SHARP: Time for MSU to retire ‘no respect’ mantra

It’s time Michigan State retires the proverbial “chip on the shoulder.”

Programs retire numbers. Why not retire a symbol?

The strategic ploy has lost all credibility following the past two weeks and the biggest program-defining opportunity yet awaiting MSU on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Spartans are the early favorite over undefeated Iowa in the Big Ten championship game.

Win and they’re in the College Football Playoff.

Win and a sound argument could be made that the Spartans are playing the best football at the right time of any of the four playoff teams.

“I’m proud of how we handled our adversities this season,” coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday during a Big Ten championship game teleconference. “We got up off the mat after (the Nebraska loss). We haven’t given up on each other. We kept believing in ourselves.”

But considering the great successes the Spartans have enjoyed — five 11-win seasons in the past six years — and the expectation of even bigger successes going forward, it has become clichéd thinking that they can find motivation only from the skepticism of others. It has become a tired old bit. They won big the past two weeks because they realized they were their own worst enemy.

The potential for a truly special season grew from the ashes of the Spartans’ lowest point. Following the heartbreaking loss at Nebraska three weeks ago, co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel noticed an emotional yet pensive Shilique Calhoun. Teary-eyed about what the Spartans had just lost, Calhoun was equally encouraged about the mental strength they gained.

Calhoun told his coach that the Nebraska loss was exactly what Michigan State needed. The Spartans grew comfortable instead of confident. They didn’t need anyone telling them what they couldn’t do. Instead, all that was required was a reminder of what they’re capable of doing.

“Then, a whole switch changed,” Tressel said after Saturday’s division-clinching victory against Penn State. “The guys changed from thinking we were going to be the best defense in the country because everybody was going to do their job to decide that we were going to be the best defense in the country because we were going to dominate people’s tails. We did see a mentality change.”

Quarterback Connor Cook called it “rechecking yourself.”

“That game was definitely a wake-up call,” cornerback Arjen Colquhoun said. “We got away from doing the little things and not doing the right things all of the time. That changed after that loss. I think that you’ve seen a better attention to detail.”

Linebacker Riley Bullough framed it more bluntly. “We needed to be humbled,” he said.

The best example of the Spartans’ renewed commitment and camaraderie is how their now-healthy offensive line kept Cook clean against a Penn State pass rush that led the nation in sacks. Coming off a shoulder injury, Cook wasn’t knocked down once. That was the offensive line’s way of thanking Cook for having their backs earlier in the season when he stood in the pocket longer and took more shots to complete plays downfield because of an injury-riddled offensive line.

Dare we say there’s another D-word involved here. Instead of “disrespect,” perhaps “destiny?”

Can the Big Ten finally produce a national championship finalist not named Ohio State for the first time since the advent of the Bowl Championship Series 17 years ago?

Notre Dame’s last-second loss to Stanford late Saturday night removed the Irish from the playoff discussion. Barring a stunning upset in the SEC and ACC championship games, the four playoff teams will be Clemson, Alabama, one-loss Big 12 champion Oklahoma and either the Spartans or Hawkeyes.

Two-loss Stanford could make a late argument for admittance should it win the Pac-12 championship game and top-ranked Clemson loses. The Cardinal would have a stronger case than one-loss Ohio State because the selection committee allegedly places the highest priority on teams winning league crowns.

Chaos still might stir the conflict that this level of college football absolutely loves.

But Michigan State doesn’t have to worry itself with the politics and prejudices of a highly subjective process. The path’s pretty clear.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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