Spartans in middle of 'playoff' run
Alone in first place of the Big Ten Legends Division, the Spartans are in control of their own destiny when it comes to claiming a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl bid. One loss, however, and things get murky.
Nebraska, currently tied with Michigan for second, owns the tiebreaker over MSU but the Spartans own the tie breaker over Michigan. The Wolverines and Cornhuskers play in the second-to-last game of the regular season in Ann Arbor. If Michigan wins that game, even if MSU suffers another loss, the Spartans will go to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.
Up next for MSU is a game at Iowa, the same scenario that derailed the Spartans' Rose Bowl bid last season when they suffered their first loss of the season in a blowout in Iowa City. After that comes a home game against Indiana and a game at Northwestern to close out the year. That Northwestern game is what makes this Saturday against Iowa even more important.
Head coach Mark Dantonio has closed off his players from the media this week, citing a need for increased focus on the Iowa game. The last time he did this was the week leading up to Ohio State, and the Spartans nearly shut out the Buckeyes en route to getting a tough road win.
"We've got seven wins and are 4-1 in the conference so any way you look at it we're right there," Mark Dantonio said after the Spartans win over Minnesota. "We survived one playoff game as far as I'm concerned and we advanced. That's how we have to challenge ourselves to take this."
Iowa, even though technically still in the race for the Big Ten Legends Division as well, is down this year. MSU should win that game. Indiana at home should be no different than playing Indiana at home any other year. It's Indiana football.
The Northwestern game is the scary one for MSU. The Wildcats typically play well against the Spartans, even if they don't always come away successful. Northwestern will be playing at home and for an opportunity to add another marquee win to bolster its bowl positioning. Even without quarterback Dan Persa, Northwestern remains a very dangerous team. It was backup QB Kain Colter who led the charge in the win over Nebraska this past weekend.
There's a chance, say if Michigan loses to Illinois and then beats Nebraska, that a loss to the Wildcats won't matter. But for MSU's sake, every game from here on out will be approached as a must win. If MSU can avoid playing down to the level of competition it will coast into the first-ever Big Ten Championship Game and face either Wisconsin or Penn State.
If you wanted playoffs, you've got them in East Lansing.
Here's some other news and opinions about the Spartans from around the web:
Spartans have clear path to become Big Ten champs, now must start playing like it -- The Oakland Press
Michigan State will exact revenge on Iowa -- The Bleacher Report
Spartans know Rose Bowl hopes ride on Iowa game -- Mlive.com
Elsworth emerges as key contributor -- MSUSpartans.com