Spartans not apologizing for No. 2 ranking

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — In the College Football Playoff era, nearly every Top 25 leading up to first selection committee poll is meaningless.

But that doesn't mean fans can't debate the rankings — and it doesn't mean teams don't have feelings about where they should be positioned.

After a 30-10 victory over Central Michigan, Michigan State remained at No. 2 in the Associated Press poll and went from No. 3 to No. 2 in the coaches' poll.

Those watching closely might wonder if the Spartans are the second-best team in the country. Defensive issues continue to be a problem and the injuries are mounting to key players.

None of that, however, has affected the confidence of the Spartans.

"I feel like we should be No. 1," sophomore defensive tackle Malik McDowell said last weekend. "I feel like we're the best team in the country. I'm never going to hold my mouth closed about that, but we got to prove it to everybody else.

"We gotta go out there and play like it. Right now we're not playing like it, exactly, but it's just little stuff, so we can get that fixed quickly, and that's all there is to it."

MSU's Calhoun, West Branch's Zettel earn Big Ten honors

McDowell and the defensive line have been the strength of the defense, along with the linebackers. It's the secondary that needs to pick things up, and whether or not those things are "little" like he described is up for debate.

But to remain ranked among the nation's elite, improvement is necessary. Until then, the criticism will come from everywhere.

After Utah walked into Oregon last weekend and destroyed the Ducks, 62-20, some were wondering why Michigan State remains ranked higher. The argument is Michigan State won a three-point game at home against Oregon while Utah won big on the road.

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio saw part of the game but wasn't about to concede his team should drop because its win over Oregon might not have been as impressive.

"I don't know what they're dealing with injury-wise or anything," Dantonio said. "I just know that when we played Oregon, there were very high expectations for them. (They) had a good football team. Utah obviously has a very good football team, as well.

"There is a lot of parity in college football. It's about matchups. It's about how you come to play on every given Saturday, about how you handle adversity and be able to play through things. I thought we did that (against Central Michigan) and we finished. We won going away, which is probably as important as anything."

And if Michigan State continues to do that heading into the Big Ten, which begins at noon Saturday at home against Purdue, then the rankings will work out by the end of the season.

"We're No. 2 right now, and we want to be No. 1 by the end of the season, not the middle of the season," fifth-year senior linebacker Darien Harris said. "We've still got some things to work on ... As long as we go out there and do what we do, take every game one game at a time, we'll be fine. We just have to go out there and execute."

Purdue at Michigan State

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: ESPN2/WJR

Records: Purdue 1-3, No. 2 Michigan State 4-0

Line: Michigan State by 22

Series: Michigan State leads 34-28-3