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Every year when the football schedule comes out, Michigan State fans immediately start analyzing the time, location and surrounding weeks of the game against Michigan. Rankings and standings aside, it’s the biggest game of every regular season.
But the matchup this weekend on paper doesn’t appear too kind to the Spartans. Playing on the road against a top-four team in the Associated Press Poll is hard enough for anyone, but with Michigan State’s struggles so far this year, it looks like a tall mountain to climb. As a result, fans have been left in a murky middle ground where a win feels enormously important, but banking the season on winning this game doesn’t feel productive.
The Spartans currently sit with a 3-4 overall record and one win in Big Ten Conference play. There are only two expected wins left on the schedule, at home versus Rutgers and Indiana, and even that isn’t guaranteed at this point. So, if Michigan State is to win those two remaining home games, MSU would also need to knock off one of either Michigan, Illinois or Penn State – all of which are road games — to even be guaranteed a bowl game bid.
So, with all of that in mind, making a bowl game is going to be hard for this year’s MSU team. And with nothing being a given for this team, even pulling the massive upset against Michigan doesn’t ensure the Spartans won’t fall apart and lose a game against Rutgers or Indiana that should be a “gimme.”
With that looming as a possibility, fans are split on what means more — beating Michigan or reaching a bowl game.
When asked directly, a slight majority of fans wouldn’t consider the season successful just for beating Michigan if the Spartans can’t reach a bowl game, while 41 percent of voters would look at as successful.
In an ideal world, doing one would lead directly to the other. Michigan State is more than a three-touchdown underdog this weekend. But with a little bit of squinting, it is possible for Michigan State fans to see a way to victory. It just takes everything to go right. And, the Spartans have defeated the Wolverines 10 of the last 14 times, including quite a few upsets.
A big part of Michigan State’s chances to upset Michigan is getting as many players fully healthy and totally prepared for facing the Wolverines. Coming off of a bye week makes that significantly easier.
Of course, that is only important if fans put the biggest emphasis on the Michigan game. An argument could be made that a bye week earlier in the season maybe helps Michigan State pull a win out from the Maryland game or another one, as the team has been decimated by injuries throughout the entire year. Or, a bye later in the season could allow for a more realistic opportunity to pull an upset against a team like Illinois.
That’s an argument, though, that most Michigan State fans aren’t making, as the overwhelming majority think MSU’s bye week came at the perfect time. Remember, however, that Michigan is also coming off of a bye.
Unfortunately, all that hard work over the bye week may not be enough. Only a little over a quarter of MSU fans think the Spartans are going to leave Ann Arbor this weekend with a victory.
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