Spartans don't need food, or shelter, or water.....but, apparently, they needed a lot of eyeliner. Well, at least that's what I took away from "300."
Regardless, it's Michigan State Week here at OTE, which means a Spartan-themed potluck. Hop below the jump to discuss a trophy only a drug addict could love, Spartan plundering recruiting grounds, what dairy product the MSU offensive line reminds me of, the importance of cardiac health (please get regular checkups with your doctor, particularly if you're the figurehead of a B1G university), and video of what GOB Bluth might call "something a whore does for money" plays.....
1. Appetizer: Write your eulogy for the Land Grant Trophy (which will, at minimum, cease to be an annual trophy game with the split of Michigan State and Penn State into separate divisions). Admit it, you'll miss its bowling-trophy-on-acid hideousness, won't you?
The first ever trophy that should actually go to the losers of the game....
Ted Glover: When I was a little kid, I remember seeing a platypus for the first time, and I thought that animal was created when God looked around his shop, saw all the extra parts he had laying around after creating all the other animals, and cobbled together some hideous hybrid of a reptile/mammal/amphibian/whatever the hell it is, just to fuck with us stupid humans. I mean, it has a bill, venom, lays eggs, has fur, and likes Lady GaGa. Seriously, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING? The platypus, not Lady GaGa, but I guess you could apply the question to both. But when I grew up and became an older and learned man, I realized that God actually gave himself a day off, and while he was out, Satan broke into his shop, dropped acid, and voila, the platypus, Pink Floyd's The Wall movie, Hunter S. Thompson, the 60's, and the Land Grant Trophy were created, one right after the other, but not necessarily in that order. PSU was given trophy rivalries with Minnesota (Governor's Victory Bell) and Michigan State (Land Grant), and they never really fit. The bell was a cliche, but it was safe, so fine. Woo hoo. But for the Land Grant, you had a forced rivalry playing for what is the most embarrassing trophy ever. I mean, have you seen that thing? If my kid put that thing together and said 'Dad, I made you this great trophy because you're the best Dad in the world', I swear I'd drop him off at an orphanage and drive over that hideous goddamn trophy as I pulled away, laughing maniacally. I can't ever remember either the MSU fanbase or the PSU fanbase yearning to "GET BACK THE LAND GRANT FROM THOSE GODLESS COMMUNIST HEATHEN BASTARDS AND BRING IT HOME TO WHERE IT BELONGS! WHOOOOO! Ever. In fact, I think that if they lost that game, they'd be relieved that the Land Grant wouldn't be in the trophy case for at least a year.
Can we just put The Land Grant Trophy in a wooden box next to the Ark of the Covenant in the warehouse at the end of the Indiana Jones movie and pretend it never happened, much like the 1970's?
2. Salad: First the failed RichRod experiment at Michigan. Now Ohio State is potentially in trouble (at minimum they've already lost their legendary head coach). Suddenly, Michigan State will have a 4-6 year period (maybe more? less?) where at least one of its two primary rivals in their primary recruiting territories will be down. Has this long streak of reduced (or handicapped) competition for recruits in Ohio and Michigan set Michigan State up for a steady place in the top 3-4 of the B1G over the foreseeable future?
Graham Filler: I'll be honest - The recent downturns of OSU and UM have been tremendously beneficial to Michigan State. Now a four star recruit who would typically wave MSU off might want a little stability and maybe some instant playing time. Now that four star is going to have faith in the stabilized coaching system in place at State, a stability not to be found in AA or Columbus.
Ricardo Efendi: Will Michigan State be able to exploit Michigan's recent misadventure and Ohio State's forthcoming penalties on the recruiting paths and then establish itself as a perennial conference contender? No. Allow me to look at three different points.
During the RichRod fiasco, Michigan lost its death grip on the state and opened the door for Sparty. Now Michigan has not only brought in a head coach who has reenergized the fanbase, alumni, and boosters, but also a defensive coordinator whose resume screams credibility. It should therefore come as no surprise they're back to reestablishing their dominance in-state and getting back to playing Wolverine football; that's not good news if you're a Spartan partisan. Michigan's got its corner back.
Until the NCAA hammer strikes, predicting how or what MSU will exploit in the state of Ohio is difficult. If Ohio State receives a penalty on par with what the NCAA handed down to USC (reduced scholarships, two-year post-season ban) I expect OSU to be resilient and hold down the fort in-state, with only Michigan (a resurgent power with resources) reclaiming some of the avenues it had under Lloyd Carr. If the Buckeyes get blasted (cue 650 comments arguing this will NOT happen) by the powers-that-be (let's say, for example, scholarship reductions over a five-year period, coupled with a four-year ban on post-season play) then the doors open up. But if/when the gates to the fertile Ohio recruiting grounds open, who will be first among equals? Michigan. I understand that Mark Dantonio's name holds sway in the state that annexed Toledo, but that's easily countered by the panache enjoyed by the program with the winged helmet (not Princeton). Compared to Michigan State (or really anyone else), Michigan benefits disproportionately from any fallout in Columbus. None of this includes the fact that Penn State and Wisconsin also mine Buckeye country (they probably do not enjoy the networks that Dantonio does, but they're competition nonetheless), or that harsh penalties may open up the door for Nebraska, Iowa, or even SEC schools.
Finally, if Michigan State is going to exploit any chinks in their rivals' recruiting armor, they need to prove on the field to potential recruits that they're a worthy destination. I'm not going to get into whether or not they were lucky in 2010: they won eleven games and proved tough (physically and mentally) doing it. Can they repeat the feat in the near future? Doubtful. This year's schedule has them hosting Michigan (emotional rivalry game) and Wisconsin (East Lansing is the second-to-last conference demon Bielema needs to exorcise) in back-to-back weeks, which is immediately followed by a trip to Nebraska. Two weeks after that they're back in Iowa. I doubt they'll finish 7-1 or even 6-2 in conference play this season. In 2012 they face a four-week stretch that goes Iowa, @Michigan, @Wisconsin, Nebraska. The schedule does not really abate until 2014 when they face only one tough road test (@Michigan).
As Michigan ascends State will find itself marginalized in both the Great Lakes State and Ohio. The schedule makes it tough for them to build on a promising 2010. So, no, I do not believe Michigan State is ready to jump up to conference's upper echelon, either now or in the foreseeable future.
3. Potato/Rice: As Phil Steele likes to point out, winning is greatly facilitated by having experience returning to your team. The 2011 Spartans are bringing back Edwin Baker (1201 yards rushing, 13 TDs last year), Le'Veon Bell (a HUGE RB -- 237 lbs -- who had 605 yards rushing and 8 TDs last year), "Captain" Kirk Cousins at QB, WRs Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham, and some key pieces on the DL (Jerel Worthy, William Gholston, Tyler Hoover). But they've lost some big contributors as well -- namely All-Conference level LBs Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, and their O-Line lost both starting tackles and center John Stipek. Will the returning skill players keep MSU among the top of the conference? Or will Cousins be scrambling behind a swiss-cheese O-line while opposing teams attack MSU's inexperienced LBs?
Chadnudj: I'll admit it -- I'm worried about Sparty. Ignoring for a moment the whole argument that Michigan State could play better in 2011 and still end up with a worse record (due to a tougher schedule/less "luck" than they experienced in 2010), the fact that MSU has question marks on the offensive line is a HUGE problem in the B1G. Let's face it -- when you're facing D-Lines like those at Nebraska, Iowa, and OSU, it is imperative that you have experienced and/or talented offensive lineman there to keep your QB clean/upright and open holes for the running backs. Not only is Sparty going into 2011 with question marks at 3 of the 5 O-line positions, those 3 positions are the most important positions on the O-line -- guards are important, don't get me wrong, but nowhere near as important as the man snapping the ball or the guys guarding the QB's blind-side and blocking the other edge. And while Michigan State's offense was respectable last season (5th in scoring offense, 3rd in passing offense, 7th in rushing offense, 6th in total offense), it didn't exactly light the world/conference on fire. Replicating that production (much less improving on it) with a bunch of new guys at the tackle spots and center will be a very tall order indeed.
I'm less concerned about the defense -- while you don't easily replace LBs the caliber of Gordon or Jones, Michigan State certainly has depth and talent returning thanks to their excellent recruiting to repectfully fill the gaps, and Dantonio's coaching staff has demonstrated the ability to teach fundamentals to all of their players (
including how to properly brawl in a dorm). But given my prediction that the offense may struggle, the Spartans don't need their new LBs to replace Gordon and Jones...they arguably need them to be even better. And that's impossible to imagine.
4. Meat/Hot Dish: In the comments here on OTE, I've repeatedly seen Mark Dantonio's health (specifically his heart problems following the gutsy win against That School in South Bend) called into question as a negative for MSU. Commenters seem to suggest that because a fifty-five year old man has heart attack, he won't last much longer coaching and/or recruits may shy away from MSU. Seriously? Dantonio's own doctors said he was in great health, any damage was minimal, and many if not MOST men his age that experience some type of cardiac "event" that make adjustments to their diet/exercise make full recoveries (and sometimes even if they don't....like my dad, who had bypass surgery at 51.....then again at 65....and is still puttering around the house at 74). On a scale of 1 to 10, how big an issue is Dantonio's heart attack scare to the future of the Spartans?
Ted Glover: Seriously? Yes. Look, I'm not saying Mark Dantonio needs to resign, and I don't think his health is affecting recruiting, as MSU just landed a HUGE coup in Sa'Veon Pittman, a DE prospect that everybody thought was an OSU lock. However, being a big time football coach is a stressful gig, and guys burn out all the time. If you're going to make me put a number on it, I'll give him a 6. If he stays healthy, no worries. Like you said, he got a clean bill of health from his doctors, and he is a man in his 50's. But if he has another 'episode', it's no longer an anomaly, it's a trend. And I don't mean to speak for Coach Dantonio, but if I had a second heart attack while doing a stressful job, and had a pile of money in the bank and an opportunity to make some pretty serious walking around money as an analyst or some other low stress gig, you'd have a hard time convincing me coaching is something I should do if it was going to kill me. All that aside, I hope Mark Dantonio is the MSU coach for a long time. He's a good coach that has MSU on the right path, and it's nice to have a guy in the B1G that isn't afraid to gamble from time to time.
5. Dessert: Little Giants. Mouse Trap. You can't talk about Michigan State's 2010 season without mentioning those two awesome, season-defining trick plays. Other than those two plays, what is your favorite trick play that your team (or some other team you enjoyed) ever ran?
Chadnudj: Being a Northwestern fan, I think I have more than my fair share of familiarity with trick plays. Two games immediately come to mind.
First, of course, is Victory Right. First, on October 28, 2000, after staging an epic comeback against Minnesota (5 for 5 on key 4th downs in a 2nd half, 21 point comeback at the Metrodome), the Cats had the ball on the Gopher's 45 yard line with time to run one play. So they ran Victory Right -- a play the Cats practiced every week, but allegedly never succeeded with in practice -- to perfection. Zak Kustok to Kunle Patrick (volleyball set deflection) to Sam Simmons will always live in Northwestern lore:
Northwestern Wildcats Victory Right - 10/28/00 WGN Radio
But the game everyone associates with Northwestern and trick plays in the 2010 Outback Bowl vs. Auburn. I was there for the game, and it truly was incredible. Everyone, of course, remembers the final play of the game -- a fake FG attempt called "Fastball" that Fitz ran in an attempt to win in OT. Sure, it failed....but I love Fitz for calling it and going for it. (Probably in the same way Husker fans appreciate Tom Osborne "going for 2" in the 1984 Orange Bowl). What many people don't remember is the OTHER trick play in this game which sent the game to OT -- the Mike Kafka pitch to Andrew Brewer, who passed to a wide open Brendan Mitchell for a tying 2-pt conversion (seen below at the 6:12 mark...although you should really see the whole thing, or at least the part at 2:20 where Drake Dunsmore proves that it is impossible to tackle him.
Northwestern Wildcats Outback Bowl Highlights
Ted Glover: Most everyone here knows I'm a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan, and to say we've had our share of heartbreak is like saying Napoleon's retreat from Russia was a little winter stroll. But for all the agony we've had to endure, there was a two play sequence in Vikings history that is just so damn unbelieveable it defies description. Of course, it happened against the Cleveland Browns, probably the only other team with a more tortured fanbase than the Vikings. It's December, 1980, and the Vikings are down 23-22, on their own 20, with 14 seconds left. A win and they win the NFC Central division for the 11th time in 13 years, and a loss means no playoffs. The first is a flea flicker play from...well, just watch it. The principals are QB Tommy Kramer, TE Joe Senser, RB Ted Brown, and WR Ahmad Rashad. There's a reason it's called the Met Stadium Miracle:
The Miracle at Metropolitan Stadium - Vikings Comeback Against The Cleveland Browns
The other? Well, not a trick play by the purest definition, but it was a helluva gamble on 4th and 1 with your undefeated season on the line. The Buckeyes came out in an offset-I, and EVERYBODY thought it was going to be running play to try and get the first down. The linebackers crashed down, the pocket started collapsing, and then Craig Krenzel stepped up in the pocket and, well, HOLY BUCKEYE!
Ricardo Efendi: Certainly not a favorite, but in the third quarter of the Rose Bowl Wisconsin tried out a trick play. I believe it was called a "forward pass." Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst became so enamored with this novel concept that he attempted it again and again and again until, with about nine minutes remaining in the game, he realized it was a stupid idea. But then he channeled his inner Ryan Leaf one more time and did something really stupid at the bitter end. I am now going to drink.