It didn't take long for Rose Bowl dreams to disappear for Michigan State.
Just a few weeks after thinking big about the bowl season, the Spartans have lost back-to-back games, not scoring a single touchdown against either Ohio State or Nebraska.
With just one game remaining Michigan State hosts Rutgers on Saturday the Spartans are trying to avoid a .500 season and hoping they can improve their bowl position. That position, though, won't come anywhere near a New Year's Six game.
"I keep saying to our players, because what else do you say sometimes?" Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "The difference between winning and losing is so small, you really can cut it with a knife sometimes. It's so small. It's also the difference between joy and frustration. There's enough of that to go around.
"But I tell our players, 'You gotta keep pushing. Sometimes life will hit ya, and we've had a lot of games where we won close games.' We're going through a spell here, but we'll rise up."
The spell has been in place for much of the season as the offense has never found any consistent success while the defense has been outstanding. But it's been especially true over the last three weeks during the time of the season that Dantonio says is the most critical.
Just three weeks ago after the Spartans beat Purdue, Dantonio was talking about what was potentially ahead for Michigan State.
"A lot of things can happen," he said, "and we're in a situation in November now where we can play our way into something special."
Three weeks later, special is nowhere to be found, unless, of course, you start looking closely at how good Michigan State has been defensively. But, as Dantonio pointed out on Saturday afternoon, they don't keep score on just one side the ball. As he said, "it's all-inclusive."
And that leaves Michigan State (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) where it is now an average team that will attempt to find some motivation for its final home game of the season.
"It shouldn't be too difficult," Lombardi said. "It's the last home game for the seniors and there's a lot of passion coming out of Senior Day. Obviously, those guys have sacrificed their lives for four, five years for this team. It shouldn't be too difficult to get the morale (up), get the team going for the game.
"But it is tough. It's not what we want."
It's not what Michigan State wanted, but it's the result of what has been an uphill battle all season.
From the opener the Spartans squeaked out against Utah State to frustrating losses at Arizona State and Nebraska along with home losses to Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State, the Spartans have walked away shaking their heads, feeling like they missed out on something.
Trying to avoid that against a one-win Rutgers team is all that's left.
"We gotta send (the seniors) out on the right note at Spartan Stadium," junior linebacker Joe Bachie said. "We gotta get them that win. Rutgers is gonna come in ready to go, and this should be a game we should win. We've been saying that all season and we haven't been able to win some of these games."