Wednesday, September 4, 1996


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Spartans excited about Nebraska challenge

By DAVID BIRKETT
State News Sports Writer

For the MSU football program, Saturday's game at Nebraska means more than just a win or a loss. The nationally televised game (noon on ABC) will bring exposure to a program trying to regain a foothold among the nation's elite.

"This is a very challenging game for us," said head coach Nick Saban. "Since they're two-time national champions shooting for a third national championship, it could bring a lot of exposure to our program."

The Cornhuskers have coasted through the past three seasons, winning 36 straight regular season games and the last two national championships. Nebraska's last loss was an 18-16 defeat to Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl.

Win or lose, a strong performance in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday is important to Spartan football for a number of reasons. First, the game is nationally televised instead of the usual regional broadcast. Most games are televised on a local or regional basis.

This weekend's large audience gives MSU a chance to make an impression on recruits in Florida, Texas, New York, California and other high school football hotbeds that ordinarily would not see a Spartan football game.

"This (exposure) helps out recruits," said junior quarterback Todd Schultz. "It shows them what Spartan football is all about. When you're being recruited, a good showing (on TV) can help you pick up all the little things you like about a program."

The national exposure also should help the Spartans get the attention of poll voters, possibly helping them with a future bowl bid.

Most voters are coaches or media members that have their own game to cover or coach, but Saturday is early enough in the season that many voters will be at home in front of the TV instead of at their own games.

And those who do have their own commitments will be able to see the start of the game - where the announcers are sure to laud MSU's performance against Purdue - because of the noon start.

But Saban said perhaps the most important thing the Spartans will get from playing Nebraska this weekend is a championship mentality.

"Anytime you play a team that is truly a championship-caliber team, which they truly are, it shows your players the standard that they have to reach to get to that level," Saban said.

That's not to say that the Spartans are heading to Lincoln expecting a loss.

"We're preparing the players to win the game just like any other game," Saban said. "If you get beat you get beat. It's as simple as that."

For MSU, the team, the bottom line is still wins and losses, but for MSU, the program, the results of Saturday's game are timeless.

ELIGIBILITY UPDATE: BOLD The NCAA announced late last week that freshman running back Leroy McFadden from Eden Prairie, Minn. is ineligible to play for MSU this fall.

McFadden is a partial qualifier under the NCAA's eligibility requirements. He passed all entrance exams and had a sufficient grade point average to play his first season, but the NCAA did not accept some of his prep school classes as core classes. Incoming students must complete 11 core classes, including science, math and English, to be eligible for collegiate competition.

McFadden signed with Nebraska after rushing for 1,500 yards in 1994, but spent last year trying to improve his grades at Milford Prep Academy in Connecticut. He signed with the Spartans last spring and will be able to practice with MSU throughout the season.

FRESHMEN FLOURISH: BOLD Saban was pleased with the play of all his freshmen in Saturday's 52-14 victory over Purdue.

Tailback Sedrick Irvin stole the show, scoring four touchdowns and amassing 162 yards of total offense, but he was not the only newcomer to play a significant role in MSU's victory.

Freshman Mike Austin started and saw plenty of action at one linebacker position, and punter Paul Edinger and long snapper Kyle Rance gave the Spartans a solid freshman combination on special teams. Austin made seven tackles, including one for a loss and Edinger averaged 37.5 yards on his four punts.

Freshman Gari Scott also got his name in the stat book by catching two passes for 56 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown score late in the game.


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