Opinion: Five Reasons Why MSU Could Play Spoiler Against Wolverines

Hate week has arrived in the state of Michigan and it could not have come at a better time. For once, Michiganders can forget about the stress triggered by an election that will fundamentally change the world for generations, and focus on the one thing that really matters: college football.

On Oct. 29, Michigan State will host Michigan for yet another battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy. It seems as if this year, the rivalry game has snuck up on fans. Perhaps this is because Michigan is 7-0 and ranked No. 2 in the nation, while the Spartans have yet to win a single conference game.

Every analyst and expert in the business have Michigan demolishing Michigan State this Saturday. But this is not a bad thing. They always pick against MSU and they are always wrong. We would hate to have Lee Corso choose the Spartans to win and actually get a gameday pick correct for a change.

But college football fans must wonder what chance the Spartans have to upset the Wolverines on Halloween weekend.

So without further ado, here are five reasons why MSU has a shot to spoil Michigan’s resume this Saturday.

1.) Michigan is good, but vulnerable.

Michigan is certainly one of the top teams in the nation. Nobody is denying that. But there are a few holes in their roster that can be exploited. For starters, Wolverine quarterback Wilton Speight has been unpredictable. His throws are often erratic and he has a low completion percentage of about 62 percent. This is only one percent higher than Tyler O’Connor’s. The only difference is that O’Connor does not start.

The Wolverines also have the 83rd most passing yards in the FBS. Granted, their rushing yards ranking is much higher. But considering how often Michigan scores, it is surprising that they have not had more success through the air. Perhaps even more surprising, is that Michigan State, even while juggling around three quarterbacks, have more passing yards than Michigan and rank at 72 in the nation in that category.

Another area to keep an eye on for the Wolverines is the secondary. Jourdan Lewis is an almost a sure-fire All-American, but he is Michigan’s only returning defensive back who started for all of 2015. This is a unit that was exposed early by Colorado, and losing starting corner Jeremy Clark does not help one bit. To be fair, the Wolverine secondary has been solid thus far. But they have not been tested all season and may have their hands full with RJ Shelton, Donnie Corley and Josiah Price.

Lastly, there is the kicking game. Think the Spartans have it rough with Michael Geiger? Think again. Michigan kicker Kenny Allen makes only 60 percent of his field goals. He has yet to make one deeper than 39 yards this season. If the Wolverines drive the ball in Spartan territory, they may come up empty more often than not.

2.) Michigan State is more talented than their record suggests

As bad as the Spartans have been in 2016, it has little to do with a lack of talent. The biggest problems for Sparty are poor execution, lack of team chemistry, bad leadership and mental errors.

The Spartans have not even come close to utilizing the full potential of their roster. If they did, they would be 7-0. For this reason, MSU can be a dangerous team. You never know when they will come together and finally hit their potential. If that happens this Saturday, then buckle up. We’ll be in for a wild ride.

3.) MSU has historically shown up for big games

If there is one thing Mark Dantonio knows how to do, it’s win on the big stage. In his tenure at MSU, he has a Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, three Big Ten Championships and a College Football Playoff appearance.

Dantonio has won seven out of the past eight games against Michigan, and is one of only two Big Ten coaches to have beaten Urban Meyer since his arrival at Ohio State.

It is no coincidence that Michigan State played their best game of 2016 against Notre Dame. Yes, the Irish were overrated. But Indiana and BYU aren’t exactly powerhouses either, and look how Sparty fared against them. The biggest reason why the Spartans beat Notre Dame is because they were prepared for it mentally. The big-time atmosphere put Michigan State in the right mindset.

The Spartans executed against Notre Dame. They had the chip on the shoulder mentality and revived the same determination to win that drove the 2015 Spartans to a playoff berth. MSU played assertively as a team and avoided mental mistakes. If they do the same on Saturday, we will truly see what this squad is capable of.

4.) MSU has nothing to lose

The Spartans have played timidly in recent weeks. They are afraid of failure. As a result, they played to not lose rather than playing to win. This style of football never works.

But now, as the Spartans stick to an ugly 2-5 record, the most they have left to fight for is a low-profile bowl game. They have little to lose if a superior Wolverine team routs them. As a result, they will be more willing to play aggressively. Michigan, on the other hand, will not because they have everything to lose.

Harbaugh is doing everything he can to put his team in the playoff. The last thing he needs is to spoil his perfect record by losing to an unranked in-state rival.

The Spartans need to play ferociously against the Wolverines. If they do, Michigan will begin to feel tension.

The Wolverines have no experience in hard-fought road games. As usual, they played a cupcake non-conference schedule. They played outside the Big House only once thus far, and it was against last place Rutgers. Michigan is not used to unfavorable atmospheres and might crack under pressure.

5.) Crazier things have happened

It’s a rivalry game. Anything can happen. Who knows, maybe Blake O’Neill will have trouble with the snap, and the ball will be free…

Final Thoughts

With all this being said, the Spartans truly have a difficult game ahead of them. Winning this matchup will not be quite as simple as it is written above.

MSU will likely be rocked up front on both sides of the ball. Their defensive backfield will struggle to handle U-M wideouts Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. Tight end Jake Butt could be especially effective with the potential absence of defensive backs Demetrius Cox, Montae Nicholson and Darian Hicks. The Spartans also need to figure out their quarterback situation and find a way to run the ball against a brick wall like front seven.

Sparty also need to cut down on penalties and play smart football. Three personal fouls and an ejection in one quarter won’t cut it.

Still, there are reasons to believe that Sparty at least has a shot to win this game. Anything can happen. After all, this is college football.