Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio stood at the podium for his Tuesday news conference and smirked at his team’s 16-point underdog status against Ohio State.
“Oh, I don’t worry about that,” he said. But that smile told the tale of a coach who might use the betting line as motivation.
On Tuesday night, Michigan State didn’t get any disrespect to use to its advantage. The College Football Playoff rankings put the Spartans (7-2, 5-1 Big Ten) at No. 12, higher than the three other 7-2 teams in the Big Ten East: Ohio State (No. 13), Penn State (No. 14) and Michigan (unranked).
— CFBPlayoff (@CFBPlayoff) November 8, 2017
The selection committee also put Michigan State higher than its No. 13 ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 and its No. 16 ranking in the Amway Coaches Poll. Per ESPN, no team below No. 14 in the second release has made the College Football Playoff.
So the committee gave fans a sliver of hope — hope that could be squashed by the knowledge that no 2-loss team has made it, either. But the Spartans can rest assured that if they continue to win, they’ll get plenty of respect in the rankings that matter.
Michigan State might want to hope Michigan finishes its season strong. The rankings put much more emphasis on teams beaten than teams lost to, and having Northwestern (No. 25) over the Wolverines in the rankings could be concerning if the Spartans want to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Michigan State passed the first test of its season-defining two-game stretch by beating Penn State. Now the Spartans have Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus. Win that and they likely will crack the top 10. More important, they will be wins over Maryland and Rutgers away from a division title and a Big Ten Championship Game berth.
That will be the primary focus. Nobody outside of Michigan State thought a conference title would be in the cards this season. The Spartans were supposed to be rebuilding in 2017. It seems they got that process done in the offseason.
After that, they can think about the playoff. It would require losses from plenty of teams ahead of them, but the hope remains alive. And if they don’t make it, as expected, the Spartans still have set themselves up well to play in a big-time bowl game.
As usual, the recipe for rising in the rankings remains the same: win. It’s pretty simple in theory. It won’t be quite as straightforward in Columbus.
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