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The Last Word: Michigan State’s Fall Continues

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NCAA Football: Michigan State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Man, this has been a rough autumn for Little Brother. I mean, not to be totally condescending, but I’m kind of curious when this stops being funny to watch. Luckily, we’re not there yet.

Not only did MSU lose again - this time to 3-6 Illinois - but now MSU tickets for this weekend’s Rutgers game are going for about the price of a few Cokes. (Damn, they beat us.) They really do emulate us, though, don’t they.

MSU’s season has basically been what this kid is doing:

To put some context to the ongoing struggle, Michigan State is playing worse football, according to S&P+, than Eastern Michigan, Wyoming, Middle Tennessee, Tulsa, Troy, Western Kentucky, and NIU, all of whom averaged under 20,000 in attendance last year. Mark Dantonio is making more than $4.3 million a year.

They’re also doing worse than Old Dominion, which just had a football game called by announcers 1,200 miles away. Did I mention they’re doing worse than Eastern Michigan?

I guess Michigan State watched the messiness of the U.S. election and thought, “Hey, let’s be like that!” Or Family Guy, where they were like, “Let’s be like Meg, only football player versions!” Or Mad Max: Fury Road, where they looked around at the whole thing and said, “You know... we could be the poisoned earth.”

It would almost be less painful if there was something scandalous involved. This is just… unfiltered suckage. They couldn’t even get their hands on some of that patented Strength Through Disrespekt by getting blown out against Michigan. They’re just floating on nothing.

In the meantime, while I’m hoping for a Rutgers victory this weekend, it’s fun to think of videos that are in some way symbolic of Michigan State’s season so far. So, here’s another:

And another - this one is a little on the nose:

And, alright, last one. Call this one a compilation of Spartan fans.

One last fun fact: MSU’s sack leaders, Malik McDowell and Raequan Williams, are currently 46th in the conference with 2 sacks apiece. Collectively, the team is 125th in the nation.

I was a Michigan fan for a long time before I actually paid much attention to college sports*, but there are also other players and coaches who you end up supporting once you start following the game - even if you have to fight them sometimes.

Well, Indiana’s Kevin Wilson is someone I’ve enjoyed watching for a while now. He’s quietly been a great ambassador for the sport to non-football fans in the Hoosiers community, and he’s also run his program in a classy way.** He even looks like a tamed soccer hooligan they managed to stuff in a polo.

Anyway, I realized this week that Kevin Wilson and Indiana’s season has been the spitting image of Jim Caldwell and the Detroit Lions - minus the soccer hooligan part. Caldwell, who instead looks like everyone’s favorite grandma, is easy to respect but can be … ah, frustrating to watch is a good way to put it … from time to time. Sure, he may do things the right way, but that also has to extend to, you know, coaching really well.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Just like Wilson, he’s trying to resurrect a moribund franchise. And for both the Hoosiers and the Lions, this season has featured a lot of hazardously close games and a barely plus-.500 record. Close... but to what, exactly?

Both seasons should be celebrated, but it feels like the Hoosiers and Lions are still stuck in a kind of football purgatory. They’re too good to be bad, and too bad to be good. They say the most important stat of any program is always the fans’ level of disappointment, and teams that are stuck in the middle between real success or failure can have a hard time finding the right direction out of the flames.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimately, both coaches will probably avoid the hot seat this season. Kevin Wilson is definitely in a safer place at Indiana, but the situations these two men are wrestling with are the same. For his part, Kevin Wilson’s safety is because he’s still introducing his nascent fan base to the roller coaster of emotions that comes from caring about a team that disappoints - while Lions fans have already been desperate to find higher ground for a long, long time.

Also, it should be pointed out that Wilson once managed to drive a golf cart over the foot of a recruit’s grandmother, and still somehow secured the commitment. Jim Caldwell can’t put that on a resume.

*Is actually following a sport an important part of being a fan? No, and 40% of last week’s Cubs fans can prove it.
**At least a couple early-season scares for the Hoosiers the last few years have been because Indiana played against FIU or USJWC or Pig Latin University without some of their starters due to suspension. Wilson hasn’t been afraid to suspend guys to make a point and he knew he wouldn’t get any sympathy if his team ended up losing.
He’s also been supportive of guys transferring out, which has really bit him a couple times: quarterbacks Tre Roberson and Cam Coffman transferred after 2013 for more playing time, then the incumbent starter got knocked out for the season after six games. Michael Hunter is another guy nobody talked about, but he was a very solid cornerback who transferred to Oklahoma State in 2015 - and without him or Tim Bennett, the Hoosiers went from 94th in the country in pass defense, with 251 pass yards a game, to 126th and 313 yards.
But Wilson has always refrained from excuses - not for depth, injuries, transfers, lackluster crowds, anything. He’s been a champ.