Michigan State sets sights on College Football Playoff

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Trying to figure out which four teams will make the inaugural College Football Playoff can sometimes feel like predicting the weather in the state of Michigan.

Just when you've got it all figured out, it snows in May.

For Michigan State, the continued chaos can only help. The Spartans are one of 15 one-loss teams remaining in this week's Associated Press poll, and with plenty of carnage likely to come in the likes of the SEC and the Pac-12, that number is most likely going to change.

So when the playoff committee releases its first set of rankings Oct. 28, and when it ultimately decides the four-team field, odds are splitting hairs between one-loss teams will be fairly crucial.

That's right where the eighth-ranked Spartans sit. With the loss at Oregon in the second week of the season, they have been left to battle the negative perception of the playing the Big Ten ever since. A win over a ranked Nebraska team was fine, but Michigan State got demerits for nearly allowing a fourth-quarter comeback.

The bigger issue is there are very few chances left for Michigan State to impress the committee. Obviously, the matchup with No. 13 Ohio State on Nov. 8 is the big one, but that's about it. Save for the Big Ten Championship game, it might be the last game against a ranked opponent.

But all is not lost for Michigan State. There is plenty of football left and there are chances for the path to be cleared a bit for the Spartans. Here's a look at some of the scenarios that would help the Spartans make the College Football Playoff. Of course, all of this is predicated on the scenario the Spartans win out, far from a sure thing.

Notre Dame to lose again

The loss to Florida State was just the first step, considering how well the Irish played. If they were to win out, there is little doubt they would get the nod over the Spartans, which is ironic considering this year marks the first time Michigan State and Notre Dame haven't faced each other since 1996.

Notre Dame likely will be favored in each of its final five games, but that's not to say it will be a walk in the park. Any trip to Navy can be tough against the triple-option and Louisville has played much better. But the best chances for a Notre Dame loss come Nov. 8 at Arizona State and in the season finale Nov. 29 at Southern Cal.

If the Irish happen to come up short at any point the rest of the way, that likely knocks them out of contention.

Florida State to lose

The Seminoles have seemed to be on the fringe of the playoff field for some time considering they play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a conference that is even weaker than the Big Ten. One loss could be enough to knock Florida State out and with no real shot left at a signature win, there is not much of a chance to bolster its resume.

But a look at the schedule shows a loss isn't very likely. A road game against Louisville is next and offers the greatest chance, and even a potential matchup with Duke in the ACC title game likely would see the Seminoles as a heavy favorite. This might be the least likely scenario, but if an upset occurs, Michigan State could benefit.

Self-destruction in the Pac-12

There are four teams in the Pac-12 with just one loss, but the major player here is Oregon. Not only are the Ducks currently ranked ahead of the Spartans, they have the head-to-head victory from back in September.

Oregon also has the most favorable schedule of the other one-loss teams in the Pac-12. Only one ranked opponent is left – at No. 19 Utah on Nov. 8 – but it likely would see a ranked opponent in the conference championship game.

The best bet for Michigan State is Oregon to lose somewhere in there and have the other one-loss teams in the South Division — Arizona State, Arizona and Utah — beat each other up. They all have to face each other and whoever reaches the conference title game could have two losses and already be out of the running.

Continue the Big 12 bumbling

With Oklahoma certainly out of the picture now with a second loss and Baylor likely in the same position after its loss at West Virginia, there are no Big 12 teams ranked ahead of the Spartans.

So there might not be something that needs to happen here, but it certainly wouldn't hurt for another loss from TCU — a team starting to get lots of national love — or Kansas State.

Kansas State has the tougher schedule with games at TCU, West Virginia and Baylor, making the idea of winning out a long shot. As for TCU, it has a trip to West Virginia before hosting Kansas State. Again, upheaval here might not be imperative, but a couple of losses would officially take the Big 12 off the board.

Keep the SEC from getting two teams

This might be the most unpredictable and the hardest scenario to achieve all at the same time. There is no doubt the SEC is put on a pedestal from many in the national media; the question is if the selection committee feels the same way.

Conventional thinking says there's a chance all four teams should come from the SEC West, but at the very least, two teams should get in. Avoiding that would be huge for Michigan State. The problem is, will the Spartans be looked at more favorably than some two-loss SEC teams?

Probably not if you're talking about Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn. But it's the only shot considering they almost certainly wouldn't be ahead of any of those teams with one loss. The best shot is for Ole Miss or Mississippi State to have one loss and the others to have two. Might not be enough, but it won't hurt.

The Big Ten West to have a good team

This likely means Nebraska needs to win out and get to the conference championship game. Minnesota is unbeaten in the conference and in first place, but the Gophers still haven't cracked the AP Top 25 while the Huskers are No. 16. The teams face each other on Nov. 22 at Nebraska and a win by the Huskers could see them in the title game as a one-loss team.

It would be an interesting rematch, but Michigan State likely will need another win against a ranked opponent to bolster its case.



Michigan at Michigan State

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing


Line: Michigan State by 17

Series: Michigan leads 68-33-5 (Michigan State, 29-6, on Nov. 2, 2013)

Did you know? Michigan State has won five of the last six meetings