The Big Ten had an opportunity to make a statement in the opening weekend of the college football season, but Wisconsin let a 24-7 lead slip away against LSU in Houston. As Wisconsin saw a win fade away, the Badgers also failed to win a statement game for the program and the Big Ten. Now that responsibility will fall on another Big Ten program: Michigan State.
Michigan State is looking to carry the banner for the Big Ten yet again this weekend. After winning the Big Ten championship and knocking off Pac-12 champion Stanford in the Rose Bowl last January, the Spartans are once again looking to prove worthy of putting the Big Ten on its back to support the conference’s national reputation. With Ohio State looking vulnerable with Braxton Miller out as quarterback and Wisconsin letting a 24-7 lead evaporate against LSU in week one, it is now up to the Spartans to show the nation that the Big Ten is not to be taken lightly. This week, Michigan State heads out to the West Coast to take on one of the top contenders in the Pac-12 and a spot in the College Football Playoff in its match-up against Oregon.
The clash of styles to be seen between Michigan State and Oregon should be quite the battle, and it is one that may prove to be an edge for the visiting Spartans in Autzen Stadium. Oregon’s high-flying offense moving all around the field will go against Michigan State’s physical and determined defense. Oregon has worn plenty of uniforms to make the team look like superheroes from a distant planet in recent seasons, but one thing that has proven to be kryptonite to the Ducks is a team grounded on defense. See Auburn in the BCS Championship a few years back or recent division battles with Stanford. Michigan State’s defense may not be quite up to last season’s standards, but the formula is still there to give Oregon some trouble.
This is also a good test for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Despite numbers that most quarterbacks would only dream of in 2013, Mariota was considered a little bit of a letdown last fall. This was largely because Oregon lost two games and fell out of the national championship picture. In week two, Mariota has a chance to avoid that conversation again by showing he is capable of leading the Ducks past a solid defensive team. Mariota almost needs to prove he is capable of winning a big game, and this is the biggest game of the weekend. Head coach Mark Helfrich could use the signature win as well. Getting it will not be easy against Mark Dantonio’s Spartans, who have grown to accept life as a disrespected power over the last season.
Michigan State is considered a healthy underdog at Oregon, and for good reason. Not many teams survive a trip to Autzen Stadium. Then again, Michigan State may not be a team that can be intimidated.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.