Too much Green Drank (or, Why this time might really be different for Michigan State Football) Part I*

[Bama Hawk - Promoted because it fits my theory of the moment: This could be a special season for Sparty.]


Let's look back in time. Way back, keep coming with me. Here we are: November 29, 1999.

A little more than a week prior, MSU had defeated PSU to finish the regular season 9-2 (6-2 Big Ten). There's talk that MSU might be selected for one of the BCS bowls. For the first time since the land grant trophy was created in 1993, MSU is in possession of all four of its rivalry trophies. Coach Saban is 2-3 against UM, 2-3 against PSU, 3-0 against ND and 2-1 against OSU during his tenure. If you give a coach 5 years to get his players and put his system in place good things can happen. Sure it's been 9 years since MSU's last Big Ten title, but finishing second shows some promise for the future. MSU is poised to make some noise in the conference and on the national stage as the new century dawns.

On November 30, 1999, Nick Saban announces that he is leaving Michigan State University for the head coaching position at LSU.

Lets start with some facts for some perspective and to establish what MSU has been, is now, and can be.

On November 29, 1999  MSU has:

A winning record against every other Big Ten team except for Michigan, OSU and (inexplicably) Iowa. MSU's record against Iowa is 15-16-2.

Only finished in last place in the Big Ten once, in 1958. They have finished in 9th place twice and never lost every game in a Big Ten season (1958: 0-5-1)

6 Big Ten titles in their 46 seasons of conference play. This is more than Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana have won over the same time frame. Iowa also has 6 Big Ten titles over this period (They didn't call it "the Big 2 and Little 8" for nothing).

I don't point this out to rehash old history or to show how much "better" MSU is than the other schools in the Big Ten not named UM or OSU. I include these facts to show that MSU was rarely the best nor rarely the worst team in the conference. Most years MSU would plug along achieving respectability, finishing anywhere from 3rd to 6th or 7th. MSU won at least one Big ten title in every decade it was in the conference. MSU was what Iowa, Wisconsin and PSU are now.

On December 6, 1999 (after Glen Mason, Tyrone Willingham and Steve Mariucci allegedly turn down the job) Michigan State University announces that it has promoted Bobby Williams from Running Backs Coach to Head Coach. Bobby Williams has never served as a Head Coach for any team at any level of football.

I'm sure I don't need to review the decade of 2000-09 because The Rivalry, Esq. did it for me here: MSU in the Aughts. What this excellent review fails to note is that 2000-09 is the first decade since 1920-29 (?!) that MSU has had more losing seasons than winning seasons. (2 winning seasons 8 losing 1920-29/4-6 2000-09). What this means basically, is that when the internets blew up, along with the rise of the 24-7 sports news cycle, the proliferation of bowls (how else to explain MSU making a bowl in 5 seasons in the decade) and more importantly blogs, MSU had its worst decade of football in 80 years. Sparty, No! meme anyone?

It's now 1:30 in the morning and I am flying to NYC in a few hours for a wedding, then on to Maryland on Monday for an interview next week, so I will stop here.

Part II will provide a short history of MSU coaches, how we got here and where Mark Dantonio fits in with them.

In Part III I'll (finally) explain why this time may be different.

I am thankful to the College Football Data Warehouse for augmenting my memory. In addition, "The Spartan Sports Encyclopedia "  by Jack Siebold is one of the best presents I've ever received and invaluable toward learning about MSU sports history. I highly recommend it.

* Of course MSU could lose at home to Illinois by 20 this weekend in a come from ahead loss, thereby destroying the entire premise of this and any related posts.

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