AROUND THE NATION

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AROUND THE NATION

SPOTLIGHT ON … MICHIGAN STATE

No. 13 Michigan State (9-1, 6-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (4-6, 0-6), noon, ESPN

Nothing tricky about Dantonio’s success

With each successive game, with each victory, what was previously a curious buzz surrounding Michigan State has steadily grown into a menacing roar.

“People feel like we have an identity,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “So which identity do we have? It just depends on the time of day it is, really?”

The Spartans know what they are — and are comfortable with that persona — because their coach is comfortable in his own skin. Dantonio possesses a wry sense of humor that’s admittedly an acquired taste. It’s not that he doesn’t smile or is purposely dour in front of the television cameras.

Dantonio doesn’t really care that much about outside perceptions.

Think he’s boring and dull?

Go ahead. He’s cool with it. But that 57-year-old man happily dancing with his players in the locker room after every victory this season, or successfully rolling the dice with a fake field-goal play at a critical juncture at Nebraska last week, is in many ways the antithesis of stale and conventional.

Born from that comfort is confidence.

That’s why the Michigan State trick plays work with such regularity. It’s not an exercise in coaching testosterone. It’s not a challenge of one’s manhood. It’s about preparation and calculated risk coming together. And if it doesn’t work, Dantonio can live with the result and move on because he knows that football is always about taking risks.

That’s a self-assured coach.

“There’s definitely a comfort level that comes down from the coaches,” said punter Mike Sadler, who took the snap on the fake field-goal play at Nebraska, made the incorrect initial read, but still fought for a 3-yard gain and the first down. “We’re not taking chances because we think that’s the only way we can win the game. We take them because we’ve prepared for them for so long that when the situation comes up in the game, it feels natural. It feels normal.”

The Spartans are seriously contending for the Big Ten championship for the third time in four years — which has become the “new normal” in this conference.

— Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press

GAME OF THE DAY |

Duke (8-2, 4-2 ACC) at Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5), noon, ESPN2

Who would have guessed? Duke in an important game

Duke can continue a most unlikely climb up the ACC standings, into the national rankings and into the school record book.

But a loss at sputtering Wake Forest, and it’s all gone.

The Blue Devils will match a school record with nine wins and clinch at least a share of the Coastal Division title by beating the Demon Deacons.

“It could turn around at any second,” defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento said.

In winning six consecutive games — their longest streak since that season — the perennial cellar-dwellers have become the talk of the ACC.

“The players have earned some respect, which they should enjoy,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “They know what’s out there for them. There’s an opportunity that exists, but it’s a week-to-week proposition.”

If any coach can relate, it’s Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe.

The Demon Deacons put together a similar worst-to-first season during their Orange Bowl run in 2006. But since the core of that team moved on, they’ve yet to have a winning season and have reached one bowl game.

After losing three in a row, Wake Forest needs victories over the Blue Devils and at Vanderbilt next week to qualify for the postseason.

You must remember this: Before Duke’s 34-27 victory last year, Wake Forest had won the previous 12 meetings, and Grobe had never lost to the Blue Devils.

WORDS WITH … OKLAHOMA’S BOB STOOPS

No. 20 Oklahoma (8-2, 5-2 Big 12) at Kansas State (6-4, 4-3), noon, Fox Sports 1

Sooner than later, he’ll be winningest OU coach

Q: Have you thought about the record (victory No. 158 will surpass Barry Switzer)?

A: No. You can say that he’s lying, but why would I? I haven’t picked up a paper since the week before the first game or looked at it. I watch national news, and CNN isn’t talking about it. I try to keep up with what’s happening in the world. That kind of stuff has no place for me, just because it’s not what is important.

Q: What are your thoughts about coach Switzer?

A: All I’ll do is compliment coach Switzer. He was a special coach at his time. Not many coaches have a Super Bowl with three national championships (and have) his unique ability to relate to his players. And then I appreciate his friendship. He’s been a great friend to me, a great friend to everybody in this program. We’re fortunate he still comes around and sees us. He’ll always be one of the most special and one of the greatest coaches in all of college football.

Q: How do you hope to be remembered?

A: My legacy, hopefully, is my players like playing for me and care about me. They knew I cared about them. Whenever we see each other, we’ll be glad to see each other. … And that the university felt like I did it the right way, with character and integrity.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT … BAYLOR’S AARON JONES

No. 4 Baylor (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) at No. 10 Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1), 8 p.m., ABC

Despite all the touchdowns, there’s a place for kicker

Why he matters: With nine more last week, Jones became the NCAA career leader with 260 PATs made. He also has the longest-active streak, with 175 in a row, including all 68 this season. He has a school-record 53 field goals and 419 points scored.

What he said: “Obviously it’s a great honor to put my name in the NCAA record books. But really it’s a credit to the offense, especially this year the defense and special teams (scoring touchdowns). It’s an easy thing for me.”

Why it’s a good story: He went to Baylor as a walk-on kicker after turning down offers from smaller schools to play soccer, the sport he had been involved in since age 4. His parents didn’t let him go out for football until he was in seventh grade.

His most unusual moment: In a game two years ago against Texas Tech in the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, he had nine extra points, a field goal (on two attempts) and kicked off 11 times. “I was playing nonstop, always warming up and getting worn out. That’s the most tired I’ve ever been. I run down on kickoffs, too. I help cover. … I get worn out sometimes.”

SIX PACK

Duke (8-2, 4-2 ACC) at Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5), noon, ESPN2: The Blue Devils, playing as a ranked team for the first time in nearly two decades, need victories against Wake Forest and North Carolina to win the ACC Coastal Division and a date with Florida State in the league title game. Wake Forest needs two victories to qualify for a bowl. In the underachieving ACC Coastal, anything is possible.

No. 13 Michigan State (9-1, 6-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (4-6, 0-6), noon, ESPN: Michigan State, whose only loss was to Notre Dame, is one win from its second Big Ten championship game in three seasons and two from the best conference record in school history. The Spartans are eyeing their first trip to the Rose Bowl in 26 years.

Indiana (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) at No. 3 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC: Indiana must win its final two games to become bowl-eligible. Ohio State has lots of streaks on the line: a nation’s-best 22 games in a row, needing another to set a school record, plus a 17-game win streak against the Hoosiers. The Buckeyes can also clinch a spot in the Big Ten Championship game with a win.

California (1-10, 0-8 Pac-12) at No. 9 Stanford (8-2, 6-2), 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1: Forget the records, as they say, in the “Big Game” rivalry, edition No. 116. But Stanford is favored by 32. So much was expected of Stanford, but the Cardinal need Oregon to lose one of its final two games to even reach the Pac-12 Championship game.

No. 17 Arizona State (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) at No. 14 UCLA (8-2, 5-2), 7 p.m., Fox: The Sun Devils need a victory here to reach the Pac-12 title game as the South Division rep. UCLA can win here and against USC to instead win the division. Catch Myles Jack of UCLA, one of the nation’s top young linebackers who has rushed for 180 yards and five touchdowns the past two weeks as a punishing short-yardage back.

No. 4 Baylor (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) at No. 10 Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1), 8 p.m., ABC: The game decides who’s in control of their Big 12 destiny, with both teams facing significant conference games in coming weeks. Baylor averages 685 yards and 61 points per game, tops in the nation, even without its top rusher and receiver, both lost to injuries. The Cowboys lead the nation in interceptions.

Compiled by Ray Cox

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