Key Plays

Students are hard-pressed to avoid Spartan athletics, especially in the fall and winter. Football is in full swing, basketball is gearing up, and the season of being loyal fans is a year-round commitment. Sports bring the student body together, and sports tear us Spartans apart. Instead of writing down the repetitious facts, we decided to discuss athletic happenings in a debate format. The stance on John L.? Basketball season preview? Cash Kruth and Sean Merriman have it all here, in the spirit of the Green and White.
[football]
John L. Smith: Who isn’t debating his future with the football team?
The news that John L.\’s contract would not be extended into next season was a huge relief for many Spartan fans and alumni. All season, heartbreaking losses and pathetic blowouts have had Spartan football fans wringing their hands and throwing empty beer cans at the television set. While the historic comeback against Northwestern gave the faithful fans some hope – but let’s be honest, the team should never have been down by 35 points in the first place – that hope was dashed with a poor showing in the Indiana loss. Many believe it comes down to the coaching staff, and the university followed suit with the termination of its leader. Although the predictions of TBG writers Cash Kruth and Sean Merriman were published before the final news, their opinions were right on target. Here\’s why the Spartan football team will be in the market for a new coach come next season.
Cash Kruth: When the student section starts chanting for the Detroit Tigers during a game against the number one team in the nation, something is wrong (sure, it was for the World Series…but seriously?). Yes, I know the Spartans have a patchwork offense line at the moment, and sophomore Javon Ringer is out, and that has nothing to do with the coach, but blowing a 17-0 lead against Notre Dame and losing to Illinois, the doormat (at least the former doormat, we might be down there pretty quickly) of the Big Ten on Homecoming isn’t anything to write home about. John L. Smith has worn out his welcome, and even if you could somehow justify keeping him, many alumni, fans and much of the student body wouldn’t be behind the choice one bit. But, do you make a change for the sole purpose of switching it up? The answer in this case is yes, and John L. must go. His record is around .500, but the players just aren’t responding to his techniques, and if they continue to lose, which looks like a sure thing, there is no choice but to get rid of him.
The bigger question is who we will find to replace him. Fans have been dreaming of Steve Mariucci reuniting with best friend Tom Izzo ever since the Lions let him go, but why would Mooch come to a college team when he has had success in the NFL? I believe the Spartans need a hard-nosed type of coach to motivate them. Football is a game of toughness, not finesse, and for me, I hope the new coach throws away the spread offense and implements a strong running game with Ringer and junior Jehuu Caulcrick. Either way, firing a coach is easy, but replacing him with the right one is tough, and that’s the real stumper here.
Sean Merriman: At the beginning of the year, I said John L. Smith needed to win seven games and reach a respectable bowl game in order to keep his coaching position at MSU. The way the season is looking right now, getting to five wins would shock fans here at MSU. After blowing that memorable 4th-quarter lead against Notre Dame, John L. has put himself in the hot seat and has MSU fans pleading for a new coach. Let’s not forget that loss to Illinois, a team who had 10 consecutive in-conference losses and hadn’t beaten the Spartans in the past nine years. The fact that the Illinois quarterback goes by the name of Juice was just another insult.
I have sat in John L. Smith’s press conferences and although I think he is a great person, I’m just not sure he has control of this team anymore. The student fans have completely turned against John L., which became obvious to me when I Googled his name and the first thing to pop up was a “Fire John L. Smith petition.” MSU has paid Smith a lot of money to turn their football program around, which makes it difficult to let him go. However, he has failed to effectively change the program, and unless he can get the Spartans to show drastic improvement during the second half of the season, I think the John L. Smith era will come to an end.

Fall forecast for a bowl game: Not happening for the Spartans
A bowl game berth is an aspiration for every college football team, but not every team can continue to play after the end of the regular season. With a record of 6-6 needed to qualify for a bowl game, that hope was in the hearts of the Spartan faithful at the season’s beginning. But like several seasons past, a promising season has turned into a pattern of painful losses; chances are slim the football team will pull through and stretch the season past November.
CK: Bowl game? Ha! With a 4-5 record and six wins needed to qualify for a bowl game, the Spartans have to go 2-1 the rest of the way. It could happen, but if I were a betting man, I’d have to go against the Spartans. The Northwestern game provided a momentum swing, but this was stagnated after the dismal loss to Indiana. That leaves the next two home dates versus Purdue and Minnesota as must wins, since we will have a slim-to-none shot to defeat Penn State in Happy Valley. Needless to say, this will end as a very disappointing year for the Spartans, and the absence from a bowl game will undoubtedly mark the end of John L. Smith’s tenure in East Lansing.
SM: The Spartans will absolutely not make it to a bowl game. Granted, MSU has lost to three very good teams in Notre Dame, U-M and Ohio State, but they also folded against Illinois! And Indiana! It truly blows my mind to see local TV and newspapers ripping on MSU students for leaving football games early. Why should students give their time to this team when they don’t show anything worth cheering for on the field? It is a shame that the Spartans have collapsed, because I truly believe this team has a lot of talent. Every year, fans seem to get their hopes up after an impressive start and every year there seems to be another wasted season for the Spartans, and they turn into Saturday’s version of the Detroit Lions.
It takes six wins to qualify for a bowl and the Spartans were halfway there over a month ago. Since then, the team has shown no sign to make anyone believe they can qualify for a bowl game. I had this team going 7-5 at the beginning of the year, and now the Spartans will have to win the remaining three games for that to happen. I never thought I’d see the day where I would be rooting for my school to make it to the Motor City Bowl.

[bball]Hoops preview: Rebounding from key absences on the court
Maurice Ager. Shannon Brown. Paul Davis. The three names that dominated the stat sheet for the basketball team last season will be startlingly absent, as these three players left the Breslin Center for the atmosphere of high-profile pro basketball arenas. This year\’s young team, led by point guard and co-captain Drew Neitzel, will have to grow up fast; they will face big-time opponents with a talented but inexperienced roster. The Big Ten preseason rankings did not include the Spartans in the top three, but the national rankings have not yet been finalized.
CK: Head coach Tom Izzo has built one of the best basketball programs in the nation, but how will this year’s young and inexperienced team handle losing three stars to the NBA? This year, the team plans to return to the toughness that vaulted them to the top, but does that put them into the preseason Top 25? My guess is no, but I do believe the Spartans will be on every publication’s sleeper list.
Although I don’t believe they’ll crack the Top 25 – and if they do, it will be on name alone – I do foresee them advancing to the NCAA tournament in March, and perhaps even advancing a round or two. This season will be a rebuilding year, and the progress of the younger players rests solely on junior Neitzel, who’ll have to not only carry the offense, but get the other players involved. Here’s one person who believes Neitzel’s up to the task.
SM: After losing three players from last year’s team to the NBA, Tom Izzo will have his work cut out for him. The preseason polls across the country will not include MSU in the top 25 for the first time since the Marcus Taylor era. ESPN analyst Dick Vitale came out with his top 40 teams in the country, which includes U-M and not MSU. Now, don’t get me wrong, this will be a rebuilding year for the Spartans and their fans, but when we’re rated below U-M, something’s off!
Starting point guard Drew Neitzel will be the leader of this year’s team. Neitzel, who is primarily known for his passing abilities, will be looked upon to score more this season as he will also play shooting guard. Neitzel also will be important in the development of the incoming freshman class. MSU has three incoming freshman, two of whom are expected to get significant playing time for Izzo’s club. Raymar Morgan is a superb athlete who can get to the basket and will most likely start at small forward. Isaiah Dahlman is a great shooter who broke the high school all-time scoring record in Minnesota. If these freshmen are able to develop and grasp the style of basketball that Tom Izzo preaches, then look out for the Spartans. Last season, the North Carolina Tarheels lost over 90 percent of their scoring and shocked the nation by finishing 23-8 and earning a number three seed in the NCAA tournament. The Spartans will shock a lot of people this year and continue their streak of continuous seasons of making the tournament.

[hockey2]MSU Icers: Revitalizing the frozen student section
With a successful season for MSU hockey last year, the Slapshots student section is looking for equal rejuvenation for 2006-2007. Basketball tends to get all of the winter sports hype, but the hockey team brings back an experienced goaltender in sophomore Jeff Lerg and tandems of potent scoring lines. A new ticket policy has been introduced, with an option of buying an eight-game package, in an effort to increase student interest and buff up the student presence in Munn Ice Arena.
CK: The new hockey ticket plan is quite intriguing, and I think it is a very good idea by the athletic department to get the students back to games. Why the hockey team isn’t a bigger draw is beyond me, as they have established themselves among the nation’s elite.
I’ve never been a big hockey fan, though my most recent live hockey game experience has me rethinking my stance. For those similar to me, this package just may be the perfect amount of games to go see what Spartan hockey is all about. I’m seriously considering purchasing the eight-game package, yet still not sure if I’m up for potentially wasting my money on hockey.
SM: This hockey season, students have the option of buying a ticket package that allows them to choose any eight games to attend, for a price of $108. The purpose of this package is to increase the amount of students at games. However, I’m not sure this plan is going to work.
What about the games against no-name teams? Everyone will obviously choose to go to the big games, which will potentially leave the student section empty for games against other opponents. The prices of the tickets are not that much, and for a university who has arguably one of the best hockey teams in the country, you would think a lot more fans would show support. Maybe after the 2005-2006 team\’s miraculous run in the second half of the season, more fans will show support this year. The team certainly deserves it, as they have a solid goalie in Lerg and a phenomenal coach in Rick Comley. The new student ticket package will certainly increase the turnouts at the major games, but Munn Ice Arena could look pretty empty at times as well.

[check]Does anybody want to cut us a $5 million check?…
Most college students will never see an amount of money close to $5 million, but the MSU football program is the lucky recipient of such a sum. Alumni Bob and Julie Skandalaris of Bloomfield Hills donated the money for upgrades of the Duffy Daugherty football building, including the head coach’s office and the weight room. The building is unknown to many, but it is the secret home of the football team in cold weather, and news of the large donation did not stay secret for long. But is the struggling football team deserving of this gigantic gift?
CK: So when a team is having trouble, the key to success is to just write a check; I mean it’s worked for the New York Yankees, hasn’t it? Even though signing baseball players for $12 million a year and having someone donate millions to renovate the Duffy Daugherty Football Building isn’t the same thing, why does the football building need to be updated? I’m guessing the money won’t be for a state-of-the-art trophy case, and there really isn’t anything necessary to update the building: it was just renovated in 1997 for $5 million.
Now, I know it will be 2010 by the time the renovations are complete, but the point is major renovations aren’t necessary at this moment, or even in the next moment. But if someone wants to donate their hard-earned money, there’s nothing we can do about it. But what about donating it to other sports? Although I’ve never had $5 million to blow, I would think that $5 million – that’s 5 million American dollars – could be spread around quite a bit help improve all sports from field hockey to football.
SM: The $5 million donation is the largest donation to the athletic program in MSU history. This is an extremely generous gift and the Skandalaris pair deserves congratulations, but why is it being put toward one building? There are a number of other athletic facilities I can think of that need renovations. Is it really fair to other sports teams that this money only goes toward football ? I am not sure it was the Skandalaris’ decision for all the money to go toward one building, but places like Jenison Fieldhouse and Kobs Field could use some updates as well.

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