2012 Michigan State Spartans Football Preview
The Michigan State Spartans could not catch a meaningful break this past regular season, but in their 2011 postseason, they might have experienced the transformative moment that will enable them to reach new heights.
Michigan State has received the short end of the stick the past two regular seasons, one time as the result of off-field procedures and another time as the result of on-field events. In 2010, Michigan State tied Wisconsin and Ohio State for first place in the Big Ten, but a quirky tiebreaker procedure kept the Spartans out of a BCS bowl despite the fact that they defeated Wisconsin and did not play Ohio State. In 2011, Michigan State returned a punt for a go-ahead touchdown against Wisconsin in the final minutes of the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis, but a dubious running-into-the-kicker penalty on the Spartans wiped out the touchdown and led to a wrenching defeat. Again, the Spartans missed out on a BCS bowl despite playing at a high level during the balance of the regular season. Michigan State wondered if it would ever be able to push through the final barrier separating the Spartans from the Big Ten title and college football's national spotlight. Entering the 2012 Outback Bowl against Georgia, Michigan State was searching for inspiration, but the prevailing mood in the Spartans' camp was dominated by a combination of depression and fear. Why? Another SEC team, Alabama, had humiliated MSU a year earlier in the 2011 Capital One Bowl. Alabama rolled to a 35-0 lead three minutes after halftime in a 49-7 romp that left the Spartans in tatters. The knowledge that it would have to face another SEC school in early January gave Michigan State a very uncomfortable sense of déjà vu. The Spartans played like a scared team and fell behind 16-0 in the third quarter.
Then, the Spartans improbably found a deeper level of resolve, and it could be just the thing that will propel them into the 2012 season. Michigan State rallied from that 16-point deficit to tie Georgia with 14 seconds left in regulation. The Spartans stood on the precipice of defeat after failing to score on their possession in the first overtime stanza, but coach Mark Dantonio's defense managed to stop Georgia on the Bulldogs' subsequent possession. MSU produced a second stop of Georgia in the third overtime and then kicked a 28-yard field goal to pull off a remarkable 33-30 victory. The team had slain its SEC demon, closing the season with the kind of breakthrough that had proven to be so elusive in the past.
Yes, Kirk Cousins is no longer the MSU quarterback. Andrew Maxwell will have to fill the shoes of his predecessor, and after suffering a right knee sprain in spring practice, Maxwell will be that much more of a question mark last season. However, if the odds seem too great for the defending Legends Division champions in the Big Ten, they can always realize what they did against Georgia this past January. If Michigan State's attitude is right, the Spartans can get back to the Big Ten Championship Game… and win it.
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