Big Ten Playoff Hopes Route Through East Lansing

Well, I had a lot of faith in Ohio State, and frankly they let me down. I covered this in the College Quickie on Sunday, and while I’m not 100% ready to give up on the Buckeyes, I’m willing to concede their chances of making the playoff are significantly smaller than they were last week. Ohio State’s performance on Saturday was “ehh” at best, and “who are these Buckeyes?” at worst. For the Big Ten though, it has to hope Michigan State can carry water to the playoff. For that to happen, the Spartans need to be dominate down the stretch.For all the hubbub about how terrible the conference is, they’ve sure made a lot of strides since that fateful September weekend when 11 of 14 teams lost. Sure, on balance the conference isn’t the best, but it’s still one of the most popular, and probably has the largest alumni base of any other conference. For this reason alone, the powers-that-be – whomever they are – would fully support, and encourage, the conferences participation in the first playoff. Despite popular opinion, representation by four of the five power conferences would be preferable to having one dominate. I think we’ll see Florida State from the ACC, and I’d guess Alabama from the SEC. Other than that, it’s tough to judge who else might make it. Notre Dame has a significant chance, and you can call them an ACC team or an Independent, but if they win out they’ll be in the playoff. Trust me, the powers-that-be will be thrilled to have Notre Dame. To that end, Notre Dame’s reach is probably as big as, well the Big Ten’s. As disappointed as I was to see Minnesota lose Saturday ending their shot at the playoff, I was happier to see Mark Dantonio and company lay the wood to Michigan. I don’t hate Michigan, but after the Spartan’s loss to Oregon very early this season, State has to beat everyone in a dominate fashion, because the perception of the conference is very low. Ohio State’s travel to East Lansing on November 8 (yes, “Remember, Remember, the 8th of November) should provide a challenge to the oft-mentioned Spartans. Michigan State needs to win, and big, for two reasons. One the most obvious, so they can continue their path to the playoff. The second, less obvious reason is that of the eight games they have played, Ohio State stands to be their third and final ranked opponent of the season. They lost their first ranked game against Oregon, who was then #3 and is now #5 and also has one loss, and their second game was against then #19 Nebraska who is now #17. Nebraska’s only loss is to, you guessed it, Michigan State. We could waste time talking about media bias, but the truth is, playing only three ranked teams over eight or 12 games doesn’t look great on a resume when many of the higher ranked teams play four or five. Michigan State can only play the teams on its schedule, and there’s nothing it can do about the not-very-good Big Ten. I’m not holding either against them, I’m saying the perception is there that they’re not worthy because of their conference. The easiest way to improve that perception is to _beat_ Ohio State in a nationally televised game on ABC. The ball is literally in their court. Win big. Brag about it. Where is my faith? In Dantonio and company. I think the team has matured on the field over the past two years, and I think they showed that maturity with a steaming victory over in-state rival Michigan, and by allowing only Purdue to score more than 30 (31) against them this season. Oh, and I have faith they’ll beat Ohio State. Despite how “ehh” Ohio State looked Saturday, you can believe they’ll be ready for Sparty in East Lansing on 11/8. This weekend the Buckeyes have Illinois at home for the Illibuck Tropy (I try to work that in whenever I can), and Urban Meyer and company will want to show everyone that the Penn State game was a fluke. Quarterback J.T. Berrett will be itching to show everyone that he is a good passer – even if his freshman status probably negates that, and the offensive line will want to give him the chance to showcase his talent. Truth be told though, we’re all looking forward to Ohio State and Michigan State. For diversity’s sake and the coffers of Big Ten athletic departments, I hope the matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State is one for the ages, but at the same time Michigan State needs to handle its business. Image courtesy of Michigan State