Is this really it?
It’s the midpoint of the college football season, and this MSU team (4-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) still is as confounding and, maybe more appropriately, dumbfounding as it was when it opened the season.
The Spartans have played six games without answering a single one of the team’s preseason questions, all the while creating new issues seemingly every week.
Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell continues to go through stretches of misreads and inaccuracy, the search for the team’s most reliable receiver remains a mystery and replacing the leadership and playmaking ability of Trenton Robinson and Jerel Worthy has been a bigger struggle defensively than initially anticipated.
Add on this week’s newest batch of concerns, which include another muffed punt by sophomore running back Nick Hill, a revolving door on an offensive line searching to replace two leaders and an apparent ankle injury to junior tight end Dion Sims that left him using crutches on the sidelines Saturday afternoon.
Mark Dantonio has continued to preach the regular refrain that “all of our goals are still in front of us,” but after a game in which MSU trailed Indiana (2-3, 0-2) 27-14 at halftime, the team’s fifth halftime deficit this season, the Spartans’ head coach recognized his team still is fighting to live up to its lofty preseason expectations.
“We’re a 4-2 football team, any way you look at it,” Dantonio said. “Maybe it’s not the 4-2 football team we thought we were, but we lost two games to two undefeated teams at this point, and we got Iowa next week, and we better come ready to play.”
Iowa (3-2 overall, 1-0 Big Ten), which lost to the same Central Michigan team MSU beat 41-7 one month ago, will be MSU’s last chance to find a consistent rhythm before the defining gauntlet of the season begins.
Because the preseason questions regarding Maxwell, the receivers and the new defensive starters remain, the biggest uncertainty was how this team would respond to road trips to Michigan and Wisconsin before returning home to face Nebraska in a daunting three-week stretch.
For a team that plays like a Legends Division cellar dweller in the first half before looking like a member of the conference’s elite in the second, the time to work out the early-season kinks nearly is over, and a sense of urgency must take its place.
It’s an urgency that must begin before kicking off the first half, not the second, and be sustainable for at least a month, something this team hasn’t shown itself able to do.
Yet despite the maddening inconsistency and uncertainty regarding so many aspects of this team, there’s an underlying feeling that the Spartans have more talent and ability than they’ve shown.
There’s a light waiting to be turned on that will release the furious tenacity that defined this team a year ago.
A feeling that the preseason hype wasn’t unfounded, but rooted in true potential, just waiting to be fulfilled.
Now’s the time where those beliefs are either proved true or cast aside as wishful thinking.
There’s no other way to say it — for MSU, it’s now or never.