In the aftermath of the Michigan game, all is right with the world in Spartan Nation. The arch-rival Wolverines have been vanquished â€” in dramatic, overtime fashion just for good measure. And a 1-3 start, with an embarrassing loss to Central Michigan, is now a thing of the past, the page having been turned on a season that many had given up for lost before the halfway mark.
Or has that page really been turned? Beating Michigan is all well and good. But in truth, with the emphasis head coach Mark Dantonio puts on it and the way the Wolverine program is trending, beating UM might not be such a mountain to climb in the future. After all, the Spartans just beat Mee-chigan for the second consecutive season, an accomplishment that had not occurred since Duffy Daugherty and Lyndon Baines Johnson were the men in charge.
So if beating UM doesn't make a season â€” and it shouldnâ€™t, all by itself â€” than what does? Two words: bowl game. Does anyone really believe that everything would be hunky-dory if MSU ended a couple seasons 1-11 or 2-10 â€” so long as one of the victories were over Michigan? College football fans want to win, and they want to win now. And that means accomplishing more than a couple days of euphoria after slapping around the Weasels from Ann Arbor.
So for MSU, the win on Saturday must be followed with consistent effort the rest of the campaign. Beginning with Illinois next week, the Spartans continue to be under the gun. The Michigan victory did relieve the pressure a bit, backing the screws up just far enough for the team to revel in a job well done. But if the emotional win is followed by a flop in Champaign, visions of smacked-up Wolverines will be a distant memory.
With seven games remaining, MSU will need to find victories in over half of the match-ups â€” not an easy task for a team that has struggled to play consistent defense or run the ball effectively between the tackles. Illinois will be one of those games the Spartans really must win with a bevy of difficult match-ups yet to play.
After the Illini, MSU hosts the always-pesky Northwestern Wildcats, a team that has given the Spartans and others fits with it's Central Michigan-like spread offense. After that, Iowa, one of the most complete Bug Ten teams, will be looking for revenge after a nail-biting loss to MSU last year. Minnesota, Western Michigan and Purdue will give MSU three good opportunities to reach bowl eligibility if another win is found elsewhere. And the Spartans had probably better do it by the Boilermaker game, because if last season's game against Penn State is any indication, MSU's season finale, even though it is in the friendly confines of Spartan Stadium, is going to be heavily tilted toward the Nittany Lions.
A bowl game, even in Detroit sponsored by a box of pizza, is absolutely vital for Dantonio and company. The extra practices, the prolonged exposure, the youngsters who get to continue to develop, the respect of being known as a team that has reached a bowl game for three-straight seasons â€” there are many reasons why going to a bowl game means much more than a victory over UM.
And just like beating Michigan, a bowl game really indicates a healthy program. For Dantonio and staff, that's the ultimate measure: building a consistent program, a program that the rest of the conference fears, a program that finds itself in bowl games when others are celebrating Christmas at home or making New Year's resolutions on the couch. Michigan State needs a bowl game to salvage this season, make no mistake about it.