Know Your Opponent: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State Football Fans
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Welcome to Know Your Opponent! Each week during the season we will shed some light on the Buckeye’s opponent, examining their record, traditions, mascot, famous alumni and anything else we think is worth making fun of. This week: The Michigan State University Spartans!

This will be our first real test of the year, if you’ve consumed any sports media about the Buckeyes this week, anywhere, so let’s get to it:


FBS Stats:

Points per Game: 70th
Points Allowed per Game: 77th
Yards per Game: 107th
Yards Allowed per Game: 92nd

Mascot: Sparty

I’m obviously biased towards Brutus, but Sparty here is objectively the best mascot in the B1G. The strong jaw, the warrior’s gear, the bulging muscles: it all comes together to form a great mascot. Sparty actually wears imperial Roman Legionnaire gear, which is not contemporary of the Spartans the school is trying to invoke, but we won’t hold that against him. If he came out dressed like he was in 300, I’m not sure children could attend MSU sporting events. Sparty is known for his high-flying antics, one-armed push-ups, hoisting up cheerleaders, and other feats of physical prowess. In 2004, Sparty won the Best Mascot National Championship at the Universal Cheer Association/Universal Dance Association College Nationals; the first B1G mascot to do so. He was also voted “Buffest Mascot” by Muscle and Fitness Magazine, which is cool, but he’s made of foam rubber – any mascot could do it if they had the budget. Sparty was on the cover of the Wii version of NCAA Football 09, the first non-athlete to grace its cover; in the poll to choose a mascot he won by over 75,000 votes. Basically, Sparty is the shit and everyone everywhere agrees and loves him — we get it.

Roman Soldier Helmets for everyone!

But the real crux of the Sparty issue is this: He’s meaningless. There’s no tie in the school’s or state’s history to the term or concept of “Spartans.” The school’s athletic teams were called “The Aggies” until 1925, and when the school expanded from just agriculture, the winner of the contest for a new name was “The Michigan Staters.” A sportswriter for a local newspaper thought that name was too long so he looked back at the contest’s entries and chose “Spartans” from the list, and started referring to the teams as such in his articles. “Spartans” caught on as the de facto team name until it was later made official. So, Michigan State are the “Spartans” because it was shorter than the real name and it sounded cool enough, thereby making Sparty the result of a school giving itself a tough-guy name just because they could? That’s bad form; you never give yourself a nickname.

2015 Record: 9-1, Second in B1G East

I have a hard time hating Michigan State, even with the loss they dealt us in the 2013 B1G championship. Perhaps it’s the contrast between them and the other major football program in their state, but I have a grudging respect for these guys. That being said, how about the MSU-UM game this year! What an exciting ending. I watched it live and when MSU recovered the botched punt and scored, I cheered loudly and jumped for joy, most likely upsetting my elderly neighbors. I’ll take watching Michigan lose any week, but to witness them squander a win on the last play to their in-state rival and seeing the look of utter dismay on Jim Harbaugh’s face was a moment of pure, unmitigated joy that I didn’t think I was still capable of feeling. I’ll remember that moment for the rest of my days. Other notable games this year include a 31-28 win over Oregon, a 24-21 win over Purdue, and a 38-39 loss to Nebraska. MSU got screwed on the final play by a terrible call allowing an ineligible Nebraska receiver to come in from out-of-bounds and score the winning touchdown, but they never should have let themselves get in that position in the first place. There have been a lot of close games for MSU this year. They’re not the defensive powerhouse they were two years ago, but these guys are still dangerous.

Coach: Sam the Eagle, I mean Mark Dantonio

Dantonio is from Zanesville, or as I like to call it, Z-ville, a central Ohio city only 55 miles east of Columbus, but might as well be deep in West Virginia. You probably thought Gettysburg was the South’s furthest push north, but it turns out they’ve had a foothold in central Ohio for generations. Z-villers have a heck of a drawl. Every time I meet a Z-dog I ask then where they’re from, expecting an answer of Kentucky or further south, and I’m surprised every time to learn they’re from a Columbus suburb.

Get a load of this guy

Angry Bird™ here has a ton of ties to the great state of Ohio, besides being from there. He attended graduate school at Ohio University and began his coaching career there as a graduate assistant. After two years at Purdue, he spent two years as a GA at Ohio State under Earl Bruce before moving on to Jim Tressel’s staff at Youngstown in 1986, where he stayed for five years. After a stint at Kansas, Dantonio was hired by former Browns defensive coordinator and fellow sourpuss Nick Saban in 1995 at Michigan State. He remained at MSU until 2001 when he was reunited with his Youngstown boss Jim Tressel to serve as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator, helping lead the team to the National Championship in 2002, in case you didn’t know. In 2003 he was hired as the head coach at Cincinnati before returning to Michigan State in 2007. Sooooo much Ohio with this guy.

Dantonio is known for being a defense-first coach, and his MSU teams have lived up to that credo. He’s also known for never smiling, or having a good time, or enjoying a win, or missing his family, or petting a dog, or showing any emotion that might make you believe he actually enjoys what he does for a living. As much as I hate Jim Harbaugh and respect Mark Dantonio, I have to admit that coaches of the Harbaugh-mold are infinitely more fun to watch on television. That’s what I want out of a coach (besides Urban Meyer) – entertaining unpredictability.

Silly Traditions: Go here for a full list, if you have absolutely nothing else to do:

I’m beginning to realize that the holy grail of crazy and insensitive game day traditions that I’ve been pining for the past few weeks probably does not exist in 2015. Maybe we’ll play an SEC team in the post-season and my dream will come true, but I’m not holding my breath. Of all the run-of-the-mill traditions at Michigan State, there are a few that stand out.

Zeke the Wonder Dog has been the traditional halftime entertainment for Michigan State games since the late 1970s. How is this Frisbee-catching wunderkind still alive and kicking, you ask? He’s not! They just give the new dog the same name when the old one dies, which is kind of morbid, if you think about it. I know dogs exist to serve us, but I prefer the illusion that they’re family and each one is an individual “person,” and this tradition just rubs your nose in the inhumanity of the entire enterprise. To be honest, he’s not even that good.

At home games they play AC/DC’s hit “Thunderstruck” as the team makes its entrance. They’ve also apparently added clips from the movie “300” to flesh out the intro, but I couldn’t find anything decent on YouTube. This is a fairly pedestrian tradition, but as a huge AC/DC fan, I have to appreciate it. I saw AC/DC twice on one tour at the Gund Arena, in 2000 and 2001, and it was awesome. If MSU could get the band to play one of their games while they enter, like Triple H did with Motorhead, I would have a new second favorite team.

Finally, every week before the annual game with Michigan, members of the MSU marching band stand guard on the Spartan Statue to prevent vandalism from those UofM scofflaws. This doesn’t surprise me, not one bit. Every school that plays Michigan has to establish a vigilante crew of roughneck volunteers to protect their infrastructure from the scum and villainy that is drawn to the University of Michigan, from which Michigan actively recruits. I give you Jim Harbaugh as an example, and leave it at that.

Famous Alumni: Another crop of interesting alumni this week: Godfather star James Caan, Saving Private Ryan actor Tom Sizemore, creator and director of The Evil Dead Sam Raimi, legendary actor Robert Urich, DC Comics creative mastermind Geoff Johns, UFC fighters Rashad Evans and Gray Maynard, NFL legend and Hightower from Police Academy Bubba Smith, Paul from the band Peter, Paul and Mary, former Ohio State Treasurer and Attorney General Rich Cordray, and former NFL wideout and self-leg-shooter, Plaxico Burress.

Spartans currently in the NFL (20 total):

Le’Veon Bell – RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Max Bullough – LB, Houston Texans
Garrett Celek – TE, San Francisco 49ers
Kirk Cousins – QB, Washington Redskins
Kellen Davis – TE, New York Jets
Darqueze Dennard – CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Kurtis Drummond – S, Houston Texans
Bennie Fowler – WR, Denver Broncos
William Gholston – DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Brian Hoyer – QB, Houston Texans
Jeremy Langford – RB, Chicago Bears
Tony Lippett – CB, Miami Dolphins
Keshawn Martin – WR, New England Patriots
Keith Mumphery – WR, Houston Texans
Domata Peko – DT, Cincinnati Bengals
Micajah Reynolds – DT, Baltimore Ravens
Trenton Robinson – S, Washington Redskins
Dion Sims – TE, Miami Dolphins
Drew Stanton – QB, Arizona Cardinals
Trae Waynes – CB, Minnesota Vikings

Nearly every quarterback in the NFL is a former Spartan, including Cleveland native and former Brown Brian Hoyer, who had a great first half of the season last year, which appears to be the ceiling for the franchise. We get A great half, but that’s it: one good half a game, one good half a season (if that), one good half of a career (Pettine 2014), etc. At least Kirk Cousins is doing well for Washington and is semi-consistent, leading perhaps the only team in the NFL more despicable than the Browns to double our current number of wins. Standout running backs and fantasy football must-haves Le’Veon Bell and Jeremy Langford are also Spartans, and I remember making fun of ludicrously-named Darqueze Dennard last year while watching an MSU game, but besides Drew Stanton none of these guys ring a bell, and I’m depressed now from thinking about the Browns so I’m not going to look any more of them up.

Drew Stanton, folks:

Noteworthy Players (all rankings B1G-specific):

QB Connor Cook – second with 21 touchdowns; third with four interceptions, second with 2,482 yards, second in overall rating.

WR Aaron Burbridge – first with 65 receptions, first with 1,021 total yards, sixth in yards-per-catch with 15.7, fifth in touchdowns with six.

RB Madre London – eighteenth with 99 rushes, twenty-second with 405 yards, twenty-ninth with three touchdowns.

Another week where we’ll need to worry about the pass, which is a given with Connor Cook, who is predicted to be a first round draft pick next year. Burbridge is no joke, either. These two combined should give the Buckeyes defense a good test on their First Real Game Of The Year. I know every week is different, but if Nebraska can hold them off, I think the odds are in our favor.


This is going to be a good one. I predict the Buckeyes take it 28 to 21, perhaps going down by a touchdown at times before coming back.

A regular Van Gogh over here

Anything could happen this week, and I’m looking forward to it.

That’s it for this week, folks. Let us know in the comments if there’s anything you want see in next week’s edition that we didn’t include here. Enjoy your weekend, stay safe, and go Buckeyes!