Why? We're 3-9 and have no bowl game, that's why. But also because I just found the stats interesting.
Michigan State played Georgia in the Citrus Bowl, prompting dual Georgia/Michigan fan Michael at Braves & Birds to ponder World War II (most things cause him to ponder World War II):
Michigan State came into the Citrus Bowl (I refuse to use the new name) in a position not unlike the one that Japan in 1940-41. MSU was opposed by a slumbering giant, an opponent that was complacent and unprepared for war at the outset, but an opponent with far greater talent and capacity for a long-term fight.
Long story short: the giant woke up in the second half and dropped bombs. Only Georgia's disinterest in the game kept Michigan State's 2008 from being a mirror image of Notre Dame's 2006 minus the undeserved BCS bid, a superficially pretty record marred by epic beatings at the hands of the few top ten teams on the schedule.
Here's a table.
|Team||Total Offense||Total Defense||Margin||Total Offense||Total Defense||Margin|
|Team A||352.4 (67th)||357.9 (40th)||-5.5||339.5 (8th)||375.4 (8th)||-35.9|
|Team B||416.8 (42nd)||345.5 (32nd)||71.3||431.1 (1st)||394.1 (7th)||37|
Which team went 9-4 and which team went 7-6? It's obvious. If team B went 9-4 I wouldn't be posting about it. Michigan State's offense fell off a cliff and the defense basically stayed level and the end result was a significant improvement. As a bonus, the real numbers are actually worse than what you see above since they don't include the Citrus loss in which State was outgained by about 100 yards.
Anyone who's read this blog for more than a couple months knows the a-ha moment that's coming up: turnover margin! Except the 7-6 team was slightly better than the 9-4 team that critical, near-random category. No dice there. Neither can the explanation be found on special teams. Punting was about a yard better this year, and while the punt returns got a lot better the kick returns got a lot worse. There's nothing in the stats that offers an easy explanation as to why Michigan State seemingly got much worse but won more games.
The nearest thing to an explanation I can come up with is the distribution of turnovers. MSU was in -7 in turnover margin against Ohio State and Penn State, both epic losses; in all other games they were +9. Since a large chunk of that yardage gap also came in those aforementioned epic losses, State played a large number of games in which they were on the whole equal with their opponents and won the turnover battle and therefore the game. State won three games in which they were outgained, sometimes badly:
|Opponent||Yards For||Yards Allowed||Margin||TO Margin||Final Score|
State had no games that went the other way; they had their crappy days against teams they were highly unlikely to beat anyway. The Spartans were a 6-6 or 7-5 team—again—that had the breaks fall in the right way for them to leap up a couple spots in the weakest Big Ten in memory.
This is the long way of saying I'm not particularly afeared of Dantonio. While he seems like a better coach than the last two jokers at State (an honor also shared by Clay Aiken and jars of peanuts), Braves and Birds nails his ceiling:
Mark Dantonio is Jim Tressel without the talent base. Exhibit A: punting in the first quarter on 4th and 1 from the Georgia 39. Exhibit B: an offense built around running the same guy over and over between the tackles. (At least Tressel came out of the dark ages with Troy Smith.) Exhibit C: a kicker who attempted 25 field goals this year. Exhibit D: an on-field persona that makes Ben Stein's character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off look like Sam Kinison. With the way Dantonio's team approaches offense, I'm constantly reminded of the Japanese officer who said in 1944 that Japan didn't need radar because its soldiers could see perfectly well.
World War II analogies are appropriate because the last time Dantonio updated his thinking was during the Battle of Midway. At best he makes Michigan State into a Wisconsin or Iowa level program, and even that seems pretty doubtful.