Michigan State Football: It’s Rose Bowl or bust for 2018 Spartans

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans answers questions after defeating the Stanford Cardinal 24-20 in the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans answers questions after defeating the Stanford Cardinal 24-20 in the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Michigan State football has gone from ‘disappointment’ to potential New Year’s Six invitee. It’s Rose Bowl or bust for the Spartans in 2018.

Michigan State fans who were thinking about the likelihood and odds of the Spartans going to the Rose Bowl after losses to Northwestern and Michigan was nearly dreaming and those dreams were not based in any form of reality. However, things have changed and a fantasy is more of a real possibility heading into a top-20 matchup between the Spartans and Buckeyes. This should not surprise many especially if you look at the recent history of Michigan State football.

First, with the exception of the 2016 season and to a lesser extent the 2012 season, Michigan State has dominated, winning 11 or more games five times from 2010-2015. The Spartans have also won five out of their last six bowl appearances, with their only loss being in the College Football Playoff to eventual national champion Alabama.

After being co-champions of the Big Ten in 2010, Michigan State from 2011-2015 were three-time division champions and two-time Big Ten champs. However, the 2016 season still haunts many Spartan fans as Michigan State only won three games that season. The Spartans did have a bounce-back season in 2017 winning a total of 10 games and finishing the season on a strong note beating Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.

The 2018 outlook  had the green and white nation dreaming of a magical season and then three losses happened and injuries kept piling up and any hopes of going to a major bowl game like the Rose Bowl was a mere dream. Then the unthinkable happened — Michigan State didn’t give up, it kept fighting and, more importantly, kept dreaming.

The Spartans responded and they didn’t back down and or lower their expectations for the season. They surprised many when they beat Purdue and then on the road easily trounced Maryland. Michigan State has had some luck along the way but no one can take away the fact that even at 6-3, the possibility of smelling roses in Pasadena, Calif., is a reality only if they beat Ohio State, and that won’t be easy.

It helped that the College Football Playoff committee ranked Michigan State No. 18 even with three losses. Meaning Michigan State is valued for its surprise strength of schedule and quality wins and quality losses. Beating No. 10 Ohio State is an absolute must and the Spartans must win at Nebraska and then on senior day against Rutgers to conclude the regular season.

Michigan State also needs to have Michigan win out and most importantly be Big Ten champions and then secure the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff. To summarize, with the maize and blue in the playoff and Michigan State winning out, climbing the rankings and finishing second in the Big Ten East, the Spartans have a real chance of being picked to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.

Historically, the Rose Bowl has paired the Big Ten champ against the Pac-10 champion. Things recently have changed as the Pac-10 is now the Pac-12 and the College Football Playoff berth is the No. 1 goal and not that of earning a bid to the Rose Bowl.

The Rose Bowl has a legal obligation to give a bid to the Big Ten champion each season but only if that team is not picked for the College Football Playoff. That is why Michigan, who is the only realistic team to represent the Big Ten in the CFP, needs to earn one of those four playoff spots to give Michigan State any chance of going to the Rose Bowl.

The Rose Bowl committee has benchmarks to follow and the two most likely teams as of now which would be considered would then pin Michigan State vs. Ohio State.

If the Spartans beat the Buckeyes they will have the head-to-head win. If Michigan State wins out, it will more than likely being ranked ahead of Ohio State in the CFP rankings, especially as Ohio State would have at least three losses. Then it must be noted there is an outside threat to MSU and OSU and that’s the Northwestern Wildcats.

Northwestern being picked over Michigan State is highly unlikely as their overall resume even with being the Big Ten West division champions would be weaker than Michigan State. The last benchmark may hurt the Spartans which is most recent Rose Bowl appearance but the committee remembers the strong following of Michigan State fans who attended the last Rose Bowl Michigan State was in and would expect another huge Spartan fan arrival in Pasadena if it were to go to the Rose Bowl.

A lot has to happen for the Spartans to go to the Rose Bowl and the most important factor to remember is that Michigan State first must beat Ohio State.

The weather may be Michigan State’s friend on Saturday, in helping the Spartans dream of going to the Rose Bowl because it may be a problem for the high-powered Ohio State offense that is averaging just over 45 points per game. Ohio State is coming off of some less than impressive victories over some bottom of the Big Ten teams such as Nebraska and Minnesota and a shocking 29-point loss to Purdue.

Ohio State, however, is still 8-1 and ranked No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

On paper, Ohio State is a good football team with an outstanding quarterback in Dwayne Haskins who has thrown for over 3,000 yards for the season and has tossed 32 touchdowns to only six interceptions. Even though the Buckeye run game has not looked great lately, they still have two talented backs in J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber who combined have run for just under 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.

The problem for Ohio State has been its defense which has not been dominant, with the major concern being the run-stopping struggles. This Buckeye team’s season goals are on the line when they play the Spartans this Saturday.

Ohio State still has aspirations of a Big Ten championship and a possible playoff berth. Michigan State has put together a string of gritty tough wins with victories over Purdue and Maryland lead by their outstanding defense. Even in their loss to Michigan who is averaging just under 33 points per game, the Spartans held the Wolverine offense in check.

The biggest problem all year, with the exception Utah State and Indiana games, has been the Spartan offense.

The run game, for the most part, has been abysmal and the passing game has not been that much better. Injuries to the offensive line and the receiving corps have not helped the Michigan State offense. Then there is the uncertainty of L. J. Scott not playing and potentially redshirting as well as the effectiveness of Brian Lewerke coming off of his injury. There’s a lot of uncertainty with this offense and the Spartans will have to rely on their defense to get the victory at home.

However, it is a real possibility that Michigan State beats Ohio State and keeps its eyes on the path to the Rose Bowl.

Even Spartan sports writers are picking Michigan State to lose against Ohio State. However, Mark Dantonio is the partner you need in a good game of euchre. He is the coach who keeps on finding a way to get his team to win and do so making it look fairly easy. Doubt Michigan State against Ohio State as many of us have and will do leading up to game time but Dantonio doesn’t listen to Kenny Rodgers because he doesn’t know when to hold em, fold em, and or walk away.

Dantonio may gamble on fourth down with a fake punt or field goal, he may try an onside kick in the second quarter and he may call a trick play on third down in the red zone.

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Either way, he somehow finds ways to win and most importantly his players also don’t know how to walk away because they will play till that last whistle is blown and hopefully when that does happen, that scoreboard will show Michigan State having the winning score at the end of the game.