Michigan State football is playing with nothing to lose against Ohio State and that can be a dangerous advantage.
Believe it or not, Michigan State football has one clear advantage over Ohio State on Saturday.
It’s not an Xs and Os advantage because we’ve all seen Ohio State mop the floor with every opponent on the schedule thus far. And no, it’s not a positional group advantage because, well, Michigan State has looked pedestrian in every regard, to put it nicely.
Michigan State has the upper-hand in an area that may be somewhat familiar over the past few years and has actually given the Spartans a chance against previous heavily-favored Buckeyes.
The Spartans have the advantage of having no advantage.
OK, that may be confusing but let me put it this way: Michigan State has the advantage of playing with absolutely nothing to lose. Which, actually, can be a pretty substantial advantage.
This exact advantage is how upsets happen. Heck, this is how the Purdue “Spoilermakers” became a thing. They play with nothing to lose against the best teams when no one gives them a chance and they come out on top at a high rate.
Look, Michigan State has been in this position with Ohio State before.
And they’ve played the Buckeyes incredibly tough.
Let’s go back to the prime Mark Dantonio years to evaluate this “playing with nothing to lose” advantage.
- In 1998, Michigan State was unranked and headed to face the No. 1 Buckeyes. Michigan State pulled off the massive upset of “No. 1 vs. No One” and Mel Tucker was on the staff as a grad assistant.
- In 2012, Michigan State was 3-1 heading into the Ohio State game and the Buckeyes were undefeated under Urban Meyer. The Spartans were the clear underdogs and came away with a 17-16 loss.
- In 2013, Michigan State was the underdog in the Big Ten title game and beat the Braxton Miller-led Buckeyes, 34-24.
- In 2014, the Spartans were the clear underdogs against the eventual national champion Buckeyes and lost a shootout in East Lansing, 49-37.
- In 2015, Michigan State did have something to lose, but it was an extreme underdog with Connor Cook out. It went out and beat the Buckeyes 17-14 in Columbus.
- In 2016, Michigan State was in the midst of a 3-9 season and they played a really good Ohio State team tough and a failed two-point conversion was the difference. Ohio State won 17-16.
The games since, outside of maybe 2018, haven’t been close at all, but Tucker needs to channel that inner-1998 Spartan and lead his team into battle and preach the “we have no pressure on us and nothing to lose” narrative.
If nothing else, it will make the team believe.
Play loose, play free, and maybe some magic can happen.