Is Schnellenberger returning to torment MSU again?

by Steve Grinczel | Grinz on Green

Wednesday September 10, 2008, 1:00 PM


EAST LANSING -- The last time Howard Schnellenberger stood on the sideline 53 1/3 yards from the one occupied by Michigan State was quite possibly the dreariest night in recent Spartans football history.

First, MSU athletic director Merrily Dean Baker showed up for the 1993 Liberty Bowl unthinkingly wearing a suit of red and black -- the colors of the Schnellenberger-coached Louisville team the Spartans were about to face that December night in Memphis, Tenn.

A cold, steady sleet fell throughout the game. And although Michigan State apparently had the upper hand, especially since Cardinals quarterback Jeff Brohm was playing with a broken hand, the Spartans came out flat.

Despite his affliction, Brohm completed 19 of 29 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown in the 18-7 upset.

Louisville wasn't a credible college force back then. But, it was on the upswing under Schnellenberger, who built the downtrodden Miami program into a national champion 10 years earlier.

Well, it appears the 74-year-old Schnellenberger is up to his old trick with Florida Atlantic, which visits Spartan Stadium on Saturday.

The fledgling Owls program program has progressed thusly since leaving Division I-AA for I-A in 2005: 2-9, 5-7, 8-5 including a win over Memphis (hmmmm) in last season's New Orleans Bowl.

FAU is 1-12 against BCS conference teams, with its lone win coming last season against Spartans Big Ten brother Minnesota. And, it's a serious threat to make MSU its second BCS victim.

Even though I know there are miles of contemporary FAU tape to study, I asked Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio if he would pull out that old Liberty Bowl tape, for some sobering perspective if nothing else.

After all, Schnellenberger is running a version of the same pro-style offense he did with Jim Kelly at Miami, and with Brohm at Louisville, and he's got a Kelly clone in strapping 6-foot-5, 230-pound Owls quarterback Rusty Smith, who has a lightning-quick release.

"No, I don't think we'll go back that far," Dantonio said. "They're different people and they're going to feature players that they have. They're very well-organized and run a lot of different sets but saying that, they will be in I-pro-formation a lot, too."

I guess I wasn't really looking at that Liberty Bowl debacle so much for schematic reasons as I was as a cautionary tale of what an upstart can do especially when it doesn't have the favorite's full attention.