Posted: Sunday September 18, 2005 7:46PM; Updated: Monday September 19, 2005 4:31PM
Jason Teague scored the winning TD for the Spartans in OT on Saturday, as they spoiled Charlie Weis' home debut at Notre Dame.
As much as I love Sparty, Michigan State's menacing-looking mascot, a more appropriate nickname for the school's football team might be the Fighting Teases. Saturday's thrilling overtime win over 10th-ranked Notre Dame was huge, right? Sign of a potential breakthrough, no?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Since 1997, the Spartans -- try not to blink when you read this -- have gone 9-1 against top-10 opponents. Unfortunately, when it comes to foes ranked No. 11 or lower over the same time period, they're a somewhat more modest 46-43. For years, Michigan State fans have endured a roller-coaster of exhilarating highs and embarrassing lows. Knock off No. 6 Michigan one week, lose to Indiana the next (2001). Beat 9-0 Wisconsin 49-14, then lose 37-13 to 3-7 Penn State (2004).
If this year is going to be different, if this is finally going to be the year the Spartans put together an entire season full of big victories, it's going to be because of their man under center. Watching Drew Stanton run John L. Smith's spread offense on Saturday was a lot like watching Alex Smith last season. Stanton is crisp, he's agile and he makes all the right reads. He's completing 72 percent of his passes, and he probably has as much to do with Michigan State's powerful running game (ranked 15th nationally) as the running backs themselves.
If, however, 3-0 eventually melts into 7-4, as befits the Spartans' recent history, it will be because of a shoddy defense that had no answer for Charlie Weis' passing game Saturday and blew a 21-point second-half lead.
We'll find out whether Michigan State can contend in the Big Ten soon enough. It faces Michigan and Ohio State in consecutive conference games in early October. Beat one of those two teams, and the Spartans are right in the thick of it. Unless, of course, they lose to Illinois next week.
Player of the Week
A.J. Nicholson, LB, Florida State
Rarely will you see a single defensive player have as big an impact on the outcome of a game as Nicholson did in FSU's 28-17 win over Boston College. First play of the game: Nicholson intercepts a Quinton Porter pass and returns it 19 yards for a touchdown. Next BC possession: After the Eagles drive all the way to the Seminoles' 35, Nicholson picks off another one and runs it back 40 yards, giving FSU short field position to set up another touchdown. And when he wasn't intercepting passes, Nicholson was bringing down ball-carriers, notching a staggering 19 tackles -- 17 of them solo. Then he piloted the team plane back to Tallahassee.
Team of the Week
In the annals of I-AA teams upsetting I-A opponents, this may be the most stunning yet. The Aggies, who just a year ago were still competing in Division II, and who had lost their first two games this season to New Hampshire and Portland State, beat Stanford, a Pac-10 team that had opened its season with a 41-38 win over Navy. UC-Davis didn't just beat the Cardinal, either. They outgained them 361 yards to 180, held Stanford without an offensive touchdown and drove 72 yards in the final 2:49 for the winning touchdown. Oh, and Walt Harris, you can turn in those honeymoon tickets now, you won't be needing them any longer.