Mark Dantonio brought up an interesting point during his press conference previewing Notre Dame on Tuesday.

Despite all of their success, Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook both lost in South Bend. Both of them were first-year starters in their first big road game. Each loss had a crushing element to it. Cousins was the first MSU quarterback to lose in South Bend in 16 years. Cook’s 135-yard, 13-point output ended the Spartans’ 3-0 start.

But as Dantonio pointed out, both learned valuable lessons from that game. Both fell short on last-minute touchdown drives in hostile atmospheres. Both later became known for engineering late scoring drives. Both later racked up victories against Michigan.

Could they have had similar fates with a win at South Bend? Sure, but a loss certainly didn’t shake their confidence.

Dantonio didn’t compare Tyler O’Connor to them because his situation is a little different. O’Connor is a fifth-year senior who already has a win at Ohio State under his belt. But Dantonio’s point about Cousins and Cook can be applied to MSU as a whole.

Win or lose, MSU will benefit greatly from making the trip to South Bend. The Spartans have a good enough late schedule that a loss wouldn’t derail playoff hopes. A win against Notre Dame would obviously put MSU into that conversation.

Before the Spartans can even think about the playoffs, they need to find out how good they are. Lord knows we didn’t learn that from a penalty-filled showing against FCS Furman. We have no idea if MSU is worthy of its No. 12 ranking.


MSU had to replace several key linemen on both sides of the ball. If the new Spartans starters aren’t getting the job done, the Irish will expose them.

LJ Scott is the feature back with Le’Veon Bell-like upside. If he still can’t put it together for a full game, the Irish will expose him.

O’Connor has two career starts, neither of which saw him throw the ball 20 times. If he struggles to lead an MSU comeback in pass-only situations, the Irish will expose him.

Of course MSU would rather find all of this out in a win. Losing would certainly put some pressure on the Spartans heading into a tricky start to B1G play vs. Wisconsin and at Indiana.

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Still, Dantonio has to figure out the areas that his team needs the most improvement in. This is an odd schedule for a coach to deal with, but you can bet Dantonio is grateful that there’s an early headliner like this. For an inexperienced team, it’s easy to get falsely confident beating up on non-conference cupcakes. A little dose of reality can go a long way.

Each of the last two national champions suffered losses in the first three weeks of the season. Each of them had first-year starting quarterbacks that got major wakeup calls in the form of an early loss. Call them “welcome to big-time college football” moments.

Michigan State’s season won’t be determined by the result on Saturday night. As we’ve learned from past MSU-Notre Dame games, one trick play can be the difference.

Is cliché to say that a team wants to treat a game as a learning experience. Dozens of coaches across America will say that this weekend.

But if MSU wants to remain in the playoff hunt, that has to be more than coachspeak.