EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — For Rutgers, this scenario is a disappointment.
For Michigan State, it was unimaginable.
The Scarlet Knights and Spartans will meet in East Lansing on Saturday in a matchup between the only two winless teams in Big Ten play. Michigan State, which went to the national semifinals last season, has lost seven games in a row — yet is still favored by about two touchdowns. That’s how badly this season has gone for Rutgers.
Chris Ash, in his first season as coach at Rutgers, was somewhat dismissive of the idea that the two teams are that similar.
"We’re in year one, and they’re in year whatever," Ash said. "They’re a team that just came off a national playoff. We’re not. So it is completely different from that standpoint. If you want to look at just this year and some of the close games, yeah, you could probably say there are similarities."
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said recently he had "a town hall meeting" with each position group to take stock of things. The Spartans (2-7, 0-6) haven’t won since what seemed like an encouraging victory at Notre Dame in September.
"The only thing I can do is pick up the pieces every week and say, `Why haven’t we won?’ and try and address that," Dantonio said. "Make sure we try and have do-over notes, so if you had to do it over again, what would you do?"
Rutgers (2-7, 0-6) has beaten Howard and New Mexico and nobody else.
Here are a few things to know when the Spartans host the Scarlet Knights:
Quarterbacks Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry both played for Michigan State in last weekend’s loss to Illinois. The Spartans have lost Brian Lewerke for the season because of a broken leg.
"I thought Damion played pretty well in the game. I think Tyler played well in the game," Dantonio said. "I think Tyler is earning his stripes. I think coming into this season, he was a guy that had quarterbacked one-and-a-half games. I think right now the way he’s handled the situation that’s been thrust upon him has been very mature."
Rutgers has had five different players throw passes this season. Giovanni Rescigno threw for 258 yards in last weekend’s loss to Indiana.
Rutgers is the only team in the nation to have faced three of the top six teams in the current AP poll. The Scarlet Knights lost to No. 2 Michigan (78-0), No. 4 Washington (48-13) and No. 6 Ohio State (58-0).
This season could actually be going even worse for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights lead the Big Ten with 12 stops in the red zone.
LJ Scott is averaging 5.1 yards a carry for the Spartans, and Gerald Holmes is at 4.9. Holmes rushed for 78 yards and a touchdown against Illinois.
Michigan State hasn’t had great luck with injuries this season. In fact, the Spartans have had a different starting lineup in every game on both offense and defense.
"You just have to keep looking forward, that’s what you have to do. If you look back at the things that have not gone our way over the course of the year — there’s a string of them, no doubt — but that’s not going to help our situation," Michigan State co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. "Twenty years down the road you look back and say, `Can you believe what happened in 2016? That was unbelievable.’ But right now, it’s: How do we prepare for Rutgers?"