Under the Lights, Special Things can Happen at the High Cathedral of the Spartan Nation: Spartan Stadium!

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Since the 1970's, Michigan State has been known as a basketball school, and rightfully so. The program lays claim to 23 NCAA tournament appearances in its history, seven final fours, and two national championships, not to mention a spot in the final last year in which they lost to North Carolina. Michigan State basketball has overshadowed the Spartan football program for many years, but, this year, Mark Dantonio's men of the gridiron remind me a lot about last year's Spartan basketball squad.

We all had high expectations for this season for the Michigan State football program. Who in their right mind wouldn’t have? Michigan State was looking like a team that could do no wrong in the off-season, with few questionable positions and depth beyond most people’s wildest dreams. We had everything, including great leadership that had been here for a few years like Greg Jones and Eric Gordon on defense. We had amazingly talented underclassmen that looked ready to step into the limelight and take us to greener pastures like sophomore QBs Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins. We had freshman with more talent that they knew what to do with, especially at running back, who were supposed to fill the mighty shoes of the departed Javon Ringer.

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Unfortunately all those positives to start the season were marred by a humiliating loss to Central Michigan and a heart-breaker to Notre Dame that should have never happened. A bunch of what-should-haves and what-could-have-beens — in total, about 10 seconds and 2-3 bad plays — was the difference between the 4-3 record that stands before us and the chance of being 6-1. Instead of being talked about as one of the Big Ten’s best teams, and maybe even one of the nation’s top tier teams, we are forced to look at mediocrity.

Michigan State basketball started last season much the same way. While they didn’t lose the number of games that the football team has, they lost a few they shouldn’t have. Looking at the schedule, one of the biggest mars was the loss to Maryland early. Then they lost to a much more powerful and fundamentally sound team in North Carolina, not to mention losses half way through to Northwestern, Penn State, and a solid Purdue team. Even after those losses, the team was still highly regarded as the Big Ten’s best, but crumbled under pressure against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament. People panicked, including me.

The team that many thought had their best shot to make a Final Four run in their home state didn’t look so promising, especially when an up-start USC team was staring us down in the second round of the Tournament. Our chances at even making it out of the first weekend of the tourney didn’t look very high anymore. But with a metaphorical flip of the switch, we saw the team that everyone thought we would.  Freshman and underclassmen stepped up and started playing the way that we thought they would. Upperclassmen became the leaders that the team needed.  Sound familiar, football fans?

MSU football doesn’t have a postseason playoff to look forward to like their hardwood brothers; when the NCAA Tournament wipes slate clean, and teams have a shot at a renewed season. But maybe the football team does too.  The non-conference football schedule is like the regular season in basketball and the Big Ten schedule is like the Tournament. We have an automatic bid, as Big Ten Champions, into a BCS game and the winner of the conference title gets that nod.  It’s like our fight through the Tournament to the National Championship game. We aren’t quite to the point to where we are talking actual National Championships at MSU for football, but we do have a shot at the next best thing: the Rose Bowl.

The Iowa game tonight marks our chance to take our season and turn it upside down. Who would have thought that with a loss to CMU, and two more that followed, that we would have a shot at a conference crown? Michigan State has just that staring them right in the face. Though it is a steep hill that looms before them, with five tough games remaining sitting between them and supremacy of the Big Ten and their first trip to Pasadena since 1988, it’s not too much for a team like this one. 

The Michigan State football team from this year and the basketball team from last have a lot in common. They both had players that were supposed to be at the top and didn’t get there for their teams to start, and both turned it on toward the end of their seasons. Both had coaches that we all know can be the best in the nation, it just took them a little longer than expected to figure it out.

There is one big question that remains, though: Can the Spartan football team finish like the basketball team? Can they smell those roses yet, or are they still looking for right road to get there? The basketball team realized the chance that they had in front of them and seized the day. They fought hard and beat teams like USC, Louisville, and UConn; all teams that were supposed to beat them, not the other way around.

The football team has that chance staring them down the barrel starting Saturday. Iowa comes in at sixth in the BCS, hoping for their own chance to win the Big Ten, and even dreaming of a National Title. Michigan State has to bring their 'A' game and not play around with the chance before them. This is the chance everyone thought we would have to start the season; the question now is how will it end? Will this team write their own Cinderella story and pave their own path to their big game? Only time will tell, and that time starts Saturday in East Lansing under the lights.