Finally, some drama at Big Ten Media Days.
Michigan State Spartans Head Coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday that his team would have been the national champions last year if there were a playoff in place, mainly because the Spartans were playing their best football at the end of the year.
“I think we would have had a shot to do that because I think we were playing, coming out of the end of the season, that stretch coming out of the season, we were playing great football and we were believing in ourselves. Were we there at the beginning of the season? No. But coming out we were playing our best football in November and then into the championship game and then the Rose Bowl.”
Dantonio does have a point. I already noted last week that the Spartans should be the favorite to win the conference this year. Last year, with a first-year starter in Connor Cook at quarterback, the Spartans’ only loss was a 4-point loss the fourth game of the year at Notre Dame. That was Cook’s first big game, and it was his worst of the year. As the season went on, the team got better, and closing out the year with two very impressive wins against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship and Stanford in the Rose Bowl certainly lend credence to the fact that the Spartans would have had a chance.
But it’s irrelevant. What bothers me about these comments is what’s always bothered me about college football. If you win the national championship with a loss, fine, but even in the new format, a loss removes any complaint you might have about not playing for the national championship. I’m not saying Dantonio is complaining, but with the way college football works, he had his playoff. It was the regular season, and a loss to Notre Dame kept his team out.
Now, in a four-team playoff last year, it would’ve depended on who else got in. We know Auburn and Florida State would’ve made it in along with the Spartans, but the fourth team would’ve been the kicker. The Spartans did beat Stanford, who might’ve made it in. But they would not have come close to Alabama, and there’s a very good chance the Tide would’ve snuck in over the Cardinal.
I do think they would’ve beaten Auburn because they showed themselves all year to be able to handle teams relying on mobile quarterbacks, most notably Ohio State in the Big Ten championship. But they still would’ve had to beat Florida State, which wouldn’t have happened. The Seminoles are better than the Spartans everywhere.
So if they had gotten into the playoff, the only chance the Spartans would’ve had to win it would have been to play Stanford and Auburn. Alabama would’ve had to have been left out, and one of those other two teams would’ve had to do MSU the favor of beating FSU. That would’ve been highly unlikely.
However, Spartans fans should be excited because their team will be right back in the mix to this year, and there’s no reason to think that they don’t have a chance to bring home the national championship now. A little more depth, talent and experience at the quarterback position make the, by far the team with the best chance in the Big Ten to do it after winning the conference last year.
But it’s silly to say they would’ve won it last year.