Column: If we learned anything from Bowling Green, there will be growing pains
One year ago, when the Spartans first took on Furman, there was cautious optimism in the air. The student section was bustling with the MSU faithful and the rest of the crowd was just waiting for whatever head coach Mark Dantonio had in store.
Would it be another Big Ten title, MSU’s third in four years? Or would the Spartans take a somewhat expected step back? Regardless, the fanbase had one thing in mind — winning, and a whole lot of it.
Yeah, sure, the Spartans graduated a number of All-Big Ten talent after 2015. Connor Cook, Aaron Burbridge, Jack Allen, Jack Conklin, the list goes on and on.
But as MSU surprisingly struggled to put away the Furman Paladins, 28-13, it was an eerie foreshadowing to how the rest of the season played out.
That’s already known, the consequences of 3-9 have been drilled into the fanbase, and more importantly, the Spartan squad. They’re sick of hearing it, the players, the coaches, hell, I’m sure the equipment managers are too.
So exactly one year later, when MSU opened its 2017 season against Bowling Green, there was still that cautious optimism in Spartan Stadium.
It wasn’t the same, of course, nobody in their right mind expected a run at a Big Ten title. But it was a chance to turn a fresh page. The opportunity to forget the past and start to write a new book titled “2017.”
And if there’s any one thing that separates the Furman game from the Bowling Green massacre, then it’s that MSU firmly put away an inferior opponent. It’s something the Spartans failed to do against Furman, Illinois and even Notre Dame last year.
So then, as the lead over the Falcons ballooned to a 35-3 advantage, there was a sense of, dare I say, comfort? It was a refreshing sight, there’s no doubt about that.
The best part? The number of positives that came from the game. Against a clearly inferior opponent in Bowling Green, there’s only so much you can take out of it. But still, the chemistry displayed between quarterback Brian Lewerke and his wide receivers were a welcome glimpse of potential.
However, let’s not ignore that brutal first quarter MSU fans were blindsided by. A pair of fumbles and a Bowling Green deep ball had the Falcons up 3-0 after 15 minutes of play.
That’s bound to be a consistent theme — the growing pains. The Spartans are so young, and its effects are seen all over the field. The 23 total true and redshirt freshmen on the depth chart, even more alarming.
Here’s the thing, though. Even talk of MSU’s youth and this and that are getting to dangerous levels of repetition. Spartan fans get it, the squad is young, bring me the next hot take.
Or do they?
This team’s going to surprise you. It might be because another fumble stalls a promising drive. Or this time, Lewerke underthrows a receiver just enough for the ball to be picked off.
On the flip side, it might be after Lewerke pulls another schadenfreude, Johnny Manziel-esque move to escape pressure. The three-headed running back monster might shock the game with one momentum swing after another.
And that unpredictable, uncertain nature of play might shock a ranked opponent or two. That chip-on-the-shoulder, underdog mentality has been a crux Spartan nation loves to boast.
MSU surely won’t be eyeing a return shot to the College Football Playoff — at least not yet.
This team’s talented, that much is certain, even in the little that can be taken away from beating Bowling Green.
The knock on gifted, young players is that they often have such inconsistent moments. Fans will be pulling their hair out after a boneheaded play by a youngster, and an equally jaw-dropping play by the same Spartan.
So temper your expectations. There will be moments of pure bliss. My prediction included a win over one of Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan this season. And an inexplicable loss or two might be in store just because of the nature of the team.
But that’s the beauty of college football. And for at least one year, the Spartans are the epitome of the crazy, ruthless chaos the sport loves.