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The MSU Spartans Are the Most Surprising 5-0 College Football Team

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I have a complete list of DI-FBS Football Teams who have yet to fall this season: Alabama, Oregon, Boise State, TCU, Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma, LSU, Ohio State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Utah, Missouri, Nevada, Northwestern, Michigan, and Michigan State.

That’s 17 teams out of 119 teams at the beginning of the season.  One more of those will fall for sure this week when Michigan and Michigan State meet, though it’s pretty unlikely that 16 unbeatens will get out of this week without a loss.

We can, however, look at this list and find who looks out of place.  Northwestern, Nevada, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Utah, Missouri, and Michigan haven’t played anyone who is currently ranked.  Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, TCU, Arizona, Alabama, Oregon, and Auburn all have quality wins over teams that are ranked or could finish ranked, but those are your power programs on the list and it’s hardly a surprise that any of them are undefeated in the first week of October.  Boise State has thrashed everyone they played since narrowly escaping over Virginia Tech.  They last lost in 2008, so their undefeated record isn’t a surprise.

On the other hand, one of the 17 teams weren’t even expected to have a winning record at this point, necessarily, and logged an upset over a conference opponent last week to reach this point.  The Michigan State Spartans are 5-0, and they’ve done it on the strength of wins over Notre Dame and Wisconsin at home.  What makes the Spartans a surprise 5-0 team is that this team wasn’t even supposed to be ready to compete at this point.  They’ve improved on both offense and defense when it would appear that they were set for a decline.

Problem with Michigan State’s early season is that they’ve played four home games, and one “neutral” site game in Detroit against…Florida Atlantic?  Sounds like a home game to me.  Michigan State now must play four of it’s final seven games on the road inside the Big Ten conference.  Of course, going to Ann Arbor to play Michigan isn’t too different than a neutral site game.  The crowd will be partisan, though by home game standards at the Big House, not really up to that partisan standard.

Still, this is a barrier that the Spartans must conquer in order to chase a Rose Bowl title.  Ohio State and Michigan State don’t play this year, so we could have a situation where both teams run the table this year.  Both teams have Michigan and Iowa as their best remaining opponents.

It’s an unlikely scenario that would result in Michigan State running the table to tie an Ohio State team that also went 12-0, but I think they have an advantage against a Michigan team this week that is really struggling on defense at the current moment.  That’s not an advantage that Ohio State will have over Michigan later in the year.  The Wolverines were worse defensively last week than in any of the prior weeks, and Denard Robinson is banged up enough right now to the point where he is going to have to start relying on his arm a bit more than in past weeks.

Robinson will be able to throw on the Michigan State defense, but probably not enough to outpace the work done by the balanced Spartan offense, and I think Michigan State wins this game over Michigan comfortably, by 9-13 points or so.  If this prediction proves correct, it’s going to be tough to stop the Spartans the rest of the year.  The Spartans have proven to be a team with many small weaknesses on both sides of the football, but no fatal flaws that will keep them out of games against better opponents.

And because of the notably soft big ten schedule, a lot more people than just me could be seeing a 12-0 Spartans season after this week.  It’s certainly not unreasonable.  It was only unthinkable prior to the season because nobody really thought Michigan State could possibly be good enough to run through the early part of their schedule at 5-0.  If Notre Dame wasn’t going to get them, then Wisconsin would.  I thought exactly the same thing.  Michigan State proved that assumption wrong, so here we are now, a 5-0 team needing to keep the other Michigan college football team from getting to 6-0 themselves.

Unlike Michigan, this game wouldn’t just mean another win for Sparty, it would validate the first five games of the year.  Michigan can’t get caught looking ahead, nor can they be satisfied with a near-disaster victory in this game.  They’re in a tough spot, and I think they’re going to be in trouble when Michigan State drops them to 5-1 this week and then yes, Rich Rodriguez is going to be pushed back into the “show me” line of fire with the Michigan faithful.  This week and this game can (and will) change the way people are looking at the Big Ten.

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