Spar­tans’ fall could be Big Ten’s big­gest since ’34 Michi­gan

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Eric Olson

The fall of Michi­gan State could end up be­ing the most dra­matic in Big Ten foot­ball since the Ger­ald Ford-led Michi­gan Wolver­ines went from first to worst 82 years ago.

The Spar­tans won the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship last sea­son for the sec­ond time in three years and ap­peared in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. Fi­nal record: 122, in­clud­ing 7-1 in Big Ten games.

This year they’re 2-7 and 0-6 in the con­fer­ence. With East Divi­sion con­tenders Ohio State and Penn State the fin­ish­ing op­po­nents, Michi­gan State’s best and per­haps last chance at a Big Ten vic­tory comes Satur­day when Rut­gers, also win­less in the Big Ten, vis­its Spar­tan Sta­dium.

“It’s amaz­ing when you re­ally take it into con­text where we’re at right now com­pared to where we were at last year,” coach Mark Dan­to­nio said. “But that’s re­al­ity. Re­al­ity sets in on you.”

The most stun­ning drop-off by a de­fend­ing cham­pion oc­curred in 1934 with coach Harry Kipke’s Michi­gan team.

The Wolver­ines won the 1932 and ‘33 na­tional ti­tles un­der the Dickinson Sys­tem, a widely re­spected formula for crown­ing cham­pi­ons in that era. Those teams com­bined to go 15-0-1, outscore op­po­nents 254-30 and record 11 shutouts.

A spate of in­juries hit in 1934, and the two-time de­fend­ing con­fer­ence cham­pion went 1-7 over­all and 0-6 in the Big Ten. The Wolver­ines were outscored 143-21 and shut out five times.

“In ’32 and ’33, we were un­de­feated, and then in ‘34 we had a tough, tough year,” Ford, the team most valu­able player who be­came the 38th U.S. pres­i­dent, told the Michi­gan Daily in 1994. “In those years, our of­fense was called ‘a punt, a pass, and a prayer.’ We had an out­stand­ing passer, Bill Ren­ner, who broke an an­kle be­fore the sea­son started. Our punter, John Regeczi, was the great­est col­lege punter I ever saw and he ru­ined his knee. All we had left was the prayer.”

The 2016 Spar­tans, like the ’34 Wolver­ines, have been hard-hit by in­juries. They’ve played three quar­ter­backs and have had dif­fer­ent start­ing line­ups on of­fense and de­fense ev­ery game. Their fa­mously strong de­fense is giv­ing up 30 points a game and ranks last in the Big Ten in red-zone de­fense and sacks.

“We had very high goals com­ing into this sea­son. I do not think our goals should have been less than they are. I just don’t,” Dan­to­nio said. “You can’t go to a Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off, win the Big Ten the last two out of three years, sit there and say, ‘Gee, guys, I hope we go 7-5.’ You can’t do that.”


North­west­ern’s Joe Gaziano, left, sacks Michi­gan State QB Brian Lew­erke for a safety in East Lans­ing, Mich.

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