For Michigan State, Saturday’s Game with Notre Dame is ‘Must Win’

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These aren’t the same Michigan State Spartans from three or four years ago. Gone are the days where ‘competitiveness’ is the goal and bowl eligibility is something to be hoped for. Michigan State is now a BCS Bowl hopeful and a contender for the Big Ten title.

Tomorrow’s game versus the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is a must win if the Spartans wish to remain a legitimate contender in the public perception and keep hope alive for an at-large BCS berth alive.

Notre Dame isn’t as bad as their 0-2 record indicates. Losses to South Florida and Michigan make the Irish look like a team at the bottom of the group called ‘mediocre’, but they’re actually better than that. If Notre Dame had been able to get out of their own way (read: red zone turnovers), they could easily be 2-0 right now. That still wouldn’t make them ‘good’ (because USF and Michigan are what they are), but it would put their record closer to their actual talent level.

Still, underperforming or not, Notre Dame is a team that Michigan State absolutely has to beat. The Spartans haven’t played anyone yet (with all due respect to Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic), and a loss to Notre Dame could significantly affect their poll standing. The Big Ten isn’t the stronghold it once was, but it’s still a gauntlet to be run, and a loss to the Irish would eliminate Michigan State’s margin for error in the conference portion of the schedule.

We may not like it, but the Spartans need to overcome more than win-loss record to earn a trip to the BCS. We learned last season that MSU won’t be given the benefit of the doubt until they build a tradition of winning. Despite a three-way Big Ten co-championship, Michigan State had to settle for the Capital One Bowl while Wisconsin (a team the Spartans beat) was given a Rose Bowl berth and Ohio State was sent to the Sugar Bowl. They absolutely cannot afford to give pollsters and bowl makers any reason to knock them down.

Saturday is the first test for the Spartans to overcome. Will they stand tall all year, or will they have those one or two sloppy games that will keep them from achieving something the fan base has been longing for for over 20 years?

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