Jason’s Journal: Spartans Must Embrace Underdog Role

List how many underdog stories you have heard about Michigan State athletics in just the last two years and you should be able to pick four or five without even thinking.

This Friday and next Saturday, the Spartans will take on the No. 13 Michigan Wolverines whose offense is “unstoppable” according to BTN analyst Dan Kelly.

No one believes that the Spartans can hang with Michigan, mainly due to their well documented offensive woes. However, what Michigan State lacks in defensive flair they make up for in team defense and a goaltender who is second to none in the conference.

So while the experts laud about how Zach Hyman, Dylan Larkin, Andrew Copp and the rest of the Wolverines are going to wipe the floor with the Spartans, I would like to remind everybody that Michigan State, in numerous sports, has made a living out of being an underdog.

Football provides the most recent and publicized examples of Spartan underdog heroics. Back in 2013, the 10th ranked Michigan State Spartans faced off against a National Championship bound Ohio State team that had arguably the best QB-RB combo in Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Nearly every national pundit said that Mark Dantonio and the Spartans had little to no chance, that even their vaunted defence would likely break against the Buckeye onslaught, but it would be a heck of game.

Michigan State eventually won the game and the Big Ten championship by a score of 34-24, giving Urban Meyer his first double digit loss and denying OSU a trip to the National Championship.

A more recent example could be the “Cotton Bowl Comeback” (trademark pending)  where Michigan State came back from a fourth quarter 21-point deficit to beat a favored Baylor team 42-41.

Basketball too is among those who have recently upset a heavily-favored team. Michigan entered the 2014 Big Ten tournament as the regular season champion and odds-on favorite to win the tournament. No one saw the Spartans coming, and with a team that will forever be remembered by a little princess named Lacy, the Spartans defeated Michigan in the final game to win the championship.

Now of course we are talking about hockey, not football or basketball. But there was one game that sticks out to me as a quintessential underdog comeback that proves that Michigan State does indeed have a chance to beat Michigan.

It happened last year at Munn, the Spartans were down 3-1 after the first period against the Wolverines, who were coming off of a dominating performance against MSU the night before. With the grim specter of being swept for the second time that season by Michigan, the Spartans rallied around backup goaltender Will Yanakeff and fought their way back to win the game 4-3 in front of an ecstatic crowd at Munn Ice Arena.

Michigan State will head into this series against Michigan battling all of the odds. This series will see a matchup of the two bests in the Big Ten, the best offense vs. the best defense.

The Spartans will be the underdog, and that is just where they should be. Believe in Green!


For your viewing pleasure, a video showing the Spartans upset No. 1 Michigan in 2008.

Jason Ruff is the host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports

Photo: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports