really good. They seemed to be playing pretty sloppy on Friday and yet they won by 30. That's ridiculous, I really hope they can finish it out this year. What an absolute treasure to have Tom Izzo as our coach for life.

4.) Point 3 inspires point 4 and 5. I hope that Joe Pa hangs it up after this year. Mentally, he seems to be slipping a bit. (Although, I dare not say that to his face because at 800 years old he would still kick my ass.) I worry he is a man that would be dead in a month without his work. He is an absolute plus to the game, but man, quit before you're shown the door.

5.) I hope someday our football program is good enough to be taken for granted the way that our basketball team is. Not that I appreciate the fact we overlook the basketball team only insofaras that we expect such excellence out of the basketball team that we take top 10 status for granted. I think we may be to the point where we expect top 25 status in the next year or two.

All in all, a great time to be an MSU sports fan.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Bowl Picture

Who has two thumbs and wants to go to a bowl game? This guy.

Here's the Big 10 Bowl Schedule for this year:

Pick Name Location Opposing Conference Opposing Pick
1 Rose Bowl Pasadena, California Pac-10 or BCS -
2 Capital One Bowl Orlando, Florida SEC 2
3 Outback Bowl Tampa, Florida SEC 3/4
4/5 Gator Bowl Jacksonville, Florida SEC 6
4/5 Insight Bowl Tempe, Arizona Big 12 4
6 Texas Bowl Houston, Texas Big 12 6
7 TicketCity Bowl[24] Dallas, Texas C-USA or Big 12 - or 8
8 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Detroit, Michigan MAC 1

Oh yeah, #6 Big 10 vs #6 Big 12. I'm not sure whether we're the Big 12 or the Big 10 in this scenario, cause see we're the Big 10 with 12 teams and they're the Big 12 with 10... Oh my god, I've gone cross-eyed.

With Wisconsin sitting at #7, Ohio State sitting at #9, MSU at #11 and Iowa at #13. The odds of two big ten teams getting into a BCS bowl seem high. So for the purposes of this conjectur-y sort of thing, we'll assume the Big 10 sends two teams.

If MSU, Wisconsin and OSU win out
- Wisconsin - Rose
- OSU - At-Large
- MSU - Citrus

This would pretty much suck. By pretty much suck, I mean completely suck. As an aside, there's a great chance we play one of Alabama, LSU or Auburn. Luckily Les Miles forgets what he's doing sometimes and is the most likely to be that guy. Also, he is the most hated coach of a top 10 team ever.

If MSU, Wisconsin win out and OSU loses
- MSU - Rose
- Wisconsin - At-Large
- Iowa - Citrus

Well obviously, this would be the damn WIN scenario, wouldn't it?

If MSU, OSU win out and Wisconsin loses
- OSU - Rose
- MSU - At-Large
- Iowa - Citrus

If MSU loses again once
- MSU - Outback Bowl

It's weird to type that and think, eh. But after how well the year has gone it's kind of strange to see that and not be impressed. But I would not be impressed.

Remember, we're Iowa fans next weekend. We need an Iowa win to make this all possible.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Quick Thoughts On Minnesota

1.) What a nice, calm, pleasant and boring win. I love me some exciting college football, but sheesh was I tired of nerve-wracking wins. This I think is the ideal Mark Dantonio win, 31-8 with very little in the way of theatrics and no trick plays. Our most workmanlike effort since Northen Colorado?

2.) Minnesota lost to South Dakota 41-38, who lost to Northern Colorado 34-6. According to the transitive property of College Football, we should not be too excited about point number one. Minnesota is awful, truly terrible and a win of any sort should be met with no excitement. Except for...

3.) In Minnesota's nine losses, there is only one team with a larger margin of victory over the Gophers than us. Ohio State, c'mon down. Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, Northwestern and USC, you may all have a seat. In this regard Minnesota may well be a good measuring stick team. So I do get a little geeked about point number one. Our spread was indicative of our place in the Minnesota Strength of Schedule pecking order.

4.) Kirk Cousins, during the bye week, please have a snack and a drink. Watch some movies, tutor small children, do whatever you need to do to relax. (Note, please do not consult Chris L Rucker or Glenn Winston for advice. ) We don't need you to go out and win all of our games for us, just go ahead and stop them from crowding the box so we can't run. You're probably the best QB to come through here since I started watching MSU football, you don't need to force throws against Minnesota.

5.) This is a pet peeve of mine. Do not sarcastically jeer the defense when we're up 24-0. Do not go on to compare this Minnesota team to the 2009 Central team. That Central team was the best team in Michigan last year. Do not, after all that, leave the game early. Frankly, please don't ever come back, we don't need fans like you. Go home and beat your wife or whatever it is you do for fun.

The defense cannot cause the other team to get negative points. So I'd say zero points is about the best they can do. Also, this is not 1908, if a team gives up under 10 points, that's a great game.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Our Achilles Heel?

Something that concerned me going into the Iowa game was our struggling offense in the first quarter against Northwestern and Illinois. As I thought back throughout the year though I started to think this may not have been just a "Schools of Illinois" issue and just an "Spartans had better fix this issue." So in what I hope to establish as a theme of this blog, I went back and tried to do some homework on this. You know, instead of just plopping out the thought as it came into my head.

So I went back and grabbed the play-by-play of all the games this year, with the exception of Northen Colorado(I think we can all agree they should not be used to describe general trends). I was looking for two things, what's the score at the end of the first quarter and what's our 3rd down conversion percentage.

In the first quarter of play against FBS teams, we've been outscored 44-20. If you take out the Iowa and Northwestern games, that total drops to 20-20. In the eight games counted, we've been scoreless at the end of the first quarter in five of them, including 4 of 5 Big Ten games with the exception being Wisconsin. So in big ten play, we're on the wrong side of a 30-3 point differential at the end of one quarter.

I'd go on to submit that we can thank our defense for things not being worse. Our defense seems to be built around the idea that our offense can control the clock, so when we're struggling to move the ball in the first quarter, it would stand to reason our D is going to give up some points.

The second measure I was looking at was our first quarter 3rd down percentage. Through eight FBS games our offense is 8 of 23 for a whopping 34.78 percent. This would be bad, except our whole game total is 36.75 percent. Which honestly, is pretty damn terrible. Good for 86th in FBS overall. Add to that the fact that we are 63rd in allowing 3rd down conversion on defense and I think the larger issue may be illustrated for everyone. Michigan State is having trouble this year with it's third downs.

That being said, it's hard to write this as our "Achilles Heel". So far we've beaten the teams we should beat, beat one or two we maybe shouldn't have (I'm looking at you Wisconsin and Illinois). With three more wins and an Ohio State loss, we're going to the Rose Bowl. If I want perfection, I'd root for a pro team, like the Patriots, the Steelers or Alabama. I want to root for my team, and I think this may be their flaw.

It's hard to nitpick what might be my favorite season of MSU football since I became a fan.