The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Michigan State Spartans square off in their final regular season game of the year. The Gophers are already bowl eligible at 6-5 and are looking to move up the bowl pecking order while the Spartans at 5-6 have one last shot to go bowling. We talked with Chris Vannini of the SB Nation Michigan State blog The Only Colors about the matchup.
The Daily Gopher: Before we get to football- so Maryland and Rutgers? Thoughts? I suppose you guys probably consider yourselves a hoops school more than football (if you had to choose) so maybe the Maryland addition for hoops looks better than it does for football? Apparently their still pissed about losing to you guys in the 2010 NCAA Tourney? And is Delaney and the B1G done expanding at 14?
The Only Colors: I just don't know about things anymore. If the goal is to create even more money to keep away from the kids, then the mission will be accomplished. While MSU would seem to be a basketball school because of the success, I'll always contend it's really a football school, and Tom Izzo would say the same. This move is all about football, and given MSU and Minnesota will remain in the Legends, the addition really doesn't do much, if you think about it. If we stay at eight conference games and keep the crossover rival, we'll rarely even see the Terrapins or the Scarlet Knights. I understand the sole goal is to make more money, so it's going to work. Still, I hate it. I miss the old Big Ten. Penn State and Nebraska made sense from both a monetary and program standpoint. This is just a cash grab, and it sucks as a fan.
The Daily Gopher: Your defense looks to be as awesome as everyone thought entering the season. Tell us about what's gone right on that side of the ball.
The Only Colors: Well, the Spartan defense returned just about everything from last year's top-ranked D, so expectations were high. That said, they probably have fallen a bit short of expectations. They've generally been fantastic, but they frequently have failed late in games. They let Ohio State run out the clock in the conference opener, they let Iowa drive the length of the field to send the game to OT, they let Michigan drive into game-winning field goal range, they blew a 10-point lead and let Nebraska drive the length of the field for the last-second win (though with some help from the officials). Last week against Northwestern, the Wildcats put together a scoring drive after both of MSU's touchdowns tied the game two separate times. Given how terrible the offense has been, it's hard to put much blame on them, though. Still, it's frustrating.
The Daily Gopher: Your offense on the other hand...holy cripes you're almost as bad as the Gophers (statistically speaking) and we've been bad. What the heck happened?
The Only Colors: Well, they lost just about all the starting skill players from a year ago. We should have seen this coming, but players and coaches said there wouldn't be a drop off, despite losing some record-breaking players. MSU lost the school's winningest QB in Kirk Cousins, running back Edwin Baker, the top three receivers (including B.J. Cunningham and his school record for catches) and two tight ends. So everything was replaced with young players. The good news is that there isn't a single senior among the skill position players, so things should get better next year. It didn't help that two offensive line starters were lost for the year, while the rest have been dealing with injuries and missing games all season. But, like the skill position, four of the five starters should return for next year. That's what we say to feel better about things.
The Daily Gopher: All of the offensive ineptitude despite having one of the B1G's top rushers. Talk about Le'Veon Bell's season, and is there any hope he returns for his senior year?
The Only Colors: If he's smart, he won't return. That said, I have no idea what he's thinking about, regarding that. Marcus Lattimore's injury just emphasized how running backs have the shortest careers of any player, especially with his style of running. As for this year, he's one of the top running backs in the conference, but MSU is near the bottom in rushing. That's because he gets just about every carry. The aforementioned patchwork offensive line doesn't do much, and Bell is the only the coaches trust to make a guy or two miss and at least pick up a few yards. I saw an Ohio State blogger say last week that if MSU has Wisconsin's offense line, Bell is the runaway Heisman winner. But that's how football works sometimes. Still, the fact a former two-star recruit who played a lot of defense in high school will likely be drafted into the NFL is impressive. He has worked hard, and he deserves to make his own decision, and we'll wish him well.
The Daily Gopher: How warm is Mark Dantonio's seat right now? After a B1G conference title game appearance last season I can't think the pitchforks and torches are out just yet for one down season, but how are Spartans fans feeling about their head coach?
The Only Colors: Depends who you ask. If you want to go through the message boards, you're bound to find fans who want every coach fired. That said, Dantonio's seat is not hot at all. Any fans who want otherwise forget how far this program has come. Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar is a different story. Most fans have called for his head, but Dantonio has always been loyal to his assistants. I don't know if there will be any turnover during the offeseason. But any MSU fans calling for Dantonio's head are ignorant.
The Daily Gopher: If I had told you before the season that in the final game of the year Minnesota would already be bowl eligible and Sparty wouldn't, how hard would you have laughed? How motivated are the players then to get to six wins and a bowl game?
The Only Colors: I would have laughed quite hard, honestly. No one saw this coming, especially the way it has played out. All seven of MSU's Big Ten games have been decided by four points or less — the second time in FBS history that has happened. It's really been incredible and inexplicable. They dominate Northwestern, but never have the lead. But they drive the length of the field to send the Wisconsin game in Madison to OT and then win. The silver lining is that they haven't given up, and I fully expect a complete effort in Minneapolis this Saturday. For a young team like this, getting those extra bowl practices will be extremely important. After everything Dantonio has built in the previous five years, missing out on a bowl would certainly set things back.
The Daily Gopher: Your defense is far better than Minnesota's and the offenses have both struggled. So how do you see Saturday's game playing out? Do the Spartans get to bowl eligibility?
The Only Colors: I didn't think this would matter a month ago, but I'm thankful Minnesota is already bowl-eligible. I'm hoping the Gophers have checked out, not having much to play for outside of Senior Day. Marqueis Gray was quite successful against MSU a year ago, but he's obviously no longer the quarterback. I've seen some performances by Minnesota to make me comfortable about the game (Michigan, Nebraska), but others that worry me (Purdue, first half of Wisconsin). MSU has been better on the road than at home this season, and I think the win-or-go-home mentality will result in a all-around great performance and MSU will finally get that sixth win. I also think this frustrating streak of last-second finishes comes to an end. If you want a prediction, I'll go MSU 28, Minnesota 14.