Henning: Spartans gunning to prove doubters wrong
East Lansing — Sports teach you an early lesson.
And it keeps repeating that lesson throughout life: Beware of the sure thing.
At least privately, Michigan State might be making five sage words its mantra leading into Saturday’s game against Ohio State at Ohio Stadium.
That’s because no one is giving the Spartans much of a shot at beating the unblemished No. 2-ranked Buckeyes (10-0).
Ohio State is a 14-point favorite to whip the Spartans and maintain its march toward possible back-to-back national championships.
The Spartans might have been thinking similar thoughts had they not slipped up two weeks ago at Nebraska and lost, 39-38, for their only 2015 tumble. But they lost and now take a 9-1 record and No. 9 ranking into a stadium that typically is about as much fun for visitors as a rest stop with no bathrooms.
Is this game really going to be a game? Or is it merely a hope, a slice of wishful thought, shared by Michigan State’s fans and by ABC, which would appreciate on behalf of its sponsors the Spartans and Buckeyes maintaining some degree of drama through the fourth quarter?
The problem in believing this showdown will be tight and competitive involves a handful of realities known by those who lately have studied Ohio State and Michigan State.
The Spartans probably lead the nation in MRIs. They began losing important players (linebacker Ed Davis, to name one) during August practices. Serious injuries, either for the season or for long stretches of missed games, have since been their faithful companion.
The casualty list, potentially anyway, includes Spartans quarterback and Great Green and White Hope, Connor Cook. He is a powerful senior and triggerman who likely will be a first-round pick in next spring’s NFL draft. Cook missed part of last Saturday’s victory over Maryland because of a dinged right shoulder and no one is 100 percent sure if Cook will be even close to 100 percent Saturday.
No one, that is, except Cook, who wasn’t terribly pleased with questions about his health when he was quizzed earlier this week.
“My shoulder is good,” he said, plainly irked by misgivings about his health.
“I’m going to be ready to go, so there is no issue with that.”
His coach, Mark Dantonio, wasn’t quite as convincing, saying on a scale of 10, Dantonio was “9.5” sure his quarterback would be fine.
Other shoulder issues, however, remain — as in chips on Michigan State’s shoulders. The Spartans carry them like epaulets, this grinding grievance that could surface Saturday if Michigan State plays as if it has a score to settle not only with the Buckeyes but with those who don’t believe the Spartans are quite in Ohio State’s class.
“You know, same story, different week,” Cook said, his irritation obvious.
“No one really gives us the kind of respect we deserve. It’s just another reason why — and we’ve said it thousands and thousands of times — it provides more motivation for us.”
Motivation might or might not be sufficient to outgun the Buckeyes, who by almost any account have an edge in sinew, muscle and relative team health.
Ohio State also has been playing better football of late. The Buckeyes have outscored their last four victims by a combined 143-34. They have more good quarterbacks than can be fitted onto a depth chart, as well as a running back, Ezekiel Elliott, who in his award-winning life has made the occasional defender consider another sport.
But the Spartans say they’re not bothered by point spreads. Or by projections. Or by ABC’s possible fears of losing audience shares that tend to drop when a team is down by three or four touchdowns.
“I think we can play,” said Dantonio who, like his quarterback, can perform an Academy Award-worthy role as the disrespected opponent. “I think we have the talent to play with top 10 teams in the country.
“We’ve got good players. I don’t think we have yet to put our best game in front of us, where we’re hitting on all cylinders. I do think we’re very, very capable.”
Michigan State no doubt is capable. Almost any team in college football is capable of felling an opponent, particularly when the Spartans have been so accustomed themselves to success wrought from amassing and schooling talented players.
They believe they can get it done Saturday at a stadium built to hold 104,944 bodies and absorb decibels on about the level of those generated during a Cape Canaveral launch.
Not everyone agrees. Some see an Ohio State victory as all but a certainty.
Of course, some folks haven’t yet learned one of life’s oldest lessons.
The sure thing is the least sure thing in sports.
The weather is not expected to be a factor for Michigan's big game at Penn State on Saturday but it could be for Michigan State's showdown at Ohio State.
The forecast for noon in State College, Pa., is 43 degrees and sunny, with very little wind. It should remain dry throughout the Michigan-Penn State game.
In Columbus, Ohio, however, there is a 30-percent chance of rain for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff, but that rises to 100 percent by 5 p.m.
The temperature at kickoff for the MSU-Ohio State game will be 50 degrees and the wind will be low.