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