Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Column: Believe it or not, Michigan State is a real contender in the Big Ten ... nationally too

October 31, 2021
<p>Head coach Mel Tucker watches the field during the Spartans&#x27; 37-33 win against the Wolverines on Oct. 30, 2021.</p>

Head coach Mel Tucker watches the field during the Spartans' 37-33 win against the Wolverines on Oct. 30, 2021.

Photo by Devin Anderson-Torrez | The State News

In week 3, we thought Michigan State going down to face then No. 24 Miami was the true measuring stick of whether or not MSU was a truly good team.

The Spartans were 2-0, but with wins over a Northwestern team that lost many key players from its 2020 Big Ten West Champion team and a win over a non-power five team in Youngstown State left questions if MSU should actually be taken seriously.

Michigan State went into Miami and stomped the Hurricanes, 38-17, making a statement to the country: they were not playing around. However as the season progressed and Miami began to fall apart and Michigan State cruised through a relatively soft schedule, questions started to pop up again on the legitimacy of Head Coach Mel Tucker’s Spartans.

But after a 37-33 upset win at Spartan Stadium over No. 6 Michigan, MSU proved to the world that they are true Big Ten contenders, and perhaps even National Championship ones too.

They’ve done so by winning in multiple different ways. They have four double-digit wins over Northwestern, Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Rutgers. They ground out a gritty overtime win versus Nebraska. They won a low-scoring, defensive battle at Indiana. Saturday they added another chapter to the resume with a double-digit comeback versus the Wolverines.

Down 10 to start the second quarter, junior running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Walker III shifted to the left for a 27-yard touchdown, his first of five on the day. Michigan answered the score with a field goal, but shortly after Walker scored again from eight yards out to all of a sudden give MSU a 14-13 lead.

The Wolverines then scored 17 straight points to jump out to a 30-14 lead midway through the third quarter and the energy was sucked out of Spartan Stadium. Michigan State turned to its bread and butter, the man who had gotten them to 7-0: Walker, along with timely stops from the defense, took over the game. He scored three touchdowns in 13:50 of game time spanning across the third and fourth quarters to give MSU the victory over its so-called ‘big brother’, which has now lost to its so-called ‘little brother,' 10 of the last 14 years.

Spartan fans were sent home with exuberant joy in celebration of not only beating Michigan for the second year in a row, but also with the acknowledgment that this team is legit. There was no storming of the field, but couches were burned and cars were flipped as tradition may say to do so.

The energy surrounding the Michigan State fanbase is at an all-time high. The Spartans are the talk of the town and have embraced “Tuck Comin’’ as a slogan as near and dear as “Go Green.”

“I don’t mind it,” Tucker said. “I think it’s fun. We have the best fans in the country ... Whether it’s ‘Tuck Comin’ or ‘K9 for Heisman’ or ‘The Deep End’ or ‘The Woodshed’ or whatever it is, that’s what college football is all about.”

Tucker is the first Michigan State coach to go win their first two games versus Michigan. Vegas had the Spartans’ preseason win total at 4.5 wins. They are 8-0 and a top-10 team in the country. Nobody thought they would be here, yet here they are.

However, the road ahead does not get any easier for MSU. They will still have to beat Purdue next week and Maryland the following week. Then the Spartans travel to Columbus to take on No. 5 Ohio State before closing the season against No. 20 Penn State at home.

The Big Ten East is ultra competitive, especially when compared to the West. Just two weeks ago, four teams in the East — Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State — were all in the AP top-10.

The first step towards a National Championship is winning the conference as it appears only one team from the Big Ten will make the College Football Playoff. MSU will have to beat out some tough competition, which may even require them to win out to qualify for the Big Ten Championship. Then, they’d have to win on a neutral site against whoever comes out of the Big Ten West.

The first College Football Playoff rankings will drop this Tuesday, so we will have another gauge of where the Spartans stand toward the selection committee. Nonetheless, they have proved everyone wrong so far, so calling them pretenders at this point seems ludicrous. Michigan State is for real and they are not fooling around. They are legitimate Big Ten and maybe even National Championship contenders.

“We’ve done what we needed to do to get up to this point, but we still got a long ways to go,” Tucker said. “We got a lot of tough games coming up and it starts with next week and there will be plenty of time at the end to add it all up.”

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