October 12, 2011

'It's Personal Again This Week'

EAST LANSING - B.J. Cunningham is in the throes of a first team All-Big Ten season.

As No. 23/19 Michigan State approaches the halfway point of the college football schedule, Cunningham is second among conference wideouts, trailing only Illinois' A.J. Jenkins in a couple of the most notable receiving categories.

But as the Spartans (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) prepare for a chance to top rival Michigan for a fourth-straight season, Cunningham has no problem admitting his productive and already record-setting season would have a dark cloud hanging over it if MSU lost to the No. 11/10 Wolverines (6-0, 2-0) at noon on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

That's why, in a four-game stretch that started with Ohio State and will include Wisconsin and Nebraska, Cunningham was all business. Despite having a bye week after the Spartans beat the Buckeyes and began preparation for U-M, Cunningham chose to stay in East Lansing instead of taking a weekend visit to go home to Westerville, Ohio.

"It's personal again this week. Of course it's Michigan-Michigan State and we're all getting jacked for it, so we'll be ready,'' said Cunningham, who has just two touchdowns, but is second in the Big Ten in receptions per game (7.6) and receiving yards per game (116.4).

Cunningham, who is also tied with Iowa's Marvin McNutt for second in the Big Ten with three 100-yard plus receiving outings, just smiles when asked about the chance to be on the winning side of the MSU-U-M rivalry for a fourth-straight season. It's the pursuit of an accomplishment that has taken on a special meaning for the Spartans' all-time receptions leader and the Spartans other seniors.

"That would be great (to beat U-M four times in a row),'' he said. "It would mean every time I played on the field against them, we won and to go out like that, it would be great for our seniors and all the guys. It would be a chance to keep it in the program for the young guys to show them how it's done and what they need to do. So just to go out never losing to Michigan, that would be great.''

Despite MSU's recent success against the Wolverines and the transition of a coaching change and philosophy coming into this season, Cunningham said it's not strange that U-M is undefeated coming into Saturday's matchup.

"I'm not really surprised. They have skilled guys on the outside making plays, they've got (Denard) Robinson at quarterback,'' he said. "I mean they've got the guys to do it but when they come to play us I feel like we're going to come ready to play and handle it.''

One reason Cunningham feels that way is because MSU has a very productive facet of its offense to go along with a defense that leads the conference in rushing defense, pass defense and of course, total defense.

And MSU's pass offense is going to provide a stiff test for Michigan's secondary because the Spartans are second in the Big Ten with nearly 270 yards per game and tops in time of possession at nearly 35 minutes a game.

Eventhough MSU's game against Michigan is part of what could be considered the toughest four-game stretch of Big Ten games the Spartans will play since Mark Dantonio's arrival, Cunningham is confident - especially after being part of a winning MSU team that hadn't beaten Ohio State in Columbus since the late 90s - that MSU will prevail despite the fact that the defending Big Ten champs didn't enter the season as one of the conference's 'sexy' picks to challenge for another conference crown.

Even Michigan, after a decent season last year that saw them earn a bowl bid, has returned to, what many could conclude is their rightful spot, as media darlings in the college football world.

"They talk about Wisconsin. They got the new quarterback, so that's something to talk about. And Nebraska, they just got here, coming from the Big 12, so that's something to talk about and Michigan hasn't lost any games, so that's definitely something to talk about. And us, we're just Michigan State. We're co-Big Ten champs but we pooted against Notre Dame so people are saying, 'they're not good.' But we've always got something to prove every week anyway. So if we come out like that and play with a chip on our shoulders, I feel like we should be good.''

After it's game against Michigan, MSU will host the Badgers for Homecoming before traveling to face Nebraska in Lincoln. That will conclude a stretch that Cunningham refuses to view as intimidating.

"Scary? No it's not scary. We're just playing football,'' he said. "It happens to be Michigan this week, Wisconsin next week and Nebraska after that. We're just going to come out there and do what we do, try and go 1-0 each week.''

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