MSU mailbag: Spartans' CFP hopes, TE progress

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State's defense will have to be on top of its game to stop Ohio State's offense led by J.T. Barrett.

Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News answers readers' questions in his weekly MSU mailbag.

What a difference a week makes. After the loss to Northwestern, it seemed as if many Michigan State fans were starting to come to grips with the fact a championship wasn’t happening this season.

A good run, yes, perhaps eight wins and a solid bowl game. Not a bad step coming off last season.

But just when we thought we had it figured out, Mark Dantonio reminded everyone his teams have a bit of a history of playing well when it counts — in November.

So, after the win over Penn State, here are the Spartans, shooting up to No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings as talks of a Big Ten East title and a spot in the conference championship game start to become more real. Sure, it will take another huge win this week at Ohio State, but it’s there now. The path is clear and it has everyone talking big, wondering about — dare we say it — the playoffs.

That’s getting ahead just a bit. Until then, let’s see what’s on everyone’s mind with this week’s mailbag.

■ Question: “So your telling me there’s a chance?” Is there? #CFP — @azk02568

Answer: We might as well jump right in, eh? There’s a chance, and it might not be one in a million like Lloyd Christmas contemplated, but the odds would still be classified as long, primarily because the Playoff Committee has yet to put a two-loss team into the field. There would need to be a sufficient amount of chaos over the final few weeks, not to mention the fact the Spartans would have to run the table, including a win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

Could a two-loss conference champ get in? Sure, as long as there are several two-loss champs. Bedlam over the final few weeks could create that as nearly every team in the top 12 spots have huge games left to play with only four unbeatens left. But if we’re being realistic, I think the loss to Northwestern would be what keeps the Spartans out.


Q. Hypothetically, let's say somehow Sparty beats OSU, then Maryland and Rutgers, but loses to Wisconsin in B1G title game. That 10-3 mark enough to stay in top 10 (or so) and garner a New Year's Six berth? — @Fieldof68Freak

A. Probably. Michigan State would be a division champion with double-digit wins, which would include anywhere from three to four victories over ranked teams with one loss coming to a team (Notre Dame) that is currently ranked high enough to be in the playoff field. Which bowl would that be? Here’s hoping it’s not the Cotton Bowl (I mean, hey, it’s a great bowl and a fun city, but three times in four years? No thanks). A Peach Bowl official was at Spartan Stadium last Saturday and in the postgame said to me the Spartans are on the short list now. Of course, he said that knowing there’s plenty of football left.

Q. Does the quick ascension of Michigan State back from 3-9 make them the conference favorite in '18? — @pfnnewmedia

A. Absolutely. This is a team that is coming together with tons of young players. On offense, MSU will lose one starter on the offensive line — center Brian Allen — while running back Gerald Holmes moves on. We’ll have to wait and see on LJ Scott. That’s it for the offense. On the other side, linebacker Chris Frey and defensive end Demetrius Cooper graduate, but again, that’s all there is for losses to graduation. Linebacker Shane Jones has been a beast on special teams and has played well in the nickel, but the Spartans will have plenty coming back heading into 2018.

More: Ohio-bred Spartans set to shine on OSU turf

Q. How would you evaluate our TE position?  It seems like we have lots of talent but it hasn’t been used like in the past.  Is that on Sokol? — @chaaleesy

A. I hate to put it all on one guy, especially when Matt Sokol has been so good on special teams. But the drop he had last week inside the 10 nearly cost Michigan State big time. Those are plays that need to be made, plain and simple. That said, Sokol is a guy who was a QB in high school and is playing regularly for the first time. The Spartans also lost redshirt freshman Noah Davis to injury a few weeks ago which leaves freshman Matt Dotson and former tackle Chase Gianacakos. So, the fact progress has been slow doesn’t surprise me.

Q. I am a MSU fan living in Columbus and will be going to the game this Saturday. Can our defense slow down J.T Barrett and their offense? — @benjamin_jimbo1

A. If history is any indication then there is definitely enough evidence to believe Michigan State’s defense can contain the Buckeyes. Aside from Barrett’s freshman season when he lit up the Spartans to help the Buckeyes score 49 points, he’s done very little against MSU. In the last two meetings, Barrett has thrown for a total of 132 yards. The Spartans have given up their share of passing yards the last two weeks but they’ve contained both Justin Jackson and Saquon Barkley, two of the top running backs in the Big Ten. With the No. 3 rushing defense in the nation, they have a decent shot of doing the same to J.K. Dobbins.

Q. Sparty vs. Dukies next week, who wins and and who's this season's breakout player? — @chuckgsparty

■ A. Who wins that 1 vs. 2 matchup? Tough question considering I don’t think much separates these teams. The Blue Devils have a great freshman class, led by top-ranked Marvin Bagley III while they have plenty of experience, led by Grayson Allen. I say it’s a toss-up and could be a preview to a national title game. Who’s gonna be the breakout player? I’ll go away from some of the more obvious names and say Cassius Winston. The way he’s shooting the ball this could be a huge season for the sophomore point guard.