Michigan State's Path To The College Football Playoff

Michigan State's Path To The College Football Playoff

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Michigan State's Path To The College Football Playoff

The CollegeFootballNews people are at it again – demonstrating that they have brains and that they’re, for the most part, paying attention.

Contact @crowleysullivan

SpartansWire thinks that the people at CollegeFootballNews have a tendency to show intelligence when it comes to college football.

They seem to have a basic understanding of the fact that Michigan State is good at college football.

They’ve illustrated this basic understanding once again by giving us a beefy article that provides us with “the five things” the Spartans have to do this coming season in order to…..get ready for it….reach the College Football Playoff.

(Some points for credibility are taken away, however, since CollegeFootballNews published a similar piece for UMAA a day or so ago – perhaps CollegeFootballNews forgot that UMAA lost 5 games last year and has been drubbed by its rivals and non-rivals consistently, but we digress…)

Here’s what we’re going to do with this:

We’ve taken the CFN piece and magically made it appear within this article that you are currently reading.

You can read the words written by the CollegeFootballNews people – and then, with each of the five “sections,” SpartansWire will provide you with “our take(s)” on the viewpoint(s) presented by the CollegeFootballNews people.

It’ll be like reading two really, really smart pieces of written materials at once.

It will be fun.

You should try this.

Here we go….

Path To The College Football Playoff: Michigan State

– Contact/Follow @ColFootballNews @PeteFiutak

The Spartans got into the College Football Playoff in Year Two of the thing, holding the distinction of being the only Big Ten team other than Ohio State to get into it. Can Michigan State make the CFP for the second time in four years?

SPARTANSWIRE’S TAKE:

CollegeFootballNews gets credit for printing something that 97.6% of the rest of the really smart sports people don’t know or simply refuse to acknowledge – that Michigan State is the only other Big Ten team to reach the College Football Playoff besides Ohio State.

A really, really smart guy I vaguely know who is a highly successful (and, therefore, really important) investment banker/private equity/venture capitalist guy said to me as recently as last night at a neighborhood backyard cocktail party, “No, that’s not right – Michigan State hasn’t made it to the CFP – that was Michigan that made it – they made it when Brady Hoke was their coach…”

That man, the important investment banking/private equity/venture capitalist guy, is obviously really smart and people should listen to him when he talks assertively (and without being asked) about college football, sports, refinancing mortgages, real estate values, and America’s foreign policy strategies.

But, kudos to CollegeFootballNews for kicking off this piece by putting the facts in print.  The aforementioned investment banker would accuse you of publishing FAKE NEWS – but we know that you are not doing that.

5. There has to be more of a consistent passing game

It would be nice if there were fewer fumbles – giving away 12 on the season – but the biggest different between 2017 and this season needs to be the passing attack. It was fine, but it has to be more dangerous.

QB Brian Lewerke bombed away in the bowl win over Washington State, but hit just 2-of-14 win over Maryland.

Okay, there’s a reason for the problem against the Terps – it was played in the snow – but overall, there wasn’t enough pop down the field and the passing consistency wasn’t there.

The air show that cranked up 400 yards against Penn State after throwing for 445 the week before against Northwestern managed just 120 against Minnesota. Overall, the Spartans averaged just 6.6 yards per throw. In the 2015 CFP season, MSU averaged 7.5 yards per pass.

The offense will be strong enough to win most games with the ground game, but to get by the bigger games over the second half of the season, it’s going to get deep. But first, MSU has to …

SPARTANSWIRE’S TAKE:

The fumbles comment is valid – LJ Scott knows that all by himself.

But, since Spartan strength and conditioning coach Ken Mannie has made LJ carry a porcupine that gets daily injections of inferno hot sauce into its rectum all day/every day and is threatened with a punishment of not being allowed to play Fortnite for a week if the porcupine is dropped, we are confident that the fumble issues will be solved in 2018.

As for the valid commentary on the need to improve in the passing game – we’re in sync with the CollegeFootballNews people.

And the comments on the 2 for 14 showing against Maryland – that’s actually a very important point.  If Lewerke would have had a better day that afternoon in the snow and the rain and the wind, how would that have impacted these facts:

As a sophomore, Brian Lewerke completed 246-of-417 passes (.590) for 2,793 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for 559 yards on 124 carries (4.5 ypc) . . . had 3,352 yards of total offense, which set a Spartan sophomore single-season record (previous: Connor Cook with 2,831 in 2013), and was No. 2 on MSU’s single-season total offense list . . . also set MSU sophomore records for passing yards (2,793), passing attempts (417) and passing completions (246) . . . ranked among MSU’s single-season leaders in pass completions (No. 3 with 246), pass attempts (No. 4 with 417), passing yards (No. 7 with 2,793) and touchdowns (No. 8 with 20) . . . became the first quarterback in school history to throw for more than 2,500 yards (2,793) and rush for more than 500 yards (559) in the same season.

As the CollegeFootballNews people point out, that’s exactly what happened in the Holiday Bowl.

And it’s going to happen all season long when one considers that Lewerke is now a grizzled veteran, that his receivers are poised and brimming with confidence, and the entire group has had a whole offseason to improve on an already-strong chemistry.

4. Get through the early grind

Michigan State beat Arizona State to open up the 1985 season, and lost to open up 1986. Those were the only two times the two programs faced each other, but this year, Herm Edwards will be looking for a huge early-impact win in Tempe when the Spartans come to town.

MSU should be favored to win easily in each of the first five games against Utah State, at Arizona State, at Indiana, Central Michigan, and despite the loss last season, Northwestern.

The last time the Spartans started out 5-0? 2015, when they won the Big Ten title and went to the College Football Playoff. However, in the sinkhole of a 2016 season, they managed to lose at Indiana and at home to Northwestern – dropping three of the last four to the Wildcats – over the first half of the year.

If this is the talented team it’s supposed to be, it’s not going to have a problem as long as it’s focused, doesn’t give up a slew of turnovers, and then …

SPARTANSWIRE’S TAKE:

If Herm Edwards rallies the Sun Devils to victory over the Spartans in the desert, I’ll stop thinking that the entire Arizona State University administration should have its own wing in the closest insane asylum to the Tempe campus since Herm Edwards is Herm Edwards.

Okay – yes, a trip to the desert presents any team with a nice challenge.

But, as long as Mark Dantonio doesn’t turn into Lou Tepper between now and the game against the Sun Devils, I think Lewerke, Joe Bachie, LJ, and everyone else will leave Tempe with a victory.

Every game on the schedule will require very real focus, to be sure.

The Indiana and Northwestern matchups are definitely tricky – and the CollegeFootballNews people get extra points for alluding to Northwestern’s 3-1 record against State over the last four games played between the schools.

It’s the ground game and the defense – particularly the Spartans’ strongest secondary since the No Fly Zone – that will protect this year’s Spartans from faltering in games that should be won.

Yes, Michigan State should be favored to win in each of the first five games.

And while the Spartans may not win each game “easily,” Michigan State will be 5-0 by the time they’re getting set to head to Only Happy For The First Three Quarters Valley.

3. They have to win the road trip at Penn State

Yeah, it was a solid ten-win season, and whacking around Washington State in the Holiday Bowl was fun, but there were a whole lot of wins over mediocre teams, the Michigan win came in miserable conditions – of course, give Mark Dantonio and his team credit for figuring out how to deal – and there were just three regular season wins over teams that went bowling.

But the victory over Penn State was the one at the top line of the 2017 resumé.

It was one of the key moments and thrillers of the Big Ten season when MSU came up with the 27-24 victory, but now it has to do it on the road.

The Spartans have been good lately against the Nittany Lions –  winning four of the last five in the series – but this time, it’s going to be really, really big considering what’s next.

Three of the next four and four of the last six games are at home. But the last time they went to Happy Valley, they were whacked around 45-12 in the 2016 season ender.

It’s still possible to lose to the Nittany Lions and still win the Big Ten title and get to the College Football Playoff, but they’ll have to be perfect the rest of the way for part two of that to kick in.

Win, though, and there can be a misfire and still be okay as long as they ….

SPARTANSWIRE’S TAKE:

Okay – let’s start with this one –

“…the Michigan win came in miserable conditions – of course, give Mark Dantonio and his team credit for figuring out how to deal…”

It’s always hilarious to read and listen to people talk about how teams’ of any kind have to have asterisks or qualifiers or clarifications attached to games that the teams did, in fact, win.

Michigan State beat UMAA 14-10 last season.

Anything else that anyone wants to say about that game is blabber and nonsense.

End of story.

Back to the rest of this section…

Let’s look at this one –

“The Spartans have been good lately against the Nittany Lions –  winning four of the last five in the series –”

Yes, I’d say that’s “good.”

As for the rest of what CollegeFootballNews is saying here – we’re with you folks.

This is daunting.

This is going to be a real challenge.

This appears to be one of the biggest challenges of the season for obvious reasons.

Even with Saquon Barkley no longer around, Trace McSorley is dangerous.

But, Michigan State’s defense handled McSorley pretty well last season and, as already referenced, the Spartan secondary will be the most lethal its been since the No Fly Zone was a key element to the 2013 Rose Bowl Championship and the 2015 College Football Playoff appearance.

Michigan State will depart Only Happy For Three Quarters Valley with a 6-0 record.

2. Own East Lansing over the second half of the season

It sucks for Michigan fans to have so many problems over Ohio State over the years, but what seems to chap more hides is the way the program is getting whacked around by the supposed little brother.

Losers of four of the last five in the rivalry, now the Wolverines have to go to East Lansing a week after having to deal with Wisconsin.

Uh oh.

Michigan State hasn’t been anything special against Ohio State  – going 3-11 since 1999 – but when it comes up with a win, big things usually follow.

In 2015, MSU won a slugfest in Columbus, and went on to win the Big Ten title and get into the College Football Playoff.

The 2013 Big Ten Championship win over the Buckeyes propelled the Spartans to the Rose Bowl, and the 2011 victory was part of the mix to get to the Big Ten title game

Sparty gets Ohio State in East Lansing, and Michigan, and Northwestern, and Purdue, Rutgers, Central Michigan and Utah State. Win all seven of those, and the chances will be very, very good that they’ll be off to Indianapolis with a chance to …

SPARTANSWIRE’S TAKE:

Hmm.  Things seem to really start to resonate for one when one reads this opening line of this section –

“It sucks for Michigan fans to have so many problems over Ohio State over the years, but what seems to chap more hides is the way the program is getting whacked around by the supposed little brother.”

Yes.

This.

But, if you’re looking to get any of the UMAAers to actually admit that, I’d like to sell you a really rickety rocking chair that my grandfather (who has been dead since 1974) made when he was fiddling around with “carpentry” and decided, after he completed the rocking chair, to stick to smoking and drinking and playing golf.

There’s this:

“Michigan State hasn’t been anything special against Ohio State  – going 3-11 since 1999”

Since 1999, Jay Cutler has won a lot of football games, I guess.

How about the fact that over the last seven matchups between Ohio State and Michigan State, Ohio State has a 4-3 advantage?

Anyone who is really paying attention and knows, for real, what the Michigan State football team looks like in 2018 knows these two things:

  1. UMAAers are already lying awake at night, wondering how they’re going to deal with life by midnight on Saturday, October 20th when their manhood is in the same place as Robert Downey, Jr’s dignity in “Less Than Zero.”

  1. Urban Meyer may not get caught eating the cold pizza in the golf cart this time, but he’s going to walk off of the field at Spartan Stadium looking for the nearest lukewarm slice of Little Caesar’s.

 

1. Make the Big Ten Championship Game its own

Michigan State has only won nine Big Ten championships in its long and storied history.

By comparison, Michigan owns at least a piece of 42, Ohio State 37, and Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa have more titles, too.

However, under Mark Dantonio, MSU has been in three of the seven Big Ten Championship games, winning two of them and losing the inaugural thriller to Wisconsin in a 42-39 classic.

Out of all the great things Dantonio has been able to accomplish, this has been among the strongest. This year, getting back could be truly special considering what it means to the rivals.

As hard as it has been to be a Michigan fan lately, seeing MSU play in four of these things in eight years is a special twist of the knife, considering the Wolverines have yet to be in one.

Ohio State has been in three, and Iowa, Nebraska and Penn State have all gone once.

Wisconsin might seem like a permanent fixture in the championship with five appearances, but it joins MSU with two titles.

If the Spartans can get to this game at 11-1 and win it, they’ll be the leaders in the Big Ten pack when it comes to Big Ten Championship Game wins.

And they’ll be off to the College Football Playoff.

SPARTANSWIRE’S TAKE:

This section sort of boils down to this:

“However, under Mark Dantonio, MSU has been in three of the seven Big Ten Championship games, winning two of them and losing the inaugural thriller to Wisconsin in a 42-39 classic.

Out of all the great things Dantonio has been able to accomplish, this has been among the strongest. This year, getting back could be truly special considering what it means to the rivals.

As hard as it has been to be a Michigan fan lately, seeing MSU play in four of these things in eight years is a special twist of the knife, considering the Wolverines have yet to be in one.”

Yes.

Yes.

Indeed.

Yes, indeed.

The CollegeFootballNews people seem to get it.

They really do.

They are smart people when it comes to college football.

And they’re smart when it comes to understanding the basics related to what’s important to Michigan State Spartans.

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