While teasing the Spartan faithful like a flirtatious teenager, MSU has gotten off to impressive starts before, only to see their visions of grandeur become nullified by the always-lethal trap game.
With a date at Pittsburgh looming in a shotgun start at high noon, the Spartans must see to it that they take care of business against the Panthers before focusing their attention on #2 Notre Dame the following week.
While the Irish have their own worries to deal with in the form of an eleventh-ranked Michigan squad, MSU must avoid a familiar nemesis in the aforementioned trap scenario.
In 1997, a 5-0 Michigan State team came into Evanston for Northwestern's homecoming game, and it was also the week before the Michigan game for MSU.
The Spartans recovered from a 16-7 deficit to grab the lead late. Gari Scott's kickoff return touchdown put Michigan State up 17-16 with less than a minute to go, but the Spartans allowed a Hail Mary pass from quarterback Tim Hughes that planted the ball near mid-field with only seconds remaining. A long field goal from Brian Gowins shocked the Spartans 19-17, and took a lot of the sting out of the matchup with the Wolverines the following week.
In 1999, MSU was undefeated again, this time at 6-0 heading into the road game at Purdue. At 3-0 in the conference, MSU sat alone atop the Big Ten with a half-game lead over a 2-0 Penn State squad. While Purdue came into the contest with Michigan State sporting a 4-2 record, they had lost their last two, on the road at Michigan and at Ohio State, and were limping into the game against MSU with a 1-2 conference mark.
With a matchup against Wisconsin on the horizon, the Spartans had an opportunity to stake their turf early on in the Big Ten race, but laid an egg against the Boilermakers, 52-28. MSU fell to 3-1 in the conference.
Wisconsin improved to 3-1 after beating Indiana, while Penn State saw their record increase to 7-0 overall, 3-0 in the conference, following a 23-10 win over Ohio State. Not able to recover from the hangover, the Spartans went out and received a similar beating at the hands of Wisconsin the very next week, this time dropping a 40-10 decision to the Badgers in Madison.
In 2001, after an emotional win so soon after 9-11 against Notre Dame in South Bend, the Spartans could have walked into a showdown game with Iowa carrying a 3-0 record.
While Iowa showed up to its meeting with Michigan State with their conference record unblemished, the Spartans failed to hold up to their end of the bargain, losing to Northwestern 27-26 at home the previous week. After beating Michigan State in late September, the Wildcats won just one remaining game the rest of the year, while losing their last six games altogether.
In 2002, after beating Rice 27-10, MSU fell apart at home against California 46-22 the Saturday prior to the Notre Dame game. Most experts had predicted a rather easy win for Michigan State, one that would have set up a matchup of undefeated teams. Already trailing 7-0, the Spartans were guilty of a holding penalty in the end zone. Now trailing 9-0 with 9:39 to go in the first half, the momentum was suddenly shifted, the Spartans never recovered, and California led MSU 25-0 when the teams headed off the field at halftime.
In 2003, the Spartans were 2-0 heading into what appeared to be, by all accounts, a winnable home game against Louisiana Tech. Trailing 19-7 with less than two minutes remaining, the Bulldogs scored two touchdowns in the final minute to stun the Spartan faithful. After closing the gap to 19-14 with 1:09 to go, Louisiana Tech recovered the ensuing onside kick. Luke McCown's subsequent eleven-yard touchdown toss to DJ Curry with two seconds left gave the Spartans their first loss of the season.