Sunday, April 14, 2024

Hype heading into season not being backed up

Say it ain’t so, say it ain’t so.

Just six games into a much anticipated season, many are wondering how good is the MSU football team - or how bad?

The facts say the Spartans (3-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) are average. Halfway through the scheduled games, MSU has amassed as many losses as wins - and have fallen far below the preseason expectations.

Coming into the Iowa game, opportunity was knocking at the Spartans’ door, but the Hawkeyes gave MSU a swift kick in the butt, slammed the door shut and called the pretender police.

The loss to Iowa wasn’t a shock, it was the manner in which the Spartans lost in Iowa City.

Iowa annihilated the Spartans 44-16 Saturday at Kinnick Stadium and gave the Spartans another humiliating loss. In the process, it gave MSU its eighth loss in nine conference road games.

The Hawkeyes are a win away from becoming bowl eligible. The Spartans, on the other hand, are 3-3 and a bowl berth seems worlds away.

With a chance to amend for early season losses and prove they can compete with the Big Ten’s elite, the Spartans folded against the Hawkeyes.

The loss continues a disturbing trend that the team can’t hang with the better squads in the nation.

The Spartans’ three wins have come against teams that have losing records: Eastern Michigan 3-4, Rice 2-4 and Northwestern 2-5. And the Green and White didn’t look especially impressive against Rice or Northwestern.

Of MSU’s three losses, two of them have been nearly unbearable to watch for Spartan fans.

In the 46-22 loss to California, fans left at halftime, and in Saturday’s game, I’m sure most people watching on television became so frustrated they found something else to do.

The only respectable loss was a 21-17 thriller against undefeated Notre Dame (6-0), when junior wide receiver Charles Rogers turned in a heroic performance.

In the Cal (4-3) and Iowa (6-1) defeats, the Spartans committed 10 turnovers and were outscored 90-38 - 52-7 in first halves.

The Spartans must find a way to bounce back from another embarrassing defeat and salvage a season in which Big Ten title hopes may be slipping away.

Yes, we are just two games into the Big Ten season, but fans don’t have much to draw confidence from.

The offense - led by junior quarterback Jeff Smoker, who was beaten to a pulp and benched Saturday - hasn’t lived up to the hype that it was given prior to the season. After throwing eight interceptions last season, Smoker has thrown nine picks so far this season - and two picks in each of the last four games.

And the running game has been extremely inconsistent. Four times this season they’ve failed to rush for 100 yards.

And the blame can’t be placed solely on the offense, as the special teams and defensive units have given up big plays and experienced inconsistency as well.

Now, the Spartans face the previously unthinkable notion of falling below the .500 mark.

The Spartans next game is against Minnesota (6-1, 2-1) at Spartan Stadium. The Golden Gophers probably aren’t as good as their record suggests, but their confidence is high and they’re not bad at all.

As a matter of fact, all of the teams on MSU’s schedule could pose problems - and potential losses - in the wild and wacky world of the Big Ten, especially the way the Spartans have performed.

A two-game return to Spartan Stadium will tell a great deal about the team that has produced a shockingly average season thus far.

I can’t believe the notion the Spartans are a bad football team as many have told me since Saturday.

So until a few more Saturdays pass, we must wait and see if the Spartans are an underachieving football team or just were a-middle-of-the-road team to begin with.

Romando J. Dixson, State News football writer, can be reached at dixsonro@msu.edu. Kevin Hardy, State News associate sports editor is still roaming around in Iowa City, but will be back next week.

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