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Well, I hope the Spartans are happy with themselves. This is what they wanted, to be treated as elite, to be mentioned coast to coast, and not just the coast of Lake Michigan to the coast of Lake Huron.

Congratulations! The ascension is complete! You know you've arrived as a college football power when your season unofficially ends at 7-2, and Ohio State takes you seriously enough to hammer you as if you're actually a rival.

Michigan State can view this sudden comeuppance a couple of ways. It can celebrate the wonderful run and quietly return to being a basketball school. I'm sure Tom Izzo would appreciate that. Or Mark Dantonio can rise up like an angry, scowling man and declare it's not over, it'll never be over — unless Urban Meyer decides to stay in Columbus for a while, in which case it is indeed over.

This has been a revealing Big Ten season, and by "revealing" I mean "gruesome." In the conference's showcase showdown, the Buckeyes pulled up burly Sparty's green skirt and exposed the ugliness. And the bare truth is, this isn't just a Michigan State problem now. This is a Big Ten problem because Ohio State clearly is not playing by the same rules.

Meyer recognizes "fat, drunk and stupid" might be an adequate description of Buckeyes in general, but it's no way to go through a football season. He's ruthlessly recruiting fast guys with body-fat levels well below the Big Ten norm (37 percent), and recklessly running an offense with no regard for punting decorum or third-and-9 off-tackle plays.

As painful as it is to admit, the Buckeyes are back after their 49-37 romp, and if the Spartans defense couldn't get close enough for two-handed touch, who can? Michigan already acknowledged the gap when its new president with the scruffy beard and cute Ivy League ideals hilariously suggested academics should play some sort of role in college football. He then continued the school's Apology Tour by expressing remorse for not having a deeper knowledge of Michigan's rich football history, "going back to the days of Bob Schembechler and Fitz Crisler."

Amid all the sorrys being tossed around Ann Arbor, no one has yet apologized for the 5-5 record and the controversial de-emphasis on scoring touchdowns. Note to President Schlissel: 3.75 is a fine grade-point average, but it's a tad low for a football scoring average.

At least the Wolverines were smart enough to get out of the Buckeyes' way and let the Spartans assume the position, so to speak. Meyer claimed Michigan State wasn't a rival but then showed otherwise, marching into Spartan Stadium and driving a stake into its season.

Is it right that the Spartans are 7-2 and fans are clawing their eyes out, while the Lions are 7-2 and fans are designing parade floats? No, it is not. Is it fair the Spartans could go 10-2 and be disappointed to play in an Orlando bowl and see Shamu for the 50th $#*&% time? No, it is not.

But this is the new, unhealthy mentality of college football, especially at the highest level, and by "highest level" I mean "the SEC." The four-team national playoff is expected to include at least four SEC teams, maybe more. Ohio State could sneak in, although it faces quite a challenge at snowy Minnesota Saturday. And the fact Minnesota counts as quite a challenge in the Big Ten is what makes the Southern folks chortle.

Michigan State needs to keep looking straight ahead because it also faces quite a challenge at Maryland (chortle), and you never know who's gaining on you. Heck, Michigan is only a game-and-a-half behind despite taking the week off to go door-to-door, handing out apologies. While Michigan State's defense was getting shredded last week, Michigan was manhandling mighty Northwestern, 10-9, making a resounding statement that's yet to be deciphered.

Nobody should feel bad about being 7-2, so there's a movement to ensure the poor Big Ten gets at least one playoff spot in the future. It would require expanding the field from four teams to approximately 64, but it can be done.

To be fair, I counted five Big Ten teams in the rankings this week, with Ohio State at No. 8 and four others tied for 25th.

Fret not. It's a fresh start for the Spartans in the state of Maryland, time to get back to what they do best — basketball! Izzo's team opens tonight against Navy in Annapolis, although not on an aircraft carrier, unfortunately. The football Spartans will try to dodge a letdown Saturday against the Terrapins, who reportedly will be wearing all-black uniforms. It's their "Black Ops" ensemble, not funeral garb out of respect for Michigan State.

I like the Spartans' chances because the Terps seem to understand their new role in the Big Ten. Terps are turtles and turtles are slow, soft in the underbelly and generally harmless. They also can't do anything when tackled and flipped on their backs.

Michigan State 37-20

The picks

Ohio State at Minnesota: The Buckeyes are 21-0 in regular-season Big Ten games under Uncle Urban, but this will be quite a challenge. (Chortle, chortle). Let's see how their speedy players enjoy piles of snow and 27-degree temperatures, huh? The grounded Gophers must defend the pride of old-guard Big Ten football! Ohio State 38-10

Nebraska at Wisconsin: The winner probably will face Ohio State in the championship game, unless the conference mercifully elects to skip it this year. Apparently, these teams are unveiling something called the Freedom Trophy, an honorable concept, I suppose. I just hope it doesn't mean the losing team gets incarcerated. Wisconsin 27-24

Northwestern at Notre Dame: The Irish are another depressed 7-2 bunch, but they actually should be relieved. After getting spanked by Arizona State 55-31, can you imagine the score if Notre Dame faced, say, Alabama in the playoff? Shudder. Notre Dame 34-13

Florida State at Miami (not Ohio): Somebody has to stand up for justice and NCAA integrity, and who better than the Hurricanes? Cough, cough. Finally, Jameis Winston gets smoked. Cough, cough. Miami 31-26

Mississippi State at Alabama: For No. 1 Mississippi State, this is billed as the biggest game in the program's 119-year history. Coincidentally, it's also the first big game in the program's 119-year history. Either way, it's a bell-cow game for the Bulldogs' cowbells. Alabama 23-17

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com

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