Big Ten

It's only Week 2, but Spartans look to be on playoff track


It's only Week 2, but Spartans look to be on playoff track

EAST LANSING, Mich. — We’re just two weeks into the college football season, but perhaps it’s not too outlandish to make this statement.

Michigan State is going to the College Football Playoff.

Sure, it’s just a bit of post-victory hyperbole. But truly, Saturday night’s 31-28 win over visiting Oregon did a whole lot of good for Michigan State’s playoff resume. Even those “one game at a time” guys knew how much this game meant. When the College Football Playoff selection committee gets together over the next few months, this will be the game they talk about.

Two top-10 teams collided, and the Spartans emerged victorious. That’s going to mean a lot.

“In my mind, it’s a stepping-stone game,” head coach Mark Dantonio said after the game. “This is the game that pays dividends at the end of the season. This is the game that promotes this brand and this program.

“I think they all count one, I really do. But maybe for 24 hours this one’s a little bit bigger. And then maybe at the end of the season, this pays dividends and moves you forward, you know when people think and talk about strength of schedule and things of that nature. But it doesn’t do you any good if you’re not winning and play well after the fact, either.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Revenge, achieved: Spartans stand strong, beat high-powered Oregon]

Good point, coach. The only way the win over Oregon remains relevant is if Michigan State keeps piling up the wins, keeps itself near the top of the rankings and keeps itself in the playoff conversation.

The thing is, the schedule ahead of these Spartans makes it seem like all that will be a very strong possibility. The next four games come against Air Force, Central Michigan, Purdue and Rutgers. After an in-state tussle with Michigan, it’s Indiana, Nebraska and Maryland before the game of the year in the Big Ten: the Nov. 21 showdown against No. 1 Ohio State. Then the season-finale against Penn State.

But of those games, the Spartans will be favored in all but one. And even if Michigan State falls in Columbus, that’s a potential 11-1 finish, with the only loss coming against the country’s top team — assuming the Buckeyes do what everyone suspects and finishes undefeated — and a win over a top-10 team, to boot.

Beat that resume.

But aside from the months-off actuality of a finalized playoff field, what Saturday’s win impacted, too, was Michigan State’s perception. The nation watched Sparty take down the Ducks. And if they weren’t watching that Rose Bowl win over Stanford two years ago — which was preceded by a Big Ten title game win over Ohio State — or that Cotton Bowl win over Baylor last year, they now know: Michigan State is one of the nation’s premier college football programs, and it deserves to be treated like it.

[MORE BIG TEN: Three TDs for Ezekiel Elliott in Buckeyes' shutout of Hawaii]

“It’s so good for the school, so good for the program, recruiting all that stuff,” quarterback Connor Cook said. “I’d say a win over Oregon at home, the home opener with (ESPN) Gameday here so early in the season, it feels like back in 2013 when we won the Rose Bowl, we won the Big Ten Championship Game. So I’d rank it right up there with those games.”

“I know when I was growing up and I was a State fan, if a team like Oregon came in here, I wouldn’t expect Michigan State to win,” linebacker Riley Bullough said. “Nowadays, the last few years, with the coaches we have and the players we have, we expect to win games. That’s why we’re brought here, and that’s why we play for Michigan State. So each game, we expect to win.”

Baylor head coach Art Briles suggested that his program’s lack of “name” status compared to Ohio State, Oregon, Florida State and Alabama kept the Bears out of last year’s playoff field. After Saturday night, it would seem that won’t be something Dantonio has to worry about this year.

But as big as Saturday night was, there is still so much left to be achieved for this Michigan State team. The Spartans have talked about the chip on their shoulder that came with not reaching the ultimate pinnacle of winning a national championship. While they’re happy that Saturday’s win will mean a lot in moving them toward that goal, they know there’s more to do, too.

Two games in, Michigan State looks like College Football Playoff material. But there are 10 regular-season games left to be played.

“I like how we’ve started fast this year,” defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. “We’ve started a lot faster than we have in years prior. It just shows that we’re going in the right direction, we’re doing it at the right pace. Now it’s time to clean up things, there’s a lot of things we still need to clean up. But once we get it all together, it’s like that train, it just keeps going. It was slow at first, but once we get it all together, it’s going to be unstoppable.”

“We didn't play as well last week as we did today. We need to continue to get better. Played against a very high-quality team this week, not that we didn't last week. Just saying we took a step forward,” Dantonio said. “And we look to play our best football in November. I think that's what we've always tried to do. I think that's what wins championships for you, will put you in those opportunities. But we need to continue to progressively just play, and there's some great football teams left that we have to play, there's no question. We have got 10 games left.”

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings


See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?