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Michigan State aims to avoid loss of focus against CMU

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has always tried to break the season up into phases.

Preseason camp, obviously, has always been the first phase followed by non-conference play and then Big Ten play. But in recent years, the Big Ten has mixed up its scheduling in an effort to get more conference games early in the season.

Brian Lewerke says the Spartans try not to have a letdown for non-conferebce games: “It’s something you’ve got to get used to, I guess. Big Ten play is obviously more intense, so you try and carry that intensity into this game.”

So, those phases have had to shift a bit for Dantonio and No. 21 Michigan State as it gets set to host Central Michigan at noon Saturday at Spartan Stadium, a week after opening Big Ten play with a victory at Indiana.

“Yeah, I think that that's not a perfect scenario to go into,” Dantonio said. “I'd rather play our out-of-conference games and go into it. You know what you're going to play going into it; so you need to prepare yourself for that mentally and focus accordingly and that's what we’ll do.”

More: MSU running back LJ Scott questionable for game vs. CMU

Does a team prepare differently throughout the week when it’s a conference game as opposed to a non-conference matchup? Well, no, the Spartans will tell you. It’s just that there is a different feel when it’s a game that doesn’t count in the conference standings.

“Obviously, this is the first time with that sort of thing,” quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “It’s something you’ve got to get used to, I guess. Big Ten play is obviously more intense, so you try and carry that intensity into this game.”

While it doesn’t happen often, the practice of mixing in non-conference games after Big Ten play has started is not that foreign. The Spartans experienced it two years ago when they hosted BYU in the fifth game of the season after having played Wisconsin and Indiana in the previous two weeks.

Before that, 2009 was the last time Michigan State had a non-conference game mixed in with Big Ten play as it hosted Western Michigan on Nov. 7 in the 10th game of the season.

But the Spartans (2-1, 1-0 Big Ten) believe the momentum that began with last week’s win will carry forward regardless.

“A little bit (different) I guess you could say,” wide receiver Cody White said, “going from a Big Ten game, which is a big game, we’re 1-0 in the Big Ten, to a non-conference game. But we’ll be ready. I think we’re gonna be all right.

“If we win this game I feel like we’ll bring that momentum into next week, so I feel like we’ll ride that wave a little bit.”

It helps that it’s not just any non-conference game. No, this is not a vintage Central Michigan team as the Chippewas are in a bit of a rebuilding mode after making a bowl game the last four seasons. But despite just one victory over an FCS team this season, the proximity to East Lansing means this game will be big for the Chippewas.

With so many players from the state of Michigan, it’s always a big game for the Chippewas, a program that has three victories over Michigan State, the last coming in 2009.

“Stay focused,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “Central Michigan is an hour down the road. A bunch of those guys maybe grew up liking Michigan State and wanted to come to Michigan State and didn’t have the opportunity.

“So, they’re gonna be ready to go. They’re gonna be ready to play and a lot of us understand that because some of these Michigan guys played them in high school and they understand they wanted to come here. So this is a game they circle on the schedule.”

It’s that aspect that has Dantonio and the coaching staff on red alert. A loss wouldn’t hurt Michigan State in the Big Ten, but it would certainly knock the Spartans out of any sort of playoff contention after they suffered a loss in Week 2 at Arizona State.

And despite Central Michigan’s struggles — the Chippewas are 1-3 and rank near the bottom in the nation in total offense — Dantonio knows there are upsets every week and he’s trying to keep the Spartans from falling into that category.

“We'll come ready to play. We haven't had that issue,” Dantonio said. “Now, do we play perfect? No. But few teams are, and you look across the country now, and there's a lot of people scratching their head on a lot of scores every single week.

“We need to stay ahead of the ledger. Right now, we're 2-1, and let's just try to be 3-1 and worry about all that other stuff and see how it shakes out.”

Twitter @mattcharboneau

Central Michigan at Michigan State

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV: FS1/760

Records: CMU 1-3, MSU 2-1

Line: MSU by 29