Column: Yeah, that loss was bad, but MSU is a long way from 3-9
If you’re the type of fan able to put a positive spin on MSU’s blowout loss to Ohio State, I’ll respect the hell out of that. The journey will be long. An honorable, noble task that should be celebrated, really.
The sheer amount of mental hoops one must jump through to justify such a defeat sounds exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some positives, I guess. Punters are people too, and Jake Hartbarger was great.
But what a stinker of a game to watch on an otherwise perfectly normal Saturday afternoon. When the Buckeyes just kept scoring, the groans from East Lansing could be heard all the way from Columbus. Trust me on that.
But I digress. All the hope and goodwill the Spartans conjured up with a 7-2 start didn’t suddenly just up and disappear. To ignore the talent and hope of this team is a different kind of mental gymnastics, one that’s harder to justify.
The stats will paint a picture from the loss, though it’s as confusing as some contemporary art I’ll never understand. The defense looked abysmal as Ohio State hung 35 points in the first half. The offense limped behind with three points by the break.
However, the Spartans are now 7-3 with Maryland and Rutgers left on their schedule. Let’s be real, a chance at 9-3 and a solid bowl appearance isn’t just a possibility, it should be the expectation.
And just imagine that turnaround and digest it, Spartan fans. That should get the butterflies in your stomach going. A 9-3 record is a complete flip of 3-9, a six-game improvement no one outside the MSU locker room thought possible.
Those snaps against the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights are all-the-more important, too. By the end of the regular season, true freshmen have completed their first collegiate season and with a bowl game on the horizon, the experience is necessary.
The Spartans have never wavered in expressing their goals for the 2017 campaign — a Big Ten title and beyond. Even when it sounded silly in June, they never wavered. Even as a myriad of skeptics told them to settle in for a fifth place finish in the Big Ten East division, they never wavered.
While MSU’s chance to travel to Indianapolis are now slim to none, the door is cracked just a tiny bit open. Just enough to show the youthful Spartans what a Big Ten Championship trophy looks like. A motivation factor, if you will.
Some of the older guys on the team knows what it looks like, including quarterback Brian Lewerke, who was then a young true freshman making the trip back in 2015. But knowing what a trophy looks like compared to earning it is a completely different story.
Of course, the Spartans were never going to mail in a season after the Ohio State loss. Strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie would never allow that, neither would head coach Mark Dantonio.
Do not fret, MSU fans. The season’s just about done — it’s already Senior Day coming up, after all — but the good times aren’t quite over.
A New Year’s Six bowl game or a trip to Florida is still in the works. Couple that with a win and it’s the perfect chance for the Spartans to send their fans on their merry way through another Michigan weather.
So yeah, I imagine that blowout loss deflated the MSU hype train that was on its way to Indianapolis. But throw some coal in the steam engine and let the train catch some momentum again.
All things considered, regardless of if MSU wins its bowl game or not, the Spartans have done exactly what they set out to do — and some change leftover.
They’ve injected hope into a once-dismal situation, Dantonio’s even hearing some chatter for coach of the year. The murmurs of a leadership problem seem like a distant memory, and MSU is likely to finish the season ranked.
Gear up those engines, Spartan fans. The hype train is just about to start back up. This time, though, it’ll continue into the offseason, a protruding buzz of optimism enveloping the team.
And damn, that's a long way from 3-9.