Michigan State got through its appetizer on Saturday, but Ohio State is the main course

The season technically ended Saturday, but in fact it was just the beginning for Michigan State.

Keeping with the Thanksgiving weekend spirit, the Spartans’ regular season finale with Minnesota wasn’t exactly turkey and stuffing. It was the pre-meal hors d’oeuvres. Don’t get too full. Save yourself for the main course. If you can walk to the dinner table, then it’s stamped a good day because you’re still hungry for something more.

An 11-1 regular season validates the Spartans as a program worth taking more seriously. But the combination of the Spartans’ unimpressive 14-3 victory over Minnesota coupled with Ohio State’s laughable 42-41 survival against a poor Michigan team in Ann Arbor created a Big Ten championship game next week in Indianapolis that raises more questions than offers answers.

Is the Big Ten once again a football conference predicated more on hype than reality?

“All we can do is take care of our own business,” said defensive back Darqueze Dennard. “We knew that this was going to be a tough team and a tough game. What’s most important is that we got the win.”

Yeah, they did. But the Spartans didn’t exactly win many converts with quarterback Connor Cook having his worst game in the last month, only completing half of his passing attempts.

Michigan State looked like a team going through the motions. It needed a definitive statement against a Minnesota team stumbling toward the finish line. Instead, the Spartans did just enough to keep winning and maintain the fantasy that — if truly pushed by a very good offensive team — they can measure up to their strong national defensive statistics.

“We didn’t look past them, thinking ahead to the Big Ten championship game,” said safety Isaiah Lewis. “Our goal coming into this game was finishing the regular season with 11 wins. That was our objective. The game might not have looked pretty to a lot of people but we won the game and that was what this week was all about — getting the win.”

They cleared a hurdle. They’ve got three 11-win seasons in the last four years. They won all eight of their conference games by more than 10 points. That’s worthy of congratulations. But the Spartans still can’t shake the inevitability that their success is as much the result of a Big Ten that’s woefully underwhelming.

Their season is now all about Saturday night in the Big Ten title game against an Ohio State team that looked nothing like the supposedly third-best team in the

country .

“I don’t care about that game, other than as a fan of course,” said Mark Dantonio. “I’ve got my own problems.”

Naturally, the players had no idea of what transpired in Ann Arbor since the two games started at the same time. But it did seem throughout Spartan Stadium, there was as much interest in what happened 60 miles away in what was unfolding right before their eyes. But, for a change, it had nothing to do with Michigan and everything to do he Spartans’ next opponent, the Buckeyes.

“What was the final score?” Tyler Hoover asked.

When told, he simply shrugged his shoulders, in some ways an acknowledgment of the entire day. The outcomes meant nothing toward the overriding issue — the Spartans’ push to make their first BCS bowl game in the 15-year history of the process.

“We understand that our entire season comes down to next week in the championship game,” Lewis said. “We can only control what we can. This win might not have looked as pretty as some might have wanted, but we accomplished what we wanted to do.”

After Saturday’s Big Ten slate, the nation might still laugh at the conference in general. But MSU’s done its part in lessening the snickering in its direction.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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