Two weeks ago, Michigan State’s season was seemingly derailed by an upset loss at Nebraska.
Today, the Spartans are back in the thick of the College Football Playoff race.
Saturday’s 17-14 win over Ohio State put Michigan State right back in the conversation for a spot in the sport’s final four with just two weeks to play. As the Buckeyes taught us last season, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and the Spartans winning big games at the right times could land them in the Playoff, something that would have been downright unthinkable just a couple weeks back.
Things have not been pretty for Michigan State this season. While its record is worth celebrating at 10-1, the wins haven’t done too much to impress. The Spartans were nearly upset by Purdue and Rutgers, two of the Big Ten’s worst teams. The defense allowed more than it should have in early season wins over Western Michigan and Air Force. The supposedly signature non-conference win over Oregon wasn’t exactly convincing and proved to be not so signature after the Ducks failed to crack the top 25 for much of the season. The loss to Nebraska came on a controversial ending, and perhaps it should’ve been a win. But Michigan State wouldn’t have even been in that position if not for an atrocious defensive effort in which it allowed nearly 500 total yards.
And here’s an incredible stat, tweeted out Sunday morning by the great Phil Steele: In each of Michigan State’s two landmark wins this season — over Michigan and Ohio State — the Spartans trailed for the entirety of the game, only grabbing the lead with time expired. Even though Michigan State played well in those games — the offense against Michigan and the defense against Ohio State — the only reason they weren’t both losses, certainly the Michigan game, was because of last-second game-changing plays.
[SHOP BIG TEN: Get your Spartans gear right here]
You might think that with how the Spartans have played the majority of the season, in wins and in a loss, that a trip to the College Football Playoff would be out of the question. But here we are.
Michigan State is a win away from the Big Ten Championship Game, where a win over undefeated Iowa would make the Spartans 12-1 with a conference championship, wins over two top-five teams and a third win over a highly ranked Michigan team, to boot. And all those wins would have come away from Spartan Stadium. Oregon will likely see itself ranked at season’s end after its late-season surge, boosting the Spartans’ resume, as well.
Who besides an undefeated Clemson team would have a better resume than that?
Certainly the wins over ranked opponents would be better than those of Alabama and Notre Dame and perhaps the eventual Big 12 representative, too.
Iowa currently has the Big Ten’s best chance at making the Playoff. The Hawkeyes are undefeated and despite a schedule that’s been bemoaned for weeks, a win in the Big Ten Championship Game would give them the win over a top-10 team that they need. Plus, as Northwestern continues to win, Iowa’s 40-10 road shellacking of the Cats looks better and better.
But Iowa’s strength is also opportunity for Michigan State, as a highly ranked Hawkeyes team would provide just another signature win — and a gigantic stage on which to do it — for the Spartans.
No Connor Cook and a defense that was eviscerated by Nebraska two weeks prior. It wasn’t supposed to go so well for Michigan State on Saturday night. But it did. And because of it, the Spartans could be playing for a national championship.