By a remarkable coincidence, Michigan State is hosting Oregon on the same day that the University of Michigan is hosting Oregon State.
Both games are important in their own ways. Let’s begin with the undercard fight.
SKUNK BEARS HOST BEAVERS: Harbaugh-mania will be full force as 100,000 cultists descend on the world’s largest open-air mental health facility, but will it be enough to spur the winged helmets to victory?
That question is up to the Beavers and their new head coach, who formerly was at Wisconsin before the Great Coaching Shuffle caused a half-dozen programs to jump all over the place.
Gary Andersen was a decent coach in Madison and I count myself among those that wonder why he would want to go from leading the Colossus of the Big Ten West to the Spoiler in Corvallis.
News accounts suggest he wants to move away from a pro-style offense to a run-first spread, which could give the Skunk Bears some issues, given how poorly they have historically fared against the spread.
Some commentators might suggest that running against the Wolverines is a bad idea, but a careful examination of the record reveals that the vaunted Skunk Bear run defense is merely a statistical artifact. Teams that chose to run on U-M did so and did well: Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State all racked up more than 200 yards apiece on the winged wonders last season. Other teams chose to simply throw the ball since they could score at will (see Notre Dame’s beat-down).
Thus we have a team that is a long way from home but with much to prove – particularly since their hated rival will be getting the spotlight. I’m sure Coach Andersen will use this as additional motivation: A win in the Big House would give them a chance at stealing some of the Ducks’ glory, particularly if the Spartans achieve their revenge.
Their opponents clearly have some issues. I must admit I am fascinated to see thumb-sucking articles like this one that note that film sessions after a loss can be unpleasant.
Did Brady Hoke not point out flaws? Are we to believe that this is a new thing in Ann Arbor? They player seemed shocked at the accountability.
None of which convinces me that the change will be quick or comprehensive. It is an oft-repeated truth that the biggest improvement is between the first and second games, but the Skunk Bears have chosen as their ringer a fifth-year QB who was found wanting by a mediocre Iowa squad. Not only doesn’t this say much for their bench but it also has to be demoralizing since by that time, players are pretty much beyond help.
MSU experienced the same problem with Andrew Maxwell – he was as good as he was going to get. Connor Cook was rough, but he had tremendous potential (as we’ve seen).
Prediction: Beavers 28-17.
AND NOW THE MAIN EVENT: The Spartans have been waiting a year for this moment and with a home crowd at their back, they Will. Not. Be. Denied.
As I noted earlier in the week both teams’ first games were lackluster, but I think MSU had the tougher opponent.
Western Michigan has considerable talent and will be making some noise in the MAC this year.
Meanwhile, the Ducks buried an I-AA squad that was picked apart by its former starting QB (who obviously knew the weak points) while coughing up 42 points.
Once again we have the sages of the Football Industrial Complex questioning MSU’s secondary, but it will be the Spartan offense that holds the key to this game. Cook’s passing and a pounding, clock-killing ground game will be the path to victory, not a restoration of the “No Fly Zone.”
Prediction: MSU 42, Ducks 21.