December 4, 2013 at 10:15 am

Bob Wojnowski

Big Ten title game isn't all about Ohio State - just ask Spartans

Mark Dantonio on BCS, Ohio State
Mark Dantonio on BCS, Ohio State: MSU coach congratulates team, looks ahead

East Lansing Judging by the rankings and the rantings, its all about the Buckeyes. They have the perfect record, the 24-game winning streak, the fancy quarterback, the gilded coach, the national attention. They have a nice warm spot in the BCS title game just waiting for them.

Yep, the Big Ten championship game Saturday night apparently is Ohio State against history, or Ohio State against conference perceptions, or Ohio State against the civilized world. In other words, its exactly what Michigan State is accustomed to, and determined to change.

The 11-1 Spartans will be in Indianapolis, too, and theyre way past oh-gosh, happy-to-be-here sentiments. This is their third 11-victory season in four years and second trip to the championship game. This is the next giant step for Mark Dantonios program, and while they appreciate all the kind words, please dont pat them on the head and tell them they can go to the Rose Bowl, win or lose.

Michigan State is in a great spot, taking on a 12-0 Ohio State team that isnt as invincible as its record. While everyone probably even in the Big Ten commissioners office is mapping out national-championship scenarios for the Buckeyes, theres a reason Dantonio hit the Why not us? mantra again Tuesday. He was suggesting college football is crazy enough, and the Spartans are good enough, that no boundaries exist, and why couldnt a victory propel them to the BCS title game?

No back door

Well, thats not going to happen because at No. 10, Michigan State has too much ground to make up, and that 17-13 loss to Notre Dame still haunts. But Dantonios point is ambiguous enough to be valid. With this program and this remarkable defense, there arent many barriers left. The Spartans may understand their place in the national conversation, but it doesnt mean they have to embrace it.

I dont really care if were overlooked, to be honest with you, senior linebacker Max Bullough said. I think weve been overlooked, underrated, all that stuff, in football and basketball for years. Im just worried about, we win this game and were going to be talking about Michigan State going to the Rose Bowl the right way, not the back door.

The placement of the door matters, and it should. In fact, the Spartans should pay zero attention to all the other possibilities. Thats our job.

And the possibilities are bizarre. If Ohio State, a 5-point favorite, wins, it almost assuredly will play for the national championship, probably against Florida State. That would allow Michigan State, even in defeat, to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season, although not as Big Ten champion.

But this is still the BCS, so it cant be quite that simple. If Ohio State narrowly beats Michigan State, and No. 3 Auburn clobbers Missouri in the SEC championship game, perhaps Auburn slides up, even with one loss, and Ohio State slips back to the Rose Bowl.

If that happened and I doubt it would it would be an enormous slap at the Big Ten, which has endured all sorts of indignities over the years. The theory is, to be safe, the Buckeyes should win in a rout (as if its solely up to them), which actually might seal the Rose Bowl bid for the Spartans.

See why I suggested they completely ignore all of it?

Its about us, its not about them, Dantonio said. If were 12-1 at the end of the week, why not us? Thats how Im going to approach it. Im not going to sit there and worry about losing.

Spartans reality

In other words, what appears to be a win-win situation really isnt, not from Michigan States perspective. After Michigan showed Ohio State was vulnerable in that 42-41 thriller, Michigan State can finish it off. And maybe thats what the Buckeyes deserve, because they swing wildly (and literally) from unbeatable to insufferable. Urban Meyer issued no sanctions for his punching, finger-flipping players, and Jim Delanys office didnt suspend offensive guard Marcus Hall, either.

This game supposedly is all about Meyer and Braxton Miller and the Big Ten finally ending the SECs seven-year national-title run. If the Spartans pull the upset, there will be two narratives. One is that Michigan State really is good, and man, what about that defense? The other is, Ohio State just blew it and the Big Ten remains incapable of competing on a national scale.

Perceptions take a long time to form and a long time to change, and the Big Ten has developed some ugly ones. The Spartans have the No. 1 defense in the country but havent beaten a team currently in the top 25 and havent faced an elite quarterback, so no one is sure how dominant they really are.

We play some of the best offenses in the country, Bullough said. We just make them look bad sometimes, so (people) might not think theyre that great. Thats the reality behind it, you know?

Everyone is focused on the Buckeyes drive to create a new reality, and thats fine. But the truth is, the Spartans also can stamp a new reality, even if its not the one most people expect.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/bobwojnowski

Kurtis Drummond (27) Taiwan Jones (34) and Max Bullough (40) plan to show Ohio State the Michigan defense is No. 1 for a reason. / Dale G. Young