Michigan State entered the season with intentions of playing for the national championship. Through six weeks of the season, however, many have wondered if the Spartans had what it takes to get reach the four-game playoff.
But after Michigan State’s thrilling 27-23 win on the final play of Saturday’s game, the goals remain the same for the Spartans. In fact, even with the improbable nature of how Saturday’s game played out, it seems to have rekindled the idea of reaching the playoffs for Michigan State.
The win didn’t provide a boost in the rankings — MSU remained fourth in the coaches poll and seventh in the AP Poll — but a look at the schedule presents a clear path to the playoffs.
Many expected the Big Ten East to come down to the Nov. 21 meeting between Michigan State and Ohio State, the winner heading to the conference championship game and likely the College Football Playoff.
It appears that still will be the case, provided neither team stubs its toe along the way. It might be a tougher road for Ohio State, considering it closes the season with Michigan State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks, but Michigan State can’t afford to take anything for granted.
Here’s a look at what the Spartans face over the final five games of the regular season.
Saturday vs. Indiana
The Hoosier have had a knack for playing the Spartans tough at times and they bring in a potent offense next week to Spartan Stadium.
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld threw for 464 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday’s 55-52 loss to Rutgers; He is the key to the Hoosiers’ offense.
He’ll be going against a Michigan State secondary that has given up its share of big plays and is short-handed due to injuries. But the freshmen tandem of Khari Willis and Grayson Miller was solid at safety Saturday against Michigan.
Avoid an emotional letdown, and getting past Indiana shouldn’t be a problem as Michigan State would head into a much-needed bye week.
Nov. 7 at Nebraska
The Spartans have won two straight against the Cornhuskers and will look to win in Lincoln for the second consecutive trip.
Nebraska has suffered its share of heartbreaking losses this season, and will no doubt provide the toughest test outside of the game at Ohio State. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has big-play potential but turns the ball over too often.
Michigan State should be fresh after a week off and it will need to be as Nebraska will be eager to ends its two-game slide against the Spartans.
Nov. 14 vs. Maryland
Assuming Michigan State comes out of the Nebraska game unscathed, the matchup with Maryland will set up as a classic trap game.
The Terrapins are having a miserable season and have already fired head coach Randy Edsall. But as the Spartans have learned this season, no game is easy and no victory is guaranteed.
Even so, this is a game Michigan State should have little trouble winning as they could be using it as a tune-up for the biggest game of the season.
Nov. 21 at Ohio State
It’s the game everyone was pointing to before the season began and will likely be the defacto East Division championship.
Michigan State is the only Big Ten team to beat Ohio State under Urban Meyer, that win coming in the 2013 conference championship game.
The Spartans will be looking to pull an upset, much like the Buckeyes did last season in East Lansing on their way to the national championship. It will be a tall task, but if the Spartans view themselves as a championship team, getting a win of this caliber on the road would cement that status.
Nov. 28 vs. Penn State
If Michigan State manages to get to this game undefeated, it will have to avoid watching the scoreboard. Odds are the Michigan-Ohio State game will be played before the Spartans host the Nittany Lions, but the Spartans would be well-served to take care of business on their own and preserve an unbeaten regular season.
Penn State has had all sorts of trouble protecting the passer and that plays into Michigan State’s hands. It would be a fitting end to the regular season, and considering the way the first few weeks have gone, the Spartans will make no apologies headed to the Big Ten Championship game, an appearance that would be their third.
Dec. 5 Big Ten Championship game
If the Spartans get to this point, anything less than a victory would be a massive disappointment.
Whichever team comes out of the West — likely Iowa, at this point — will be an underdog and Michigan State will, no doubt, be riding a wave of emotion.
Plenty has to go right for a banged-up Michigan State team to get to this point, but if the Spartans can pull it off, a spot in the College Football Playoff would be a near certainty.