With the way the college football gods lined up the the 2009 season schedule, October 17th could turn into the most important regular season weekend of the season. If Florida is to go unbeaten like so many expect, then USC and Notre Dame as well as Texas and Oklahoma could be playing elimination games for the other berth in the national title if all four teams remain unbeaten up to that point.
"If" is the keyword in that entire last paragraph for the Fighting Irish. If the Irish prove many of their supporters right by not laying an egg against Nevada in week one. If Charlie Weis can pick up his second win in three tries in the Big House against the University of Michigan on September 12th. If Jimmy Clausen and company can avenge their first defeat of the 2008 campaign by getting by Michigan State in week three in South Bend.
Over the course of time and into the future, yes, USC does in fact weigh more in possible recruiting battles that may face the Irish down the road and a win over the Trojans would show signs that a corner has been turned much more than a win over Michigan State would do. However, for the success that many envision the Irish having in 2009, a win over the Spartans on September 19th is a must.
A win over MSU could swing momentum to the BCS. A loss could mean very bad news for ND.
How important is this game for an Irish team who should be growing as each week gets scratched off the schedule? Notre Dame hasn't defeated Michigan State in South Bend since before any current player was a teenager. If the Irish get by the Spartans and improve to 3-0 then the BCS will seem like a very likely end result to the 2009 campaign for the Fighting Irish. Lose and the end of the Charlie Weis era in South Bend may be upon us.
Based on talent and experience levels there is no reason that Notre Dame shouldn't enter this game 2-0 and really, they should exit it 3-0. For some odd reason though, Notre Dame beating Michigan State in South Bend has turned into rocket science for the Fighting Irish.
In 2007, it was a young Irish team that hung with Michigan State for a short amount of time before falling. In 2005, it was an Irish team which wound up in the Fiesta Bowl that fell to the Spartans in OT after trailing by as many as three touchdowns. 2003 would have been a win...had the Irish gotten in the end zone a time or two instead of settling for three Nick Setta field goals, all from within 35 yards. 2001 was another case of the Irish forgetting to get in the end zone in a 17-10 defeat at the hands of a Michigan State team that featured Charles Rogers and TJ Duckett.
Outside of 2005, every year the Irish have lost at home to Michigan State, the season has turned into a quick downward spiral. We all remember 2007 where we saw the Irish finish with only three wins. Other cases?
2003: 22-16 Loss, second of three straight defeats and six losses in seven contests during the season - No Bowl Appearance
2001: 17-10 Loss, second of three straight to start season, before finishing only 5-6 on the year - No Bowl Appearance
1999: 23-13 Loss, third straight for the Irish after winning in week one vs. Kansas - No Bowl Appearance
1997: 23-7 Loss, Second loss in a row, finished regular season 6-6 after starting 1-4 - Independence Bowl: 27-9 loss vs. LSU
Bad things tend to happen when Notre Dame loses to Michigan State in South Bend. Sure, in 2005, they were able to bounce back and still make a BCS game, but in every other case over the past decade the Irish have either missed a post-season bowl berth altogether or just barely sneaked in. If the Irish get by Michigan State on September 19th then it should be full steam ahead to the BCS. If they don't?
Charlie Weis will be making his farewell tour the rest of the 2009 season from the Notre Dame sideline.