Through Michigan State's early-season struggles, Mark Dantonio said "all of our goals are in front of us." He was right, at the time.
MSU was coming off a hard 20-3 loss to Notre Dame at Spartan Stadium, and the talk of a Rose Bowl still lingered for the Spartans — but didn't last long.
Fact is, long ago the ship sailed on any Rose Bowl dreams. It could have been when Fou Fonoti's injury kicked off a streak of offensive line injuries. It could have been when the receivers were not catching the ball. It could have been when Andrew Maxwell and the offense weren't developing as quickly as anticipated.
It probably was a combination of those things and more.
Is this season a waste? Hardly. Even with high expecatations for MSU heading into this season — which I had, too — the focus has been on 2013.
The Spartans return almost the entire offense (one senior starter) and the defense is only slated to lose four players who have significant roles.
The schedule is without Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. OSU and Wisconsin are replaced with Illinois and Purdue, much easier competition for the Spartans to deal with.
What remains of 2012 will have a lasting impact on 2013. With Northwestern and Minnesota left on the schedule, the Spartans have two very winnable games — needing just one win to lock up a bowl game. At this point, it is less about playing in the bowl game and more about the extra 15 practices this young team gains from earning that bowl bid.
Those practices will go a long way in determining the future success of what amounts to a very young MSU team. MSU will return all its wide receivers and all but one of the starting offensive linemen — the two groups most crticized this season. Thousands more reps with Andrew Maxwell and the cohesiveness will grow.
Bear in mind, bowl practices are the time of year when the future players really shine — B.J. Cunningham was the talk of the practices his freshman year, before rewriting the MSU's record book.
This season isn't over, but it has to end on a strong note for this team to move forward convincingly into 2013. Getting a win this weekend is where it starts.
The Rose Bowl next year could be where it ends up.