BTN college football analyst Glen Mason talked to The Detroit News about Michigan State.
Q: Is Michigan State a playoff team?
Mason: "I think they are. Awful close for a number of years, and when you look at them this year you take into account that they have a strong team, got an outstanding quarterback, you would assume they're gonna play good defense again, and they have a really good offensive line. They have a marquee schedule to get everybody's attention with Oregon and Ohio State, and take into account their poll position at No. 5. It puts them in position that if they are successful they'll be one of those top four teams."
Q: What does MSU have to do to get past Ohio State?
Mason: "Ohio State is loaded. But in college football you only gotta play 'em once. You don't have to beat them the best of seven. I was asked a Twitter question on the Big Ten Network: What would it take for Michigan State to be able to win at the Horseshoe against Ohio State? And the first thing that came to mind is win the turnover battle. I think it will be one heck of a game — that stadium will be rocking and rolling — but I think if you make less mistakes than Ohio State, I think you have a good chance to win."
Q: What does Connor Cook need to do to be elite, or is he already there?
Mason: "I think he's already there when you start talking about a guy that was the MVP of the (Big Ten) championship game and the MVP of the Rose Bowl. I mean, how many quarterbacks in Big Ten history can put that on their resume? So he's accomplished a lot. Obviously, the icing on the cake would be to win another Big Ten title and somehow get into the playoff, and if they did and Michigan State won it all and he was the MVP of that, he would go down as an all-time great, not only for Michigan State but in the history of the Big Ten."
Q: Will there be much drop-off from losing Jeremy Langford?
Mason: "I think Jeremy Langford a year ago was one of those guys that didn't get enough recognition. When we talked at the Big Ten Network every week about who's the best running back in the league, his name was mentioned, but it didn't ever seem to be at the top of the list. When you start talking about (Melvin) Gordon, Ameer Abdullah and David Cobb and, oh yeah, there's Jeremy Langford. At the same time, Ezekiel Elliott's name wasn't even on that list. But I thought Jeremy Langford was really good, and so was that offensive line coming of age. All he ever did was run for 100 yards every week."
Q: Will the defense maintain its level of play with the loss of Pat Narduzzi?
Mason: "First of all, the style of play is gonna stay the same. People tend to forget: While Pat Narduzzi did a great job at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio is a defensive coach by pedigree and some of those things they played all the way back at Cincinnati. I'm sure it was by the design of Mark Dantonio.
"Two things: No. 1, Narduzzi is not there, but you've got (Harlon) Barnett and (Mike) Tressel, who have been there a long time. I guess the indicator will be what happens when something goes wrong. Because in the past if something was going wrong with the defense everybody looked at Narduzzi; even the cameras went up to the press box, waiting for him to come down to the sidelines. No. 2, the corners, to be able to play in that Cover 4 press defense like they did. That was the prerequisite to enable them to do a lot of things on defense. It was almost uncanny the type of guys they had there that left and went to the NFL and then they had other guys coming along. I'm not saying that as a negative, I just think time will tell if they have those type of corners."
Q: Does the offseason focus on Jim Harbaugh fuel Dantonio?
Mason: "I think for the whole program, not just Mark. To think the only games lost were to Oregon and Ohio State, the two teams that played for the national championship. And then they beat Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, a team that thought they should be in the national championship. Ever since that game it seems like the whole discussion has only been on two things – Ohio State winning the national championship, rightly so, and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. It's kind of like, 'Hey, did you forget about us? We're pretty good.' The thing about it is, a lot of times as a coach or a program you'd rather be in that situation than everybody patting you on the back telling you how good you are."