Spartans Have Golden Chance At A Bowl Game

To make a bowl game this season, the Spartans must take care of Iowa, because the road only gets tougher after that with Michigan, Purdue, and Penn State in the distance

It seems like forever since first year coach John L. Smith led the Spartans to an 8-5 season and a trip to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. MSU lost 17-3 to the Nebraska Cornhuskers and have not been to a bowl since then.

As a result, not many Michigan State players have experienced being part of a bowl game, which raises the question whether this year's team can break through and get that sixth win to qualify for bowl contention.

No current MSU players saw game action in that bowl game, although several fifth-year seniors were redshirts at that time.

If the past three seasons since that Alamo Bowl have shown anything about MSU football, it would be that no matter how many wins you reel off at the start of a season, it's everything that happens in between the fifth and sixth win that makes the season.

The three years since have seen second-half collapses, with the last two having been major fallouts.

John L. Smith followed up the bowl season with a 5-7 season (4-4 in the Big Ten) in 2004, losing four of the last five games of the season.

The 2005 season started out strong. MSU won its first four games, including knocking off a ranked Notre Dame team in South Bend in overtime. But a crushing loss to Michigan where MSU missed three field goals that could have won the game, then a muffed field goal taken back for a touchdown at Ohio State the next week sent the season into a downward spiral.

MSU finished the season 1-6 in their last 7 games and finished 5-6, one win short of being bowl eligible.

Last season featured another crushing loss that sent the season into a blaze. As most people know by now, the Spartans were well on their way to beating Notre Dame in Spartan Stadium in the fourth quarter when suddenly the Irish stormed back in the last four minutes of the game to win 40-37.

MSU never recovered from that game and went 1-8 in their final nine games (1-7 in the Big Ten).

So now it brings us to this year's team. New coach Mark Dantonio has stepped in and vowed not to let the team fall apart in the second half like the last few years, but yet MSU is 1-3 in their last four games since starting out 4-0.

But the fact remains; MSU has four games left, meaning they have four chances to get one win that would make them bowl eligible.

Based on the Spartans' remaining schedule, Saturday's game at Iowa (3-5) could be the best chance the Spartans have at making a bowl game.

Although playing on the road in the Big Ten is always tough no matter who you play, the final three opponents for MSU, Michigan, Penn State and Purdue are all 6-2 and pose a dangerous threat to the green and white's bowl hopes if they don't come through this weekend against the Hawkeyes.

"We'll take them one game at a time and see where we're at," said coach Mark Dantonio. "But Iowa is certainly very capable. They beat Illinois 10-6 two weeks ago, so they're a very, very capable football team and they're going to play hard. I know that for a fact. What we have to do is do what we do and do it well."

"The fact that we have five wins right now, a 5-3 football team, gives us an opportunity to take every single game one at a time and not put a premium on if we don't win this one, oh, it's doom and gloom. We can play it all the way out and continue to reach our goals and be very systematic in terms of what goals we want to reach. If we're able to win this game then the next goal will be to win the seventh game and continue on from there. I think that's a good thing, and we'll build on that," Dantonio added.

Dantonio reiterated at his Monday press conference that win or lose, the Spartans have been in every game this year, being one of the few teams that does not have a blowout loss under their belt. They have not given up in any game this season, as their play against Ohio State showed last week as well as their dogfight at Wisconsin a few weeks ago.

The Spartans show a different kind of attitude this year after a loss, they have shown that they can put last week in the past and focus on the game at hand.

MSU in the past two years seemed to get into a hole and cannot dig themselves out, letting one big loss snowball into a season-long struggle to just win a game.

"We can't get on another losing streak , teams that go to bowl games don't lose two games in a row and we've done it once so there's no way we can let it happen again," said Brian Hoyer. "This is a huge game regardless of winning the sixth game, but just for the program in general is being able to bounce back after a tough loss to a team that you can't underestimate because it is a great program like Iowa."

It is that fire and confidence as a team that has the Spartans feeling good about themselves. They take the positives from their last game and carry them into their next week, while taking the negative and looking to fix them by watching the game film.

If Mark Dantonio wants to make a statement in his first season at head coach, then he must have his team come out quick on Saturday, and not let the Hawkeyes push them around.

Although neither Dantonio nor any of his players will admit that this week's game is the most "winnable" game they have left on their schedule, and one that could get them to a bowl game, the fact remains that on paper and many times this season, Iowa has had its shares of struggles and injuries that have made it tough on them.

Just like earlier this season during Notre Dame week, Dantonio stressed how important it was not overlook the 0-3 Irish, because they could snap out of it at any moment and were playing on their home field.

This week is much of the same, except the stakes are higher, Big Ten standings hang in the balance, and a potential Michigan State bowl berth will be as well.

"We can't get on another losing streak , teams that go to bowl games don't lose two games in a row and we've done it once so there's no way we can let it happen again," said Brian Hoyer. "This is a huge game regardless of winning the sixth game, but just for the program in general is being able to bounce back after a tough loss to a team that you can't underestimate because it is a great program like Iowa."


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