Mizzou hopes to end Spartans' bowl dreams

Saturday, December 1, 2001

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State has a chance to win a game to be bowl eligible -- again.

The Spartans (5-5) were a win away from qualifying for postseason play after they beat Michigan, but they have lost three straight since then.

"Every week it's been in our hands and we haven't come through," running back T.J. Duckett said. "We have no choice but to win now. If we don't, the season is over."

There's a chance Michigan State's year could be over even if it beats the Missouri Tigers (4-6) today in Spartan Stadium.

If Penn State wins at Virginia, the Spartans will likely be locked out of the bowls the Big Ten has secured for its top teams.

If Michigan State beats the Tigers, it could play in the Silicon Valley Classic Dec. 31 in San Jose, Calif., the Tangerine Bowl on Dec. 20 in Orlando, Fla., or even in the Motor City Bowl on Dec. 29 in Pontiac, if former Spartan coach George Perles, the game's executive director, can find another place for the fourth place Conference USA team to play.

"We have to just worry about winning," Michigan State coach Bobby Williams said. "We'll leave the positioning and politicking to our administrators."

What would Duckett think about playing a bowl game in the Silverdome, which will shelter players from freezing temperatures outside?

"That would be fine," he insisted. "As long as we're going to any bowl game, that would be good news."

Missouri can't qualify for a bowl, but it can spoil Michigan State's hopes for the postseason.

The Tigers are led by a junior on offense and one on defense.

Receiver Justin Gage, who was named first team All-Big 12 by the conference coaches, has 68 receptions for 883 yards this season. Gage needs eight receptions against Michigan State to break Missouri's single-season record and he's 117 receiving yards from becoming just the second Tiger to record 1,000 yards in a season.

Linebacker Sean Doyle has made 120 tackles this year, which ranks second in the Big 12 Conference and is among the top 20 in the nation.

"Michigan State is fighting for a bowl, which will make them fight even harder," Doyle said. "We're on their field with their postseason on the line. You can bet we'll get one of their better games, so we have to respond with ours too."

Missouri's first-year coach Gary Pinkel, who spent 10 seasons at Toledo, said he's not interesting in building for next season by playing younger players.

"I've never gone into a game to just try players out and try to get them some experience for next year," Pinkel said. "I can't do that. I owe it to our football team to come win the football game. That's just the way I am."

Duckett, who has run for 1,087 yards seven touchdowns, and receiver Charles Rogers, who has caught 50 passes for 1,032 yard and 10 TDs, have provided Michigan State with plenty of highlights this season.

But they've been unable to help the team overcome a rash of injuries, including six season-ending injuries to starters.

"The injuries have been tough," said linebacker Josh Thornhill, who has made 118 tackles this season. "Our defense looks totally different than it did in August.

"I think with a healthy team, we wouldn't be having some of the problems we've had, but we can't use injuries as an excuse for why we've been losing."

Today's game between was originally scheduled for Sept. 15, but was postponed due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Michigan State leads the all-time series 4-3 but lost to the Tigers 13-10 last year in their first meeting since 1945.

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