Monday, November 30, 2009

MSU's Bowl Chances: Final Draft

By Sunday evening we'll know where Michigan State is going bowling. It could be San Antonio, it could be Phoenix or, if unlikely events converge, it could be Detroit.

Currently, there are just two big questions remaining. First, will the Big Ten get two teams in the BCS? If they do, then the Big Ten won't have enough teams to send one to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Under that scenario, the Alamo Bowl would pick between MSU and Minnesota, with MSU seen to be the favorite.

That scenario seems most likely. There are six conferences that automatically get BCS invites, and undefeated TCU will qualify for an automatic slot as a high-ranking mid-major. That leaves just three spots open. One goes to the loser of the SEC Championship, leaving two. The options remaining are a second team from the Big Ten, (likely) undefeated Boise State and, maybe if Cincy loses to Pitt, the Bearcats. Given how much the Fiesta Bowl wants Iowa, and how much the Orange Bowl wants Penn State, one of them will get picked.

That much is certain, unless Nebraska upsets Texas in the Big 12 championship. In that case, you've got to like Texas' odds of picking up an at-large spot, leaving a big-time bowl the option of choosing between Iowa, Penn State and Boise State.

Question two is more difficult: Who do you like between MSU and Minnesota? Both teams are 6-6 and Minnesota won the head-to-head matchup. On the other hand, MSU finished stronger and travels MUCH better.

Should the Big Ten only get one team in the BCS, I think George Perles and Lloyd Carr will find a way to talk the Insight Bowl folks into taking the Gophers, possibly by guaranteeing their entire ticket allocation. That way, they could have an in-state team and a possible MSU-Central rematch. Of course, if the Big Ten can't send a team to the Detroit game, there's a good-sized chance that Notre Dame might fall there as an at-large, and ND-Central would actually be a pretty good game.

As it stands, with no more games to be played by State and just one more week to go, the guess here is that MSU winds up in the Valero Alamo Bowl. I'll say that's an 85% chance, with a 10% chance we go Insight and 5% that we fall to Detroit.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A New Argument for Notre Dame to Join the Big Ten

After yet another season of mediocrity, a Chicago Sun Times columnist has taken an interesting tack to the question of whether or not Notre Dame ought to swallow their pride and join the Big Ten.

The argument in many ways makes sense, and it's what you've heard before. It's better for the non-football sports - especially men's and women's basketball. It's better for academics.

But as veteran writer Herb Gould points out, the best incentive for joining the Big Ten is that it would reduce the pressure on Notre Dame. "At Notre Dame, having no conference pretty much puts the Irish on a jittery tightrope from the opening kickoff every season. The Subway Alumni need to realize the days of Rockne and Leahy and Ara -- and even Holtz -- are over. Everybody's on TV. Everybody can recruit and play a national schedule."

Gould said the money issue with NBC could be worked out, and there's a really sensible way to do that. Give NBC the option on taking the #1 Big Ten game every week that Notre Dame is at home, and first choice of Big Ten games that don't involve the Irish when they're on the road. NBC would pay more and, in return, get the occasional Michigan-Ohio State, Penn State-MSU or Iowa-Wisconsin, big games that drive national ratings.

That said, Gould also calls for ND to fire Charlie Weis and hire Cincy's Brian Kelly (the guy MSU would have hired had it not been for one M. Dantonio). And that would make sense - so don't worry about that happening. Still, we can dream can't we?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Alamo Bowl Official: MSU an Attractive Candidate

Given that present discussion that's dominating among MSU football fans - that being where MSU will be going bowling - I thought we'd talk with someone who could shed some light on that. So I called up the good folks at the Valero Alamo Bowl, whose pick is likely to decide the matter. Should they pick us, we'll go there. If they don't, we're headed to Phoenix.

The Alamo Bowl is preparing to pick between Michigan State and Minnesota, assuming two Big Ten teams make a BCS bowl, Alamo officials confirmed today. Rick Hill, vice president of marketing for the Valero Alamo Bowl, declined in an interview today to say who the favorite was between the two, but said MSU was an attractive candidate.

Key among the factors is the ability to quickly mobilize fans to buy tickets and book their flights. "We’ve learned that within 48 hours of the announcement, if your fan base hasn’t decided, they're probably not going."

Several factors are working in MSU's favor. For one, MSU has a higher average home attendance, though Minnesota sold out every game in the new TCF Bank Stadium. Secondly, MSU has a strong history of traveling well to bowls - both the last two years in Orlando and in 2003 to the Alamo Bowl. Officials in San Antonio haven't forgotten the sea of green that descended on the town then, and that works in our favor now. Lastly, MSU has a massive alumni base in Texas, which could just drive to the game.

Given that MSU and Minnesota are both a disappointing 6-6, and the options from the Big 12 are largely between nearby Texas Tech and Oklahoma, Hill said they're expecting the Big 12 to carry the day in terms of ticket sales. While Alamo Bowl officials want both teams to sell out their allocations, the large base of fans from the Big 12 will allow them tilt further in favor of the team that will give the best game.

Bowl selections based on competitiveness don't hinge on who necessarily beat whom during the regular season - though that does matter. Instead, Hill said, it's who will give you the best game on January 2.

It's a little tougher there - especially given that Minnesota beat MSU in Minneapolis on Halloween. However, the Gophers have fallen precipitously since then and continue to be without their star wide receiver, Adam Decker. MSU, on the other hand, has come to play against two heavily-favored squads the last two years that both featured legit NFL prospects (Boston College, led by Matt Ryan, and Georgia, led by Knowshon Moreno and Matt Stafford).

I asked Hill again who he thought might be there - if he'd put a percentage on MSU's likelihood of being involved. He, quite politically correctly, declined so to do.

It's worth noting that if only one Big Ten team makes the BCS, MSU is all-but certain to miss the Alamo Bowl. Hill said they'd have to add in either Wisconsin or Northwestern to the mix and, while he wouldn't say it, I'd put money down that we won't jump either of those squads.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Coverage Map: MSU-Penn State

Michigan State's regular season-ending clash against Penn State will be the national game across most of America Saturday, the only exception being a small swath of ACC country from Georgia to Washington D.C.

The battle for the Land Grant Trophy is the ABC national game in most major alumni markets like Michigan, Chicago, Orange County, Texas, Denver and New York. Alaska and Hawaii, not pictured at left, will also get MSU-Penn State on ABC.

ESPN will carry the game for the rest of the country, but strangely enough, only in standard definition. ESPN News will run on ESPN's HD channel.

I don't really understand that call, but apparently someone in Bristol thinks the rest of the country doesn't need to watch football in high def, but needs their studio news recap in crystal-clear HD.

FYI, the game opposite ours is Virginia @ Clemson.

Monday, November 16, 2009

U2 Tickets On Sale Tuesday

Tickets to U2's June 30 Spartan Stadium show go on presale to Spartan fans Tuesday at noon, and you can get them if you know the secret passcode. Luckily enough, it was e-mailed to everyone and their mother today, including certain blog writers.

To get your tickets, click here and enter the passcode GREEN.

There is a presale for paying members of U2's fan club, which starts two hours earlier, but I think most of our readers have better things to do with their cash than pay to join a band's fan club. Just saying.

By the way, we're hearing that U2's opening act has been confirmed as the Black Eyed Peas. So that's something.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Equipment Manager Gets Game Ball for Making Nike Uniforms Look Good

It had to happen, just like a stuck clock happens to be right once a day, but someone has finally figured out how to make a new Nike uniform look good.

The person who did was Texas Christian's equipment manager, who came up with this look. The front of the jersey says "Horned Frogs", inside the collar says "Don't Back Down". There are two red lines on the helmet, representing the twin streams of blood a horned frog shoots from its eyes as a defense mechanism. And, of course, there's the incredible charcoal gray pants - a highly underutilized color in uniforms, I think. For comparison, compare the new uniform at left to TCU's old uniform. It's not even close.

In fact, the change was so good that TCU's coach gave a game ball to the equipment manager who designed the new unis.

I'm not usually a fan of changing MSU's traditional home uniform (green shirt, white pants, green helmet with the Spartan logo) too much, but I am one of those Spartan fans that doesn't mind a third color in the black/gray scheme - and wouldn't mind us trying those charcoal gray pants.

MSU's men's basketball squad occasionally rocks the newest Nike designs - those tight-hugging shirts for example - and while sometimes they'll have a few nice features, you'll never look at the jersey and go "whoa."

Perhaps that kid from TCU would be free to lend a hand on a new design.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gameday Forecast: Michigan State @ Purdue

The sun just rose over Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana where the temperature is already 47 in route to the predicted high of 70. Slight winds of 10-20 MPH won't do much to cool the air and spoil what might be one of the last beautiful weekends before winter. You'll see some clouds roll past but nothing should be too permanent, and the sun should stay out most of the day. The first tailgating lots opened about 40 minutes ago, and you can already hear that annoying train horn.

It's a beautiful day for football!

Friday, November 13, 2009

MSU's Bowl Chances: Two Weeks Out

We'll start this week by outlining the rules. Slight update from the last post: The Champs Sports Bowl picks before the Alamo Bowl this year. Also, if a 6-6 team gets picked before a 7-5 team, the 7-5 team must have an affiliated bowl to land in. With that, let's get to it.

To me, the Big Ten splits into three levels at this point. Iowa has one loss, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin have two. Iowa is @ Ohio State this weekend, and the winner of that will almost certainly go to the Rose Bowl. Realistically, the loser probably isn't going to get picked for the BCS. Penn State closes home to Indiana and @ MSU and if the Nittany Lions win both then they and their massive fan base will have an in at a second BCS bid. Should TCU lose to Utah, but especially if Boise State loses to Idaho, that shot would become almost automatic.

However, for these purposes, I'm assuming that Iowa/OSU gets to the Rose Bowl and that Penn State doesn't get picked as an at large. Three reasons: I think the MSU game may actually go our way. I also think that it would be next to impossible to pass on an undefeated Boise or TCU. Finally, Oregon and Arizona have the inside track on winning the Pac 10 and a two-loss USC would get picked ahead of a two-loss Penn State.

Given that, I've got Penn State in the Capital One Bowl, the loser of Iowa @ OSU (the guess here is Iowa) in the Outback Bowl and Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl.

That leaves the second tier schools: MSU, Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan. Purdue, Illinois and Indiana can only finish 6-6 at best, and none would get picked ahead of the four second-tier schools.

Minnesota is an almost near-mortal lock to finish 6-6. Their next game is against South Dakota State, a good FCS school, but an FCS school nevertheless. Their final game is @ Iowa. 'Nuff said.

Northwestern and MSU both have a game they'll be favored in followed by a game they'll be picked to lose, though both are winnable or loseable. For NW, it's @ Illinois then home to Wisconsin. For MSU, it's @ Purdue then home to Penn State.

Michigan has by far the toughest road to a bowl, finishing up @ Wisconsin then home to Ohio State.

So who gets in? Well, we'll start by assuming that Minn., NW and MSU all finish up at 6-6. I simply don't think Michigan has another win left in them, and will finish 5-7. Their chance to get bowl eligible died when they let Purdue come back from two touchdowns last weekend.

Minnesota beat both Northwestern and Michigan State, but that doesn't matter at all compared to who will fill up the Alamo Bowl best. Frankly, that's probably Michigan State. Add that to the fact that MSU traveled very well in 2003 to the Alamo Bowl, and you'll see MSU headed to Texas once again.

That leaves Minnesota and Northwestern for the Insight Bowl, and conventional wisdom says Northwestern goes to the Insight Bowl. I wouldn't pick that way, but I think that's the read people much closer to the situation are getting, so I'll defer to their wisdom. That leaves Minnesota with a trip to Detroit and the Little Caesars Bowl.

Should Penn State get picked to go to a BCS bowl, who would go to Detroit? Well, another team would have to qualify, and of the other three schools, Purdue has the easiest road. They finish home to MSU and @ Indiana, and I think it would be easier for Purdue to win both than for Michigan to beat either Wisconsin away or Ohio State at home. Indiana has to win @ Penn State before that Purdue clash, and Indiana has never beaten Penn State, ever. Illinois closes out with winnable home games against Northwestern and Fresno State sandwiching a game they won't win - @ Big East leader Cincinnati.

With two games to play, the pick is MSU to the Alamo Bowl.

Live Sports Radio?

So I have to assume that many of you season ticket holders, as well as those of you fortunate to be on MSU's sports mailing lists (probably from ordering a ticket in the past at some point) have been receiving the email blasts every few games touting Live Sports Radio. First they wanted you to simply trust and buy, but now they are offering a "free sample" which I can only assume is something to the effect of: Here, try the radio for the Penn State game. If you like it, just keep it and we'll charge you.

My understand of this radio (from my limited attempt at research) is that it basically is a um... radio. It gets the local broadcast of the MSU game, which I'm sure we all love. Thing is, everyone's radio gets this. It's on 1240AM, and it comes in pretty good in Spartan Stadium.

Where I could see myself really enjoying this is at away games. When I visit Purdue this weekend, there is no chance I'll be able to hear George Blaha's "Touchdown, MSU!" If I had this product, my understanding is that it should work.

Their website suggests that it will work at every stadium, but is being broadcast on low power so if you head out early, or are coming late, you may not get reception at your tailgate. They also are very heavily mentioning that there is "No Delay." Is this a current issue when listening to local radio?

One other item of note: The website mentions that it will work "all season." It also mentions that new radios may be available in coming seasons. A FAQ on their website asks about turning it in at the end of the season, and the answer is "There is no need to turn your radio in, once you purchase it is yours to enjoy. It will continue to be useful as an FM scan radio." Notice they did not say something like "It will be useful again next season." Finally, in the FAQ's is a mention that it will need to be reprogrammed for each upcoming season in order to work. Cost: Currently $10.

There are many questions I have with this, but I will be looking at one during the Penn State game. Has anyone used this? What was your experience? Is the value at home games significantly greater than using a normal AM/FM radio? What about away games?

Right now, my instinct says that this is only a product I would want if I needed it at away games to hear George Blaha.

Twitter Hearts Shannon Brown

Former Michigan State basketball star Shannon Brown has become an absolute phenom online, thanks to his sensational aerial acrobatics, including thundering dunks that seem to come from the rafters.

Brown outdid himself Thursday, with a breakaway jam from almost the top of the key against the Suns. That dunk helped make his name the third biggest trending topic on Twitter after the game concluded. The dunk in question can be seen here:

About the only question left is whether or not Brown is the best former Spartan in the NBA - which is precisely why we've got polls on this site. Check the right rail and let us know your opinion.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Steps to Becoming Duke

The Lansing State Journal ran a great package this week comparing MSU basketball to Duke, noting that the last great hurdle to clear in MSU's rise is to get it into the conversation of the absolute top-tier basketball programs in America.

North Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky, Duke. That tier.

Tom Izzo told the LSJ's Joe Rexrode that his goal was to take care of every notch between now and that level before he retires. Filling up Midnight Madness was one such notch, but there are more. Izzo's remaining notches are unknown, but here are my thoughts.
  • Sell out every home game. There are still tickets left for our opener against Florida Gulf Coast, for example.
  • Move the Izzone so the TV cameras see it. It boggles my mind that the head-on section the main TV camera sees is the only one in the lower bowl without the Izzone in it. At Duke you see the Cameron Crazies in all their glory. Should be the same at Breslin.
  • Get big games on big TV every year. We're doing that already, with games against Texas, UNC, Gonzaga and Illinois getting the big TV treatment. That has to continue
  • Win those games. The two big losses against UNC hurt, and can't become a trend. You don't want to become the Ohio State football of the college basketball world. With all our injuries, that game against Gonzaga actually scares me.
  • Second round or better every year. Getting to the tournament is key for any school. This year we should go a bit further, but in a bad year we should get to the second round of the tournament.
This is the biggest one though: Don't change how we recruit.

MSU has never recruited a one-and-done player. We never should. Let the Greg Odens and John Walls and Kevin Durants of the world go to Ohio State, Kentucky and Texas, respectively. MSU cannot try and out-sexy these folks. We need to keep that blue collar attitude and the four and five-year players that make MSU what it is.

There are a lot of shady characters in prep basketball and on college basketball coaching staffs (ahemJohnCalipariahem) and thankfully MSU hasn't been mentioned in connection with any of them. Tom Izzo is the biggest reason why it hasn't been.

Actually, not changing how we recruit isn't the biggest thing. Keep Tom Izzo - that's the biggest thing. If Tom Izzo becomes our version of John Wooden or Joe Paterno, that's more than OK by me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Suzy Merchant Expecting Two Bundles of Joy

MSU women's basketball coach Suzy Merchant is expecting a big season from her 10th-ranked Spartan team, followed by a big summer capped by the expected birth of her second child.

Merchant told the team she before the season, which began with a big exhibition win over Wayne State, that she was pregnant. Merchant has a two-year-old son Tyler.

Big things are expected of the Spartans, who are led by 6'9 center and All-America candidate Alyssa DeHaan. Last year's season ended in the Sweet Sixteen with a crushing come-from-ahead loss to Iowa State. This year's team is talking Final Four. Making it there would be the first "bundle of joy" referred to in the headline.

After the season closes, Merchant will add another member to the Spartan family. Let me take this chance, from all of us at TOSSS, to wish nothing but the very best to the entire Merchant family.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lowered Expectations

There used to be a sketch on MadTV titled "Lowered Expectations." In it, characters who haven't had luck in the dating scene decide that the only way to finally find "The One" would be to go on TV and talk about what they're willing to settle for.

That's this football season for me.

At the beginning of the season, we were Rose Bowl bound. After the loss to Notre Dame, it was that we could still make a New Year's Day bowl. Before the Iowa game, it was back to win out and make the Rose Bowl.

Now our best case scenario is a middle-tiered bowl game.

At the beginning of the season, the predictions were that MSU would go 10-2 or 9-3. The lowest available selection in one media poll was 7-5 - predictions below that being dismissed as wild, pessimistic antifantasies or the results of some online Wolverine trolls.

Now we've got to win out for 7-5. Just to make a bowl game we'll have to either beat a surging Purdue team on the road or take out #11 Penn State at home, not to mention take care of Western Michigan on Saturday.

Michigan State football is like that pudgy guy at the bar who only has eyes for the former cheerleader in the far corner. Well, she shot him down, her two friends followed suit and now, an hour before last call, he's slumping in a corner, beer spilled on his shirt, talking about the banalities of his job to some poor sop who couldn't find another open seat.

But there's still time left on the clock. This season, like that poor guy's night, can still be a success. Just with lowered expectations.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Sellout Uncertain For Western Game

About 1,000 tickets remain for Michigan State's must-win clash against in-state rivals Western Michigan, MSU football officials announced today.

Tickets are priced at $49, and that could be a problem given how cheap they are online on resale websites. As of this writing, a pair of tickets in Section 9 (opposite the press box, between the 50 and south side 30) were going for $40. The cheapest tickets available were listed for $18.

Tickets are available through the athletic ticket office. Here's hoping for a sellout.

Monday, November 2, 2009

MSU's Bowl Chances: Three Weeks Out

Michigan State is sitting at 4-5 with three games to go, the upcoming one being against 17-point-underdog Western Michigan. Following that are games away to Purdue (3-6 overall) and the final at home to #11 Penn State (8-1).

MSU needs to win two games to become bowl eligible and three to guarantee a bowl bid. Assuming that happens, what bowl is MSU likely to make? Well, let's start with the position MSU might have in the pecking order.

The top three, in some order, are almost certainly Iowa, Penn State and Ohio State. Wisconsin, at 6-2, is riding high and will likely claim the fourth spot. That leaves us on the next tier with Minnesota, Northwestern and Michigan, all at 5-4, while MSU and Indiana sit at 4-5. For argument's sake, since Indiana's remaining schedule is @ Wisconsin, @ Penn State and home to Purdue, I'm going to guess that IU won't win two games, thus making them ineligible.

That's eight teams for seven bowl games. Minnesota's remaining schedule (vs. Illinois, vs. South Dakota State, @ Iowa) is favorable, while Michigan and Northwestern are even money to, like MSU, finish 6-6.

So let's allocate the bowl games, for the moment assuming that the Big Ten sends both Iowa and Penn State to BCS bowls. The Capital One and Outback, the other two New Year's bowls select Ohio State and Wisconsin, respectively, while Minnesota goes to the Alamo Bowl. By rule, a 7-5 team must get picked over a 6-6 squad, so the fact that Minnesota is a terrible traveling team won't hurt them in this scenario.

The Champs Sports Bowl gets to choose next, between MSU, Michigan and Northwestern. MSU beat both squads, but that doesn't matter nearly as much as which school will travel best. Michigan does travel better than MSU, however we've done well two years in a row bringing fans to Orlando. Still, Michigan hasn't gone bowling in a year, so there's a little more pent-up demand on their end.

Whoever doesn't get picked is likely the favorite to go to the Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., with Northwestern headed to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.

Right now, the most likely scenario would see Michigan State head to the Insight Bowl. That prediction assumes we'll win two of the next three games, likely against Western Michigan and @ Purdue.

Granted that it's not the destination we were all hoping for in August, but I could do with a New Year's Eve in Arizona, couldn't you?