Spartans stumble into Piscataway despite undefeated record
I arrived at Spartan Stadium a generous three hours before kickoff this past Saturday. Fans, friends and family were taking tours around the eighth floor as the beat reporters slowly strolled in. A man in Purdue gear approached me, introduced himself as a radio analyst for the Purdue Radio Network and asked if I would join him on his pregame show. I gladly accepted.
We began with a general preview, which went some where along the lines of ‘Purdue has played winnable games’ and ‘MSU has not been covering its spreads.’ My response was that the No. 2 AP ranking makes way for the critics — that MSU would cover the spread against Purdue. The conversation ended with talk about how this team has responded to its AP rankings and of course, a breakdown of the injury report.
MSU narrowly escaped the game with a 24-21 win over a Purdue team that entered 1-3. I’d be lying if I said my concern for the Spartans didn’t raise afterward.
So now, when I look at a (2-2) Rutgers team with an interim head coach, my gut tells me it wouldn’t be wise to roll with the 17-point spread.
Or would it?
I put myself in the shoes of the Spartans’ replacement players who will step onto the Rutgers gridiron to a blacked-out crowd after sunset and I worry their nerves may falter.
I put myself in the shoes of Rutgers’s players who have rested and planned two whole weeks for a deteriorating Spartans team and I can feel their increased confidence.
This trip to New Jersey is nothing short of a trap game for MSU, but the Spartans knowing of the trap might make the difference.
It is easy to forget that MSU’s No. 2 ranking has been the result of winning such trap games. Over the past nine seasons under head coach Mark Dantonio, the Spartans have made a living in games they are expected to poorly perform in. The Spartans had shirts this offseason which literally placed a chip on their shoulder because that is the attitude their program was built on.
It might sound crazy, but I think the Spartans will be more prepared for this game than any other this season. The team is finally able to get back to playing with the odds against them — back to what they do best.
I have read reports of the Rutgers team watching its 45-3 loss from this past season and trust me, I do not expect a depleted MSU defense to hold any team to three points this year. But it feels as if the Scarlet Knights are currently facing way too many off the field distractions to play their perfect game.
A healthy, focused Rutgers team will be needed to take down the Spartans on Saturday, but that is not the team I see.
So, in conclusion, I will go ahead and embarrass myself with a prediction that will most likely be wrong.
A 35-24 victory for MSU. Injuries will be huge this year for the Spartans and opponents will be able to take advantage of player gaps and home field advantage, but I inevitably believe the Spartans will fend off the blacked-out scare.
Ryan Kryska is a Michigan State football reporter for The State News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.