MSU sets sights on Big Ten title game, possible playoff

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

While the College Football Playoff rankings will no doubt provide plenty of material for debate over the next few weeks, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio understands his team must take care of its own business before worrying too much about where it stands on the national stage.

The Spartans, ranked No. 8 in the first poll, must first get through the rest of the regular season without a loss, beginning with No. 16 Ohio State on Nov. 8, followed by a trip to Maryland, a home date with Rutgers and finally a road game at Penn State. Only then could they think about a potential rematch with No. 15 Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game and a possible spot in the playoff.

"I'm a realist and understand that if you win, good things happen, and if you don't win, you're gonna slide backwards in whatever you do," Dantonio said on SiriusXM's College Football Playbook. "Whether it's for our Big Ten championship race, which to me is the most critical because that can springboard you to other things. If you don't get there then -- I'm not saying we're not going anyway -- but if you don't get to there, the big picture thing really doesn't mean anything."

A conference championship would be huge for whatever team comes out of the Big Ten, as it is one of the criteria used by the selection committee.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said on his weekly radio show on WVFN 730 AM in Lansing the idea of putting a champion of the Big Ten in will get plenty of attention.

"I think as you go into the system, some of the parameters that were put into play – best four teams, regardless, the best four teams – if somebody doesn't stand out among those four teams, criteria has to come into play as far as who's selected," Hollis said. "That criteria includes, what championships have they won? That includes strength of schedule, it includes head to head, it includes common opponents. But having that component of championships won is gonna be a factor that's probably gonna get the most scrutiny as you go through."

Dantonio will use the rankings as a reference for how far the Spartans have to go.

"It's a starting point and it's just like pretty much how every poll has been the last number of years," he said. "You look at it and say, 'That's where we're at,' and you try and move forward."

While taking this weekend off, Michigan State (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten) isn't just sitting around. Dantonio said there will be plenty of work from his staff on self-critiquing what the Spartans have done through the first eight games, while also taking advantage of trying to fill the final spots in its 2015 recruiting class.

They will also get a head start on preparing for Ohio State.

"We've got to keep our players fresh," Dantonio said. "We'll lift 'em, run 'em, practice once. Going into the final four weeks we don't need to get anybody hurt, and then Sunday we're back in full force."