ROSENBERG: MSU laps field, wins Legends

By Michael Rosenberg

MCT Columnist

First the game was over. Then the race was over. Michigan State crushed Indiana, 55-3, to win the Old Brass Spittoon, and while the Spartans were disinfecting it, they learned that Michigan had helped its big/little/equally proportioned brother by beating Nebraska.

The two outcomes added up to one result. Michigan State earned at least a share of the Big Ten’s Legends Division title, and with it, the right to rename the division. No, wait. That’s not right. The Spartans get a spot in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. On Dec. 3, they will play Penn State or Wisconsin.

The Spartans earned it in every way. There isn’t a lot to say about Michigan State’s 52-point victory over Indiana, except that four years ago, the Spartans were supposed to be Indiana, or something close to it.

The Spartans’ 2007 recruiting class was ranked eighth among current Big Ten teams by rivals.com. So was the 2008 recruiting class. Most of the individual ratings were just as low. Joel Foreman and Trenton Robinson got two stars out of five. Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham, Jerel Worthy and Keshawn Martin got three. They now form the heart of a team going for its second straight Big Ten title.

Coach Mark Dantonio said he didn’t worry about recruiting rankings. The coaches recruit players they like, and try to identify overachievers.

That is Dantonio’s term: overachievers. But be careful how you use it. The team that beat the Hoosiers does not belong in a football version of “Hoosiers.” MSU has plenty of talent.

Worthy may be an overachiever, but he will be a starting defensive lineman in the NFL someday, and maybe a star. Cunningham is one of the best Big Ten receivers of the last half-decade.

As a freshman, Cunningham hosted Martin for his recruiting visit, and he remembers watching Martin’s high school highlights on his computer. This is what stood out: “No receiver highlights.”

Martin was a high school quarterback. Now he is one of the best all-around weapons in the Big Ten. Against Indiana, he caught eight passes for 99 yards, ran 19 yards for a touchdown, returned five punts for 64 yards, sprinted around the Hoosiers like they were statues and wowed everybody in the stadium with … a five-yard punt return. It was beautiful.

He juked and cut until there were seven Indiana players behind him — the last one happened to trip him up.

Then there is Cousins, who has led the Spartans to more victories than any quarterback in school history. He was typically excellent against Indiana: 16-for-23, 272 yards and three touchdowns. He dropped a long pass perfectly into Cunningham’s hands and exploited the holes in the Indiana defense.

By the fourth quarter, this game was so long over that Dantonio called for a handoff to Foreman, one of his guards. Foreman ran for three yards and looked, for all the world, like he would run for at least three and a half.

It was a great moment, because Foreman epitomizes the program: tough, determined, better than people expected.

“If there is anybody with a mind-set that I actually idolize, it would be him,” Worthy said.

And that was it for one of the best senior classes in Michigan State history. Cunningham said afterward that “we weren’t highly recruited out of high school. But by this point, man, honestly we forgot about that.”

I can’t fault him. The Spartans have been so good that most fans forgot about that, too. The Michigan State seniors were so dominant, they robbed themselves of a proper send-off. Fans forgot to stay and cheer. But they will remember this group for years.

avatar

Posted by Tribune News Services

Leave a Reply