Dec. 1, 2011
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
Just because the Michigan State Spartans are familiar with the underdog role doesn't mean they aren't contemptuous of it.
"It's just kind of always been that way around Michigan State," said senior wideout Keith Nichol. "I don't know what it is."
It comes as no surprise, therefore, that USA TODAY has installed Wisconsin as a nine-point favorite over MSU in Saturday night's Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis. The Spartans also are aware that nary a bowl projection has them playing Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Nevertheless, it doesn't make a lot of sense given the fact MSU has beaten the Badgers in two consecutive games, and in three of the last four meetings, including Oct. 22 at Spartan Stadium.
"We're 10-point underdogs to a team that we already beat," said Nichol. "Personally, I'm a big respect guy, and I feel like that's very disrespectful to myself and my teammates.
"We know what the rest of the country is saying about us, and even people locally might be saying. It's just more motivation for the fire, and we're just going to have to prove ourselves again."
The home team has won five in a row in this series, but the Spartans aren't even getting an ounce of bounce from being listed as the home team at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"I don't know how far you want to date back, but (the Spartans) have never been favored to be a Big Ten Champion, never been favored to go to Pasadena, weren't favored to the Rose Bowl when they were there (in 1988)," Nichol said. "All respect to Wisconsin.
"They finished tops in the (statistical) rankings and they're talking about their defense, their offense. They're talking about Russell Wilson and the other players they have. So you see what the rest of the country is seeing, but if you watch us on film and see what we're doing and the players we have, we feel like we deserve that same respect.
"If people don't want to give it to us, we'll just have to go earn it."
Being the underdog can work to a team's advantage, and the Spartans are experienced at being overlooked. Wisconsin was undefeated and ranked No. 4 prior to the first meeting.
"It's not all bad," said head coach Mark Dantonio. "We're the little guy. Everybody wants the little guy to win, so maybe a couple more people sitting on the fence maybe sway our way and make a little noise.
"There are certain things you can change sometimes and certain things you have to continue to earn. We'll do it the hard way."
Dantonio has consistently said that pregame talk and attitudes only have value until the first play unless they help the players sustain a high level of emotion and intensity throughout the game.
Regardless, only one team can benefit from the emotional edge adopted by an underdog.
"We've always been a little bit underappreciated, and a little bit disrespected," said quarterback Kirk Cousins. "It's nothing new to us. But, I think if you look at the way Wisconsin's played and the margins of victory they've had, they've done a great job and have had a great year.
"I don't think we need any extra motivation when the Rose Bowl is what's being played for. We could be in a sandlot with nobody watching and I'd be giving it my all. I don't think we need to find any extra motivation but certainly, when you feel disrespected, you come out swinging."
The Spartans also know that nothing anybody says is going to determine anything.
"Everybody can say what they feel like is going to happen, but you never can be too sure until you line up and play the game," said junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. "If we just went off projections, we wouldn't be playing this Saturday.
"But I do feel that when you're the underdog you play with a chip on your shoulder and you always play with that aggression to prove people wrong."