Is Michigan State good? Who knows. Is Michigan State bad? Who knows. The only certainty about Michigan State is that it’s Michigan State, a singular property within the vast college football landscape. No team more reliably turns in impressive upset bids against good opponents and plays despicably ugly games than Mark Dantonio’s MSU.
The latest installment of this roughly decade-long trend came New Year’s Eve at the Redbox Bowl, where the Spartans’ elite defense gave up exactly 7 points and still lost. The 7-6 final against a decent Oregon team concluded one of the Michigan Statiest seasons ever.
In honor (or dishonor) of this MSU season, these are all 13 Spartans games ranked by ugliness, starting with the most disgusting games at the top.
1. Oregon 7, Michigan State 6 (Redbox Bowl)
An utterly gross display. Michigan State missed two late (albeit long) field goal attempts, one of which never had a chance because the holder couldn’t get the snap down. The Spartans had another comeback chance after that, sparked when an Oregon punt bounced off one MSU player and somehow into the arms of another. The game finally ended when QB Brian Lewerke almost made a play on fourth down, but the receiver couldn’t hold it.
2. Ohio State 26, Michigan State 6
A game so ugly that it required its own list of the 13 ugliest things. The worst was that Michigan State took an intentional safety to salvage field position at one point, but then hit the ensuing free kick out of bounds to ruin the field-position edge it had briefly created. Also, Ohio State had a 4-yard punt, and Michigan State had a 26-yard punt. There were also various missed field goals and special teams incompetencies floating about.
3. Michigan State 14, Rutgers 10
4. Nebraska 9, Michigan State 6
Sometimes, the combination of final score and opponent speaks for itself.
5. Michigan 21, Michigan State 7
The Spartans have historically owned their in-state rivals, at least considering their respective recruiting weight classes. This game carried several signs of an impending Sparty upset, including more special-teams shenanigans and horrible weather. In the end, Michigan exploded for a whole 21 points, which more than did the job against an inept offense.
6. Arizona State 16, Michigan State 13
After this game, Herm Edwards went on a lengthy monologue to media about the dangers of scoring too quickly at the end of a game. His comment made sense, but on the other hand, it’s not as if Michigan State was ever going to score more points in this game.
7. Michigan State 24, Maryland 3
Part of Michigan State’s ugliness, to be fair, is that the defense is so good it reduces other teams to producing hugely ugly games. The Spartan D did that in College Park, making a boom-or-bust Maryland offense look terrible on its home field. The Terps totaled 100 yards of offense. I mean that precisely and am not rounding up or down.
8. Michigan State 38, Utah State 31
In retrospect, this was a perfectly fine home win for MSU in Week 1. Utah State turned out to be awesome, both in winning 10 regular-season games and thrashing North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl. But in the moment, it was a No. 11-ranked Spartan team struggling horribly with a Mountain West team that had just gone 6-7.
9. Michigan State 31, Central Michigan 20
The score isn’t eye-catching at all, but CMU finished 1-11 and lost to Kansas.
10. Michigan State 23, Purdue 13
11. Northwestern 29, Michigan State 19
12. Michigan State 35, Indiana 21
These games weren’t notably difficult on the eyes, at least not by the lofty standards the Spartans have set for themselves. They were mostly regular performances against unspectacular Big Ten opponents and one division champ, such as it was.
13. Michigan State 21, Penn State 17
Michigan State won a pretty compelling game and knocked Penn State out of Playoff contention, back when the Nittany Lions were still relevant in national conversations. It wasn’t pretty in any respect, but the game was more dramatic and suspenseful than anything else, and MSU at least ran a nice fake punt to set up one score.