Michigan State and Wisconsin are under valued. While its difficult for the BCS to ignore major conference undefeated teams, the system picks and chooses one loss teams to include in the mix. Pollsters put in their rankings, then the BCS computers add together their stats, and finally the BCS rankings are released. These rankings shape national media group think and again get reflected in the polls (including the coaches poll, do you really think all college football coaches have seen every game?). Public perception follows. The Big Ten isn’t fairing so well in either category these days so the Spartans and Badgers are paying the price.In September, Wisconsin was robbed of the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal at Arizona State; losing 32-30. A couple weeks later, the Badgers played a score behind the Buckeyes most of the night and lost a hard fought game in Columbus, 31-24. Two losses, especially for a Big Ten team, spells immediate dismissal from what is considered the nation’s elite.
Wisconsin has since dominated its schedule. The most recent display of Badger muscle was a 51-3 pounding of Indiana on Saturday which included a typically large portion of Wisconsin ground game with 554 yards rushing. While the offensive line comes equipped with the road-graders we’ve come accostomed to in Madison, the backfield is fleet. Melvin Gordon and James White can go the distance at any time and often do. Both backs have eclipsed 1,000 yards with a combined 24 rushing TD’s. Gordon’s 8.4 yards per carry often requires a second look at the stat sheet. As usual, Wisconsin’s pass game continues to marvel no one. Joel Stave is improved as a sophomore with 16 TD’s vs eight interceptions, while the Badgers continue to search for a second option to Jared Abbrederis (54 Rec, 6 TD). No other wide receiver has caught more than nine passes. Tight End Jacob Pederson’s 27 receptions are half of Abbrederis’ output. The defense is underrated; ranking fifth in the nation in points against (14.6).
Despite ripping off eight wins vs just two losses, disclaimed above, the Badgers just snuck into the Top 25 after Week 11. In a system that typically rewards dominance second only to scheduling, Wisconsin should be greater appreciated. No, the schedule has not been stellar. But again, credit the Badgers for going to the desert and playing a strong Sun Devil team and putting a scare into the nation’s third ranked team. Wisconsin is the poster child for the Big Ten’s plodding perception and inferiority. Recent history, though, warns us to not be stunned when the Badgers compete, if not defeat, a quality postseason opponent.
Then there’s the case for Michigan State. The Spartans dug their grave in South Bend with six, mostly questionable, pass interference calls that largely contributed to a 17-13 defeat. Also note that current starter, Connor Cook, was pulled for the final drive in favor of 2012 starter Andrew Maxwell. Cook, respectfully, commented after the game that he would’ve led a game-winning drive against the Irish. Of course, we’ll never know. Cook can point to last season’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl as evidence to back his claim; a 17-16 win over TCU. Regardless, Cook’s insertion into the lineup has sparked ol’ Sparty.
Let’s not confuse this ariel assault with other green clad contingents at Oregon or Baylor. Michigan State’s developing passing game is more effecient than explosive. Cook’s five 200-yard passing efforts in eight games far outweighs Maxwell’s two similar efforts in the last seven games of 2012. Cook has also tacked on five points on the completion percentage while his 14-3 TD to Interception ratio far exceeds Maxwell’s 13-9 showing last season. The drastic improvement of the Michigan State receiving core cannot be discounted. This group gained much acclaim for consistently dropping the football last season, and early in 2013. Mark Dantonio’s public challenges supported increased work and dedication in practice. Bennie Fowler, Macgarrett Kings Jr, Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery won’t wow you with gawdy numbers, but Michigan State fans remember what the passing game looked like just weeks ago, and appreciate the improvement.
On the ground, Jeremy Langford has emerged from a long list of early season candidates to become MSU’s next Le’Veon Bell. Langford pounded Nebraska for 151 yards on 32 carries. Mark Dantonio likes one workhorse to rely on, and he’s found his man. Langford is knocking on the door of a 1,000 yard season after five consecutive 100-yard games to go along with 13 rushing TD’s.
We talk all offense because the defense is a given. The nation’s #1 rushing and total defense gives up just 57 yards per game on the ground at 2.1 yards per clip. More importantly, the Spartans give up just 13.2 points per game; fourth best in the country. It all adds up to 9-1 against a marginal schedule with Northwestern (4-6), Minnesota (8-2) and a possible date with Ohio State (10-0) in the Big Ten Championship Game still ahead. And before knocking the Spartans’ schedule, look around College Football, very few teams play more than a couple decent opponents. This team will challenge anybody in postseason play with a physical rushing game, legitimate Top Ten defense, and at least a threat of some plays in the passing game. Michigan State should be recognized as a Top Ten team right now.
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